September 22, 2014

Who will the Twins purge from the 40-man roster this offseason?

Jared Burton Twins

At the beginning of each offseason every team goes through the ritual housecleaning of shedding players from the 40-man roster to prepare for a winter of adding new players and protecting new prospects. As one of baseball's worst teams for a fourth straight year the Twins have no shortage of dead weight on the 40-man roster, plus plenty of marginal talents clinging to spots, so here's my breakdown of the players most likely to be shed and where they stand (in alphabetical order):

A.J. Achter: Added to the 40-man roster in September after a nice season between Double-A and Triple-A, the former 46th-round pick debuted at age 26. His success this season was driven largely by an unsustainably great batting average on balls in play and Achter's control has never been particularly good, which along with a high-80s fastball and unspectacular strikeout rates makes him unlikely to project as more than a middle reliever.

Doug Bernier: Last year the Twins called up Bernier to fill a little-used bench role and dropped him from the 40-man roster after the season, which is presumably the plan again this time. He had a solid season at Triple-A, hitting .280/.348/.396 in 124 games, but Bernier is 34 years old and the epitome of a replacement-level player. Great to have stashed at Triple-A, not great to have in the majors or even taking up a spot on the 40-man roster.

Jared Burton: One of the Twins' better scrap-heap pickups, Burton was a high-end setup man for a year-and-a-half before struggling down the stretch last year and showing major signs of decline this season. Dating back to August of last season Burton has a 5.12 ERA and 50/28 K/BB ratio in 72 innings. His velocity is down, he's ceased missing bats, and at age 33 it's hard to see him being trusted enough in a high-leverage role to justify picking up his $3.6 million option for 2015.

Chris Colabello: He was a good story and absolutely deserved a shot in the majors after crushing Triple-A pitching, but Colabello hit .214/.284/.364 with a ghastly 124/34 K/BB ratio in 114 games. He has no defensive value and, unlike most right-handed hitters, his approach at the plate doesn't lend itself to crushing left-handers. At age 31 it's tough to imagine giving him another extended opportunity, especially considering the Twins' depth at first base and designated hitter.

Logan Darnell: It's tough to see Darnell sticking in the big leagues as a starter. He has a 3.82 ERA with a poor strikeout rate and mediocre control in 172 innings at Triple-A, his average fastball so far in the majors is 89 miles per hour, and he struggles against right-handed hitters. At age 25 he may still have a future in the bullpen, but the same could be said of nearly every left-handed starter and there isn't much in his track record to suggest his upside there is notable.

Brian Duensing: It's masked by a strong ERA, but Duensing's secondary numbers collapsed with a 32/20 K/BB ratio in 53 innings. His inability to handle righties means he can't be trusted in the late innings and he's not dominant enough against lefties to be a southpaw specialist. Duensing is a perfectly decent middle reliever, but at age 31 and with an arbitration-fueled raise to at least $3 million coming for his final pre-free agency season he's a non-tender candidate.

Eric Fryer: Tabbed to fill the Drew Butera role as a catcher who can't hit enough to warrant a roster spot, Fryer took over as Kurt Suzuki's backup when the Twins demoted Josmil Pinto to the minors. He's hit .248/.325/.345 in limited MLB action, which is actually much better than his .217/.314/.316 line in 204 games at Triple-A. Even if the Twins are convinced Pinto has no future behind the plate they can do better than Fryer as a second (or third) catcher.

Chris Herrmann: In theory Herrmann brings versatility to the table as a catcher/outfielder, but the Twins want nothing to do with him behind the plate defensively and he doesn't hit enough to have any business in the outfield. He's hit .184/.256/.268 in 91 games for the third-worst OPS in the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014, ahead of only Butera and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. And at age 27 his .262/.331/.399 line in 129 games at Triple-A is barely any better.

Kris Johnson: Acquired from the Pirates as part of the Justin Morneau trade, it was never clear why the Twins wanted Johnson unless they focused on his misleadingly good 2.39 ERA at Triple-A last season. He posted another decent-looking 3.48 ERA at Triple-A this year, but managed just 102 strikeouts in 132 innings while walking 3.8 per nine frames. Johnson is 30 years old with 6.2 strikeouts and 3.5 walks per nine innings for his career at Triple-A.

Eduardo Nunez: When the Twins acquired Nunez they talked up his offensive potential as if he hadn't hit .267/.313/.379 for the Yankees or had similar numbers in the minors. He's been even worse for the Twins, hitting .251/.274/.385 in 67 games. Ultimate Zone Rating pegs him as one of the worst shortstops in baseball at 30 runs below average per 150 games and he's looked shaky at third base as well. It's unclear where exactly the upside is with the 27-year-old Nunez.

Lester Oliveros: He hasn't looked good in the majors yet, but Oliveros put together an excellent season between Double-A and Triple-A in his first full year back from Tommy John elbow surgery. He struck out 88 batters in 66 total innings, posting a 1.64 ERA while allowing zero home runs. His control remains spotty, but with a mid-90s fastball and outstanding strikeout rates Oliveros seems deserving of an extended chance. It's just unclear if he'll get that in Minnesota.

Chris Parmelee: Since his big September debut Parmelee has hit .237/.303/.372 in 248 games for the Twins, showing mediocre power while failing to control the strike zone. Good numbers at Triple-A suggested the former first-round pick may have finally figured things out, but he's failed to do anything with semi-regular playing time in three straight seasons and will soon be 27 years old. Why keep waiting for what might be, at best, an average first baseman/corner outfielder?

Mike Pelfrey: Re-signing Pelfrey to a two-year, $12 million deal never made any sense and he allowed 23 runs in 24 innings before being shut down with an elbow injury. He's owed $5.5 million next season, so Pelfrey being cut loose would be a surprise, but he's 12-29 with a 5.00 ERA in 390 innings since 2011, throws one mediocre pitch, and injuries have wiped out two of his last three seasons. He's a sunk cost, but perhaps they can salvage some value out of Pelfrey in the bullpen.

Yohan Pino: When he was a prospect posting great numbers in the minors from 2005-2009 the Twins never called up Pino, but they finally gave him a chance as a 30-year-old journeyman in his second stint with the organization. Pino had an ugly 5.07 ERA in 11 starts and struggles to limit home runs, but his 50/14 K/BB ratio in 60 innings was solid. As the past four seasons have shown there's always plenty of need for rotation depth, but elbow problems cloud his status for 2015.

Ryan Pressly: After spending all of last year in the majors as a Rule 5 pick Pressly spent most of this year at Triple-A, throwing 60 innings with a 2.98 ERA and 63/21 K/BB ratio. He throws hard, but it has never led to big strikeout rates and Pressly has just 63 strikeouts 102 innings for the Twins. He has a nice-looking 3.54 ERA and the Twins have been to known to let that sway their opinion more than it should, but at age 26 it's tough to see significant upside.

Stephen Pryor: Acquired from the Mariners in the Kendrys Morales swap/salary dump, Pryor is one of the few players on the 40-man roster not to receive a September call-up. He was once a top reliever prospect with a high-90s fastball, but he's struggled to regain velocity after shoulder surgery. He posted a 3.93 ERA at Triple-A with awful control and just 52 strikeouts in 55 innings. Still just 25 years old, presumably the Twins liked Pryor enough to see what he looks like in 2015.

Jordan Schafer: It seems unlikely that the Twins would get rid of Schafer after how well he's played in 40 games since they claimed him off waivers in early August, but he's the type of player who regularly gets dropped from 40-man rosters. Schafer is a 27-year-old career .230/.312/.311 hitter who also batted just .225/.278/.294 at Triple-A and despite great speed he's a mediocre defensive center fielder. He's a decent fit as a backup outfielder, but that skill set is plentiful.

Anthony Swarzak: After flopping as a starter Swarzak found a fit as a long reliever able to soak up low-leverage innings, but his effectiveness slipped this year and he's due for a raise to around $2 million via arbitration. Swarzak's strikeout rate of 5.2 per nine innings ranks 125th out of the 131 pitchers with at least 50 innings as relievers and his career rate as a reliever is 5.8 per nine innings. His role could be better utilized to break in a young starter.

Aaron Thompson: His flukishly good numbers versus lefties this season caught the Twins' eye and earned him a call-up, but Thompson is a 27-year-old journeyman with a high-80s fastball and a 4.33 ERA in a decade as a minor leaguer. That includes a 3.52 ERA and 107/51 K/BB ratio in 120 innings at Triple-A. Like most reasonably effective lefties he could probably hold his own in a southpaw specialist role, but the Twins should be aiming higher for a Duensing replacement.


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

September 3, 2014

Meet the Twins’ September call-ups

aaron hicks september1

September 1 roster expansion means an assortment of new and sort-of-new players added to the Twins' roster for the final month of the season, so here's a look at the call-ups:

Aaron Hicks, 24-year-old outfielder

Hicks has been bad enough in 129 games for the Twins--hitting .194 with poor defense--that his status as a top-100 prospect as recently as last season is easy to forget, but there's still a decent chance he becomes a useful regular. Whether that comes in Minnesota or elsewhere is unclear, because Byron Buxton's presence means the window for someone else to play center field is a small one and Hicks hitting enough to be an asset as a corner outfielder is a stretch.

Hicks' primary strength as a hitter has always been plate discipline, but he's been more passive than patient in the majors and even in the minors as a prospect he struck out a lot and posted mediocre batting averages. Demoted to Double-A in mid-June and once again a switch-hitter, he batted .297/.404/.466 with more walks (28) than strikeouts (27) in 43 games and then batted .278/.349/.389 in 24 games at Triple-A following an August promotion.

Overall between the two levels Hicks hit .291/.387/.441, which is plenty solid for a 24-year-old and nearly identical to his .286/.384/.460 line at Double-A in 2012 that wrongly convinced the Twins he was ready for the big leagues. Obviously his stock has plummeted since then, but they'd be smart to give Hicks another extended opportunity down the stretch. His skill set is such that he can provide reasonable value hitting .240 and as awful as he's looked that's still doable.

Josmil Pinto, 25-year-old catcher/designated hitter

By signing Kurt Suzuki to a two-year, $12 million contract extension the Twins made it clear they don't think Pinto's defense is good enough to be a starting catcher. He can still provide plenty of value as a part-time catcher and part-time designated hitter, but his upside in that role would be considerably lower and the emergence of Kennys Vargas means Pinto's future at DH could be cloudy as well.

Pinto's month-long slump led to the Twins casting him aside for Kendrys Morales in mid-June, which was questionable at the time based on their respective track records and proved to be a horrendous move when Morales hit like a backup shortstop for six weeks. Pinto has been in the minors since then, hitting .279/.376/.457 in 60 games at Triple-A after hitting .309/.400/.482 between Double-A and Triple-A last season.

It might take Vargas slumping for Pinto to get another extended opportunity, but a 25-year-old with a .265/.349/.464 line through 64 games in the majors to go along with a strong track record in the minors deserves a much longer leash than he's received so far. Pinto has plenty of power potential, he can draw walks, and his OPS in the majors (.813) is nearly the same as Vargas' (.830) right now. He just needs a chance to show the slump was merely a slump.

Michael Tonkin, 24-year-old right-hander

After pitching well in an 11-inning Twins debut last season Tonkin seemed likely to have a sizable role at some point this season, but instead the bullpen in Minnesota was rarely a big problem and he spent most of the year in Rochester. Combined between this year and last year Tonkin has a 3.48 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 78 innings at Triple-A, and unlike most hard-throwers his control has actually been good with only 16 non-intentional walks.

Tonkin struggled in a month-long stint with the Twins this season, but the 6-foot-7 right-hander has averaged 94 miles per hour with his fastball in the majors and has the minor-league track record to match. He throws strikes and misses bats with quality raw stuff and should emerge as a late-inning bullpen option in 2015. Counting the minors and majors Tonkin has 228 strikeouts in 195 innings since moving to the bullpen full time in 2012.

Lester Oliveros, 26-year-old right-hander

Oliveros was acquired from the Tigers in the 2011 trade for Delmon Young and missed most of 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He returned better than ever, starting the season at Double-A before moving up to Triple-A. Overall he threw 66 innings with a 1.64 ERA, including 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a .187 opponents' batting average with zero homers in 272 plate appearances. (Naturally he allowed a homer to the first MLB batter he faced Tuesday.)

Oliveras has always had a big fastball, averaging 94 miles per hour as a big leaguer in limited pre-surgery action. He's also always had iffy control, with nearly four walks per nine innings in the minors. His rebuilt elbow can still reach the mid-90s consistently and Oliveros made some minor strides with his control when a lot of pitchers see their walk rate rise after surgery. At age 26 he looks like an intriguing 2015 bullpen option.

A.J. Achter, 26-year-old right-hander

Achter was a 46th-round draft pick out of Michigan State in 2010 and posted a 4.52 ERA in 2011 as a starter at low Single-A, but he shifted to the bullpen in 2012 and has a combined 2.10 ERA in 213 innings as a reliever since then. That includes a 2.17 ERA and 80-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 79 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this season, which was enough to get him added to the 40-man roster for September.

However, his shiny ERAs come with good but not exceptional strikeout rates and Achter's control is mediocre. He's done an amazing job limiting hits, including a .173 opponents' batting average this season, but that was driven by an unsustainably great .228 batting average on balls in play. Toss in underwhelming velocity and his odds of sticking in the majors don't seem particularly good, but at age 26 he warrants a "why not?" look.

Aaron Thompson, 27-year-old left-hander

Not technically a September call-up, Thompson was added to the roster on August 31 when the Twins lost Sam Deduno on waivers to the Astros. Ron Gardenhire talked up Thompson's work against left-handed hitters in Rochester and sure enough he held them to a .186 batting average, but a 13/7 K/BB ratio hardly displayed dominance and last season, also in Rochester, he allowed lefties to hit .267 compared to .265 by righties. In other words, it looks like a fluke.

Thompson is a 27-year-old journeyman with a 4.33 ERA in a decade as a minor leaguer, including a 3.52 ERA and thoroughly mediocre 107-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 120 innings at Triple-A. He's a former first-round draft pick, but that no longer matters much considering it was the same year (2005) the Twins selected Matt Garza three picks later. Deduno is certainly no big loss, but he has higher odds than Thompson of being a valuable reliever for the Twins.

Logan Darnell, 25-year-old left-hander

Darnell fared well at Double-A to begin last season, but has a 3.82 ERA in 172 innings at Triple-A along with a poor strikeout rate and mediocre control. He got knocked around in a brief stint with the Twins earlier this season while averaging just 90.3 miles per hour with his fastball and looks unlikely to be stick as a starting pitcher thanks to an inability to hold right-handed bats in check. Like most competent lefty starters he could have a future in the bullpen as a southpaw specialist.

Chris Herrmann, 26-year-old catcher/outfielder

In theory Herrmann brings versatility to the bench, but he's really a catcher in name only and doesn't hit enough for a corner outfielder. In fact, among all Twins hitters with at least 200 plate appearances in the Gardenhire era of 2002-2014 he has the third-worst OPS ahead of only Drew Butera and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. He actually hit well in 60 games at Triple-A this season, but he's 26 years old with a sub-.400 slugging percentage between Double-A and Triple-A.

Doug Bernier, 34-year-old infielder

Bernier spent the second half of last season with the Twins in a utility infielder role, logging just 64 plate appearances in two-plus months. He was dropped from the 40-man roster, re-signed on a minor-league contract, and has now been added back to the 40-man roster for a September stint. Presumably the 34-year-old journeyman will be dropped again after the season, but Bernier can play all over the diamond defensively and had a solid season at Triple-A hitting .280/.348/.396.


For a lot more about the Twins' plans for September and what their offseason shopping list may look like, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

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.

August 28, 2013

Does a concussion mean it’s time to move Joe Mauer away from catcher?

joe mauer first base

Talk of moving Joe Mauer from catcher to another position has been common since 2004 when his rookie season was ruined by knee surgery and got loudest when he spent half of 2011 on the disabled list, but recently he's been so healthy and productive that it's become little more than a whisper. Unfortunately the volume is rising again because Mauer is on the DL and out indefinitely after suffering a concussion while catching last week. It's a very complicated question.

Since coming back from his injury wrecked 2011 season Mauer has hit .321 with a .410 on-base percentage and .460 slugging percentage in 1,149 plate appearances. Among all catchers with at least 600 plate appearances during that two-year span Mauer leads MLB in on-base percentage, ranks second in batting average a few points behind Yadier Molina, and is tied with Molina for second in adjusted OPS+ behind Buster Posey.

However you slice it Mauer has been one of the three best-hitting catchers in baseball over the past two years and his combined .321/.410/.460 mark during that time is nearly identical to his .323/.405/.468 career line. And looking at his career totals paints Mauer in an even better light, because he's maintained his level of excellence for a decade. Here are the hitting leaders among active catchers with at least 1,000 career plate appearances:

BATTING AVERAGE            ON-BASE PERCENTAGE         SLUGGING PERCENTAGE
JOE MAUER         .323     JOE MAUER         .405     Buster Posey      .497
Buster Posey      .312     Buster Posey      .379     Brian McCann      .477
Yadier Molina     .285     Carlos Santana    .365     JOE MAUER         .468
A.J. Pierzynski   .284     John Jaso         .364     Carlos Santana    .446
Jonathan Lucroy   .281     Ryan Hanigan      .364     David Ross        .442

Mauer has the best batting average by 11 points over Posey and at least 38 points over everyone else. Mauer has the best on-base percentage by 26 points over Posey and at least 40 points over everyone else. And he ranks third in slugging percentage behind Posey and Brian McCann. Add it all up and here are the active catching leaders in overall offensive production according to OPS, adjusted OPS+, and weighted on-base average:

OPS                        ADJUSTED OPS+              WEIGHTED ON-BASE
Buster Posey      .876     Buster Posey       146     JOE MAUER         .377
JOE MAUER         .873     JOE MAUER          135     Buster Posey      .376
Brian McCann      .827     Carlos Santana     128     Brian McCann      .355
Carlos Santana    .811     Brian McCann       118     Carlos Santana    .353
Miguel Montero    .780     John Jaso          114     Miguel Montero    .340

In terms of career-long production Mauer and Posey are the players with an argument for being the best-hitting catcher in baseball and Molina enters the mix if the most recent two seasons are given more weight. Mauer has also been an asset defensively, throwing out 43 percent of steal attempts this season and 33 percent for his career compared to the MLB average of 25 percent. And for whatever value you choose to place in Gold Glove awards Mauer has three of them.

Whether you focus on recent performances or career-long track records Mauer stands out as one of the two or three best catchers in all of baseball and certainly has a strong argument for being the best catcher considering he's maintained elite status for much longer than Posey or Molina. However, if you take his 2012/2013 numbers and make those same comparisons to first basemen (and designated hitters) instead of catchers Mauer slides down the rankings a bit:

BATTING AVERAGE            ON-BASE PERCENTAGE         SLUGGING PERCENTAGE
Joey Votto        .324     Joey Votto        .451     David Ortiz       .589
JOE MAUER         .321     JOE MAUER         .410     Chris Davis       .585
David Ortiz       .318     David Ortiz       .406     Edwin Encarnacion .546
Allen Craig       .310     Prince Fielder    .383     Joey Votto        .533
Billy Butler      .303     Paul Goldschmidt  .378     Paul Goldschmidt  .518
                                                      ...
                                                      JOE MAUER         .460

If you compare Mauer to first basemen rather than catchers he falls behind Joey Votto as his position's king of batting average and on-base percentage, although Mauer still ranks second in both categories for 2012/2013. However, the big change is that while slugging .460 gets Mauer ranked among the top half-dozen catchers for 2012/2013 it would place just 20th among first basemen and designated hitters during that same time. Here's a look at overall production:

OPS                        ADJUSTED OPS+              WEIGHTED ON-BASE
David Ortiz       .995     David Ortiz        166     Joey Votto        .419
Joey Votto        .985     Joey Votto         163     David Ortiz       .415
Chris Davis       .941     Chris Davis        151     Chris Davis       .396
Edwin Encarnacion .922     Edwin Encarnacion  148     Edwin Encarnacion .391
Paul Goldschmidt  .896     Paul Goldschmidt   141     Paul Goldschmidt  .382
...                        ...                        ...
JOE MAUER         .870     JOE MAUER          140     JOE MAUER         .379

Mauer narrowly misses cracking the top-five first basemen in OPS, adjusted OPS+, and weighted on-base average for 2012/2013, ranking sixth in all three categories. Beyond focusing on where he'd stand relative to the truly elite players at each position, his place relative to the average at each position would also fall. Mauer has an .870 OPS for 2012/2013, which is 22 percent above average for a catcher versus 12 percent above average for a first baseman.

As a catcher Mauer is arguably the best at his position and no worse than the top three, producing 20-25 percent more offense than an average player. As a first baseman he'd have zero claim to being the best at his position and realistically slot somewhere in the 5-10 range, producing 10-15 percent more offense than an average player. Or, put another way: By moving from catcher to first base he'd go from elite to merely very good and All-Star spots might be hard to come by.

Of course, it's not as simple as looking at where his production would rank at a new position. By moving away from catcher and avoiding the daily physical toll Mauer should in theory be able to stay healthier, play more games, and increase his offensive output. So perhaps instead of being a top-three catcher for 135 games he'd be a top-eight first baseman for 155 games. And maybe he'd go from a top-eight first baseman to a top-five first baseman by not wearing down as much.

None of that is set in stone, however. For one thing simply playing first base or even designated hitter doesn't make someone immune to injuries and wearing down, as Justin Morneau has sadly demonstrated. There's also no guarantee that moving out from behind the plate will automatically increase Mauer's output at the plate. Mauer's odds of staying healthy and upping his production should be better at a position other than catcher, but it's impossible to know for certain.

Having a great-hitting catcher impacts a lineup a few ways, because in addition to being a strong bat his presence also keeps the team from having to use a weak-hitting catcher and leaves a spot open for another strong bat who doesn't have to be much of a defender at first base, an outfield corner, or designated hitter. If the Twins move Mauer they'd have to find a new catcher who'd be a sizable downgrade offensively and they'd have one less spot for a defensively challenged bat.

In terms of in-house options to replace Mauer at catcher Ryan Doumit is under contract for 2014, Chris Herrmann is holding his own as a rookie, and Josmil Pinto is a step away from the majors at Triple-A. Of course, Doumit catches like a designated hitter, Pinto might end up at designated hitter, and Herrmann is a 25-year-old with a .372 career slugging percentage in the minors. It's not a terrible set of options, but that mostly just speaks to the overall weakness of the position.

Another potential issue with a position switch is that assuming Mauer's production declines as he gets deeper into his thirties like the standard aging curve he'd remain an above-average catcher for much longer because the bar is so low at the position. First base is a much different story, as a decline-phase Mauer hitting, say, .285 with 10 homers and a .750 OPS, would drop to the bottom of the positional pile pretty quickly. He's signed through age 35, in 2018.

Ultimately, though, here's why the speculation about Mauer changing positions has started up again after being dormant for a while: Catching puts players at much higher risk for concussions and none of the above numbers will mean anything if Mauer's career is derailed by brain injuries like Morneau and Corey Koskie before him. Mauer is a great catcher and might "only" be a good first baseman, but a good first baseman is more valuable than a catcher disabled by brain trauma.

This is an impossible question to answer definitively, because brain injuries are so unpredictable that even MLB organizations with $100 million payrolls and doctors with high levels of expertise and decades of experience struggle to effectively diagnosis and treat concussions. In general the amount of Mauer's value that comes from being a catcher and in turn his all-around value are often undersold, but the "should Mauer change positions?" question is no longer just about value.

For a lengthy discussion about a potential Mauer position switch, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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February 21, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

20. Chris Herrmann | Catcher | DOB: 10/87 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2009-6

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     A+     408     .219     .310     .301      2     22     41     74
2011     A+     106     .310     .404     .425      1      7     15      6
         AA     406     .258     .380     .392      7     26     64     68
2012     AA     558     .276     .350     .392     10     36     58     89

Chris Herrmann arrived in the majors ahead of schedule because the Twins briefly needed some emergency catching help in September, getting the call-up after repeating Double-A. His numbers for New Britain were nearly identical to 2011, as Herrmann showed his usual good plate discipline and strike zone control with minimal power. His production was nothing special, particularly for a 24-year-old in his second go-around at the level, but he's an intriguing player.

Herrmann was an outfielder at the University of Miami before moving to catcher at high Single-A in 2010 and last season he played 83 games at catcher compared to 43 games between left field and designated hitter. His defense behind the plate gets mixed reviews, but Herrmann threw out 44 percent of steal attempts last year and 38 percent in 2011. As an outfielder his bat is below par, but as a catcher/outfielder he'd have a whole lot more use.

Another issue for Herrmann is that he's a left-handed hitter hoping to become the third catcher behind a left-handed hitter in Joe Mauer and a switch-hitter who swings better from the left side in Ryan Doumit. That makes him less than an ideal fit, although his ability to play elsewhere is handy and it's not as if Drew Butera's offensive ineptitude coming from the right side helps anyway. Herrmann is likely Triple-A bound this year, but he's shooting for Butera's job.

19. Levi Michael | Second Base | DOB: 2/91 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2011-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     A+     512     .246     .339     .311      2     20     56     82

Levi Michael was supposed to be one of the more MLB-ready position players available in the 2011 draft after three years in the University of North Carolina lineup and the Twins jumped him directly to high Single-A for his pro debut, but the 30th overall pick struggled. His good patience and strike zone control from college were evident, but Michael hit just .246 with two homers, failed to show even gap power, and attempted only six steals in 117 games.

He was much better in the second half than the first half, but even that amounted to a modest .272 batting average with zero homers and a .328 slugging percentage in 63 post-break games. Also worrisome is that Michael played more second base (65 games) than shortstop (53 games) for Fort Myers, which jibes with the pre-draft questions about his ability to be a quality shortstop in the majors.

It's too early to write off Michael as a bust, but it's unfortunate that the Twins finally went away from their usual draft strategy to take a college middle infielder in the first round for the first time since 1994 only to see him stumble out of the gates. He's still just 22 years old and has the solid plate discipline as a good foundation, but if he's not going to stick at shortstop Michael really needs to show that he's capable of doing more than drawing walks.

18. Hudson Boyd | Starter | DOB: 10/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2011-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+    13     13     2.95      58.0      63      7      36     23

Touted as a big, hard-throwing right-hander with potentially dominant raw stuff when the Twins made him their supplemental first-round pick in the 2011 draft, Hudson Boyd was anything but dominant in his pro debut. He posted a nice-looking 2.95 ERA in 58 innings for rookie-level Elizabethton, but allowed 5.12 total runs per nine innings and Boyd was forced to rely on the shoddy defense behind him because he managed just 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

He also struggled with his control, walking 3.6 per nine innings, and allowed opponents to hit .270 with seven homers in 263 plate appearances in a league where batters collectively hit .254 with a .382 slugging percentage. In fairness to Boyd plenty of high school pitchers struggle in their first taste of the minors and the Twins had him skip the lower level of rookie-ball to face Appalachian League hitters at age 19.

Still, for a 55th overall pick who was supposed to be all about overpowering hitters it wasn't a promising debut and did nothing to quiet pre-draft questions about whether Boyd will eventually wind up in the bullpen. It's worth noting that Boyd is several years younger than the various hard-throwing college relievers the Twins drafted in June and are now trying to convert into starters, so there's no rush to find out yet.

17. Niko Goodrum | Shortstop | DOB: 2/92 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2010-2

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    128     .161     .219     .195      0      4      9     34
2011     RK+    230     .275     .352     .382      2     15     21     56
2012     RK+    269     .242     .349     .419      4     24     38     56

Niko Goodrum had a brutal debut in 2010, but the second-round pick bounced back with a nice 2011 at rookie-level Elizabethton and then built on that further while repeating the level last year. His batting average fell from .275 to .242, but Goodrum upped his power by 65 percent, drew 54 percent more walks, and cut his strikeouts by 14 percent. His overall production as a pro isn't pretty, but the individual skills are more promising.

Goodrum was drafted for his physical tools and considered very raw coming out of a Georgia high school, so the fact that he's walked 68 times in 627 plate appearances is a pleasant surprise. He's managed just six homers through 153 games, but Goodrum has shown decent pop with 26 doubles and 11 triples. As his 6-foot-3 frame fills out he should convert some of those gappers into homers, although that same maturation may keep him from sticking at shortstop.

There are mixed opinions on where Goodrum's long-term home will be defensively, but it's worth noting that along with the improved power, walk rate, and strikeout rate as a hitter last season he also committed significantly fewer errors at shortstop. Whatever the case, as a switch-hitter and up-the-middle defender with good speed and a nice foundation on which to build offensively he's an intriguing 21-year-old.

16. J.T. Chargois | Reliever | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+    12      0     1.69      16.0      10      0      22      5

With the second of two compensatory draft picks for losing Michael Cuddyer to free agency the Twins selected Rice reliever J.T. Chargois, who prior to the draft Baseball America rated 77th and ESPN.com rated 64th. As a junior the right-handed Chargois threw 38 innings with a 2.15 ERA and 38-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio, teaming with Twins fifth-round pick Tyler Duffey to form an exceptional bullpen duo.

Chargois also played first base for Rice and hit .323 with a .411 on-base percentage, but he failed to homer in 51 games and there was never any doubt that his future was on the mound. ESPN's scouting report noted his mid-90s fastball, sharp-breaking slider, and high-effort delivery "that virtually demands he get to the majors as quickly as possible" and makes him "someone to sign and send right out to Double-A."

And yet because the Twins are incredibly conservative when it comes to pushing prospects they sent Chargois to rookie-ball for his pro debut at age 21. He predictably dominated Appalachian League hitters with a 1.69 ERA and 22-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16 innings. Hopefully the Twins actually test Chargois with some decent competition this year, because while he's far from a sure thing letting him destroy inexperienced hitters seems like a waste of time.


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