July 17, 2014

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Hitters

mauer dozier bartlett

After getting on base at a .353 clip and averaging 5.5 runs per game in April to inspire talk of a new, ultra-patient offensive approach the Twins have a .310 on-base percentage and 3.9 runs per game since May 1. Overall they're in the middle of the pack in offense, walking a lot and hitting a bunch of doubles but struggling to hit for average or home run power. Before the second half gets underway here's a hitter-by-hitter look at the individual performances ...

Brian Dozier: .242/.340/.436 in 424 plate appearances

I once mocked people for thinking Brian Dozier had star-caliber upside, because he was elderly for a prospect and never showed power in the minors, but now at age 27 and three seasons into his Twins career he's one of the best all-around second basemen in baseball. And a power hitter, too. In the minors Dozier was a high-contact, low-power hitter with a .298 batting average and a grand total of 16 homers in 365 games, but he's taken the opposite approach in the majors.

Dozier has hit just .242 with 79 strikeouts in 92 games, which no doubt played a part in his being overlooked for the All-Star game, but that comes with 18 homers and 52 walks for a .777 OPS. Among the 27 players to start at least 50 games at second base this year Dozier ranks 11th in on-base percentage, seventh in slugging percentage, and seventh in OPS. And in Twins history his 115 adjusted OPS+ is the highest by a second baseman since Todd Walker in 1998.

Being among the top 5-10 offensive second basemen in MLB is impressive enough for a guy who hit just .232/.286/.337 in 48 games at Triple-A as recently as 2012, but Dozier has also made the transition from poor-fielding shortstop to good-fielding second baseman. Add it all up and Dozier ranks fourth among all MLB second basemen in Wins Above Replacement behind only Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, and Chase Utley. He was the Twins' best player in the first half.

Joe Mauer: .271/.342/.353 in 339 plate appearances

Joe Mauer's move from catcher to first base was supposed to keep him healthier and hopefully lead to an increase in offensive production, but instead he struggled throughout most of the first half before going on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle. Mauer's first half was ugly overall, but the injury came at a particularly bad time because he was quietly starting to turn things around and look like his old self.

In the 20 games prior to going on the disabled list Mauer hit .320 with nine doubles, including a 12-game hitting streak that he took with him to the DL. Those are baby steps, of course, and Mauer's increased strikeout rate and surprisingly unimpressive defense at first base suggest that perhaps last year's season-ending concussion may still be an issue. Brain injuries don't just vanish with the start of a new season, after all, and so far he's been a replacement-level first baseman.

Trevor Plouffe: .245/.317/.409 in 334 plate appearances

He looked like a totally different hitter in April, sacrificing power for batting average and plate discipline while using the opposite field far more than ever before, but Trevor Plouffe eventually turned back into Trevor Plouffe. He batted .218/.272/.379 with 48 strikeouts and 15 walks in 53 games after May 1 and his overall mark of .245/.317/.409 is nearly identical to his .243/.305/.414 line from 2011-2013.

What has changed are Plouffe's defensive numbers. Ultimate Zone Rating previously pegged him among the majors' worst fielders, but he graded out slightly above average in the first half. As an average defender with a .725 OPS he's a decent starting third baseman, but I'd bet on his UZR dipping into the negatives by season's end and he's now a 28-year-old career .241/.304/.411 hitter after hitting .258/.320/.405 in the minors. Funny how that works.

Kurt Suzuki: .309/.365/.396 in 311 plate appearances

Available for a one-year, $2.75 million contract this offseason because he hit just .237/.294/.357 from 2010-2013 while struggling to throw out base-stealers, Kurt Suzuki posted career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS in the first half on the way to making his first All-Star team at age 30. He also received a ton of credit for "handling" the Twins' pitching staff, but the numbers and particularly pitch-framing data don't really back up that notion.

Suzuki was a promising young catcher for the A's, but quickly wore down after huge workloads early in his career. My theory is that playing his way out of a full-time gig actually helped him physically, so it'll be interesting to see what happens if he starts 5-6 times a week in the second half. The signing has worked out better than anyone could have expected, especially since the Twins' other free agent catching targets, A.J. Pierzynski and John Buck, have had brutal years.

Eduardo Escobar: .271/.313/.404 in 274 plate appearances

After beginning the season in a utility role Eduardo Escobar took over for Pedro Florimon as the starting shortstop and hit .328/.362/.479 through the end of May. That came as a complete shock from a guy who hit just .228/.280/.307 in the majors and .269/.319/.358 in the minors prior to this season. And sure enough Escobar's magic wore off and he finished the first half by hitting .221/.269/.338 in his final 37 games.

Even with the predictable slide to end the first half Escobar was an above-average hitter for a shortstop and graded out well defensively according to Ultimate Zone Rating. Still, his terrible track record and ugly 57/16 K/BB ratio this season are strong reasons for skepticism that he can be a starting-caliber shortstop, although given the Twins' underwhelming alternatives he should get a chance to prove himself one way or another in the second half.

Josh Willingham: .212/.362/.410 in 199 plate appearances

Josh Willingham got hurt right away and then returned from the disabled list on fire in late May, hitting .316/.467/.632 with five homers and 14 walks in his first 17 games. Then he went into a prolonged slump that carried into the All-Star break, hitting .122 with 33 strikeouts in his final 26 games of the first half. Even with that brutal stretch his season totals are still decent, but when combined with terrible defense he's been a below-average corner outfielder.

Investing three years and $21 million in Willingham looked like a brilliant move after one season, but in the next two seasons he's hit .209/.348/.380 while missing 96 of a possible 256 games. He's a prime example of why multi-year contracts for mid-30s players are so sketchy and it's hard to imagine the Twins getting anything of value for him in trade. That ship sailed two offseasons ago, when they refused to consider moving Willingham coming off a career-year.

Oswaldo Arcia: .222/.312/.371 in 189 plate appearances

Oswaldo Arcia, much like Willingham, was injured one week into the season and then performed very well upon coming off the disabled list in late May only to slump horribly. His slump can be traced back to an ankle injury, although certainly Arcia has shown himself to be capable of extreme ups and downs without any other factors playing a part. His power remains very good, but he's yet to show any semblance of plate discipline or ability to handle left-handed pitching.

The good news is that he's still just 23 years old. The bad news is that even in the minors he couldn't hit lefties or control the strike zone. Through his first 143 games as a big leaguer Arcia has hit just .221/.266/.331 off lefties and his overall K/BB ratio is a pathetic 173/39. He continues to possess a ton of long-term upside, but tapping into it will prove difficult unless he makes some big strides in those two areas.

Chris Colabello: .246/.295/.427 in 183 plate appearances

Chris Colabello got off to an extremely fast start, fell into a brutal slump that got him demoted back to Triple-A, and has fared well in limited action since rejoining the team following Mauer's injury. Blended together he's been a slightly below average hitter with good power and horrible strike zone control, posting a 56/11 K/BB ratio after debuting with a 58/20 mark in 55 games last season. At age 30 he's a marginal big leaguer best suited for a part-time role.

Jason Kubel: .224/.313/.295 in 176 plate appearances

After making the team out of spring training and hitting .400 through 10 games Jason Kubel batted .168 with zero homers and 49 strikeouts in the next 36 games before being released in early June. Providing a home for his comeback attempt wasn't an idea without merit and the price was certainly right, but he looked totally washed up and by the end had trouble simply making contact at the plate. And yet Kubel still has a higher OPS than Kendrys Morales.

Sam Fuld: .285/.367/.380 in 159 plate appearances

Picked up off the waiver wire in mid-April as an Aaron Hicks alternative, Sam Fuld has exceeded expectations offensively while showing that he still has the wheels to be a standout defensively at age 32. He's definitely played well over his head, but thanks to his speed and defense Fuld has generally been a solid backup outfielder and with Hicks looking like more of a question mark than ever the Twins figure to give him plenty of action in the second half.

Josmil Pinto: .222/.323/.407 in 158 plate appearances

After an excellent September debut Josmil Pinto picked up where he left off this year as one of the Twins' best hitters, but then he fell into the first slump of his career and immediately got demoted to Triple-A so the team could make room for Morales. Pinto's defense may be bad enough that he'll never stick as more than an emergency catcher, but he's a 25-year-old career .265/.349/.464 hitter through 64 games as a big leaguer and deserved a much longer leash.

Aaron Hicks: .198/.338/.262 in 156 plate appearances

For the second straight season the Twins handed Hicks a starting job without any backup plan and for the second straight season he hit below .200 to lose the gig. Along the way this time he gave up switch-hitting only to take it back up again weeks later and is now at Double-A, where his performance in 2012 convinced the Twins he was ready to make the jump to the majors. Hicks has shown that he can draw walks, but everything else--including defense--is in major question.

Chris Parmelee: .271/.304/.400 in 148 plate appearances

It's time to give up on Chris Parmelee developing into an impact player. For all the optimism that surrounds any decent stretch the former first-round pick puts together he's a 26-year-old career .251/.318/.396 hitter in 800 plate appearances and hasn't shown the ability to control the strike zone versus big-league pitching. There's probably a role for him in the majors as a platoon first baseman or corner outfielder, but that's always a very deep player pool.

Danny Santana: .328/.366/.448 in 143 plate appearances

Called up from Triple-A in early May despite hitting just .268/.311/.381 with poor plate discipline, Danny Santana hit .330 for the Twins while also being thrust into center field duties with little previous experience at the position. Before suffering a knee injury he showed a great arm, elite speed, and surprising pop, but a 27/7 K/BB ratio hints at the same overall lack of readiness that his minor-league numbers did even if there's no denying his first 37 games were impressive.

Kendrys Morales: .229/.254/.328 in 138 plate appearances

Morales' strong first week quieted talk of his being rusty after sitting out two months waiting for a better contract, but since then he's hit .198 with a 17/3 K/BB ratio in 27 games. There was always good reason to wonder if he was even an upgrade over the demoted Pinto and so far he certainly hasn't been, although recently Morales has at least shown some signs of life. At a cost of $8 million the Twins overestimated how good they'd be and how good Morales would be.


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July 9, 2014

Twins Notes: Nolasco, Buxton, Sano, Gordon, Parmelee, and Dozier

ricky nolasco and ron gardenhire

• In signing Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million contract the Twins touted his durability as a major selling point, as the 31-year-old right-hander had started at least 30 games and logged at least 185 innings in five of the previous six seasons. Now, just four months into his Twins career and with an ugly 5.90 ERA in 18 starts, Nolasco has been shut down with elbow soreness that he's apparently been pitching through since spring training.

If everyone involved is to be believed that news came as a surprise to the Twins, which means either Nolasco went out of his way to hide the injury from trainers and coaches or those same trainers and coaches went out of their way not to investigate his season-long struggles. Or maybe a mixture of both. Certainly if he was hiding the elbow injury that has to be very frustrating for the Twins and Nolasco is absolutely at fault.

However, it's also worth noting that the Twins--from the front office to manager Ron Gardenhire and his coaching staff--have created and repeatedly fed into a culture in which acting like a tough guy and playing through pain is considered noble rather than stupid or irresponsible. Even in discussing how Nolasco hid the injury from the team Gardenhire almost couldn't help acting as if there was something positive about the so-called "old school" approach taken by the pitcher.

Meanwhile, seemingly every season one or two key players try to tough their way through injuries with disastrous results and no one ever seems to learn a lesson from it. Who knows whether that played a role in Nolasco pitching through pain, but it certainly didn't play a role in convincing him to do otherwise. When can we end this outdated, shortsighted approach of letting hugely valuable athletes risk their short- and long-term health and productivity in the name of being tough guys?

If you're a player and you're hurt, tell someone in charge. And if you're someone in charge and a player tells you he's hurt, don't let him continue playing. As simple as those two directives sound, they've been sadly lacking for the Twins in recent years. This time around it led to their trotting out an injured pitcher for 18 horrible starts and putting at risk a $48 million investment. If that's "old school" then everyone flunked out.

• Worst single-season adjusted ERA+ in Twins history among pitchers with 100 or more innings:

68 - Jim Deshaies, 1994
66 - Ricky Nolasco, 2014
71 - Boof Bonser, 2008
72 - Ray Corbin, 1974
72 - Joe Mays, 2003
72 - Jim Hughes, 1976

Helluva list.

• MLB starting pitchers have a combined 3.90 ERA. Twins starters have the following ERAs:

3.70 - Phil Hughes
4.17 - Kyle Gibson
4.79 - Kevin Correia
4.98 - Yohan Pino
5.90 - Ricky Nolasco
6.52 - Sam Deduno
7.99 - Mike Pelfrey

As a group Twins starting pitchers rank 29th among MLB teams in ERA, ahead of only the Coors Field-inflated Rockies. Last season they ranked 30th in ERA and in 2012 they ranked 29th in ERA, also ahead of only Colorado.

Byron Buxton finally returned from a wrist injury after sitting out the first three-plus months of the season and despite all the missed time Baseball America's midseason update still ranked him as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. Miguel Sano also ranked No. 9 even though the Twins just announced that he'll miss the entire season following elbow surgery and pitchers Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart, and Alex Meyer also cracked Baseball America's updated top 40.

• Meyer looks to be back on track at Triple-A after some struggles last month. He struck out 10 last night and has a 2.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 18 innings over his last three starts.

• No. 5 overall draft pick Nick Gordon has hit .359/.408/.500 with five extra-base hits and four stolen bases through his first 15 pro games for rookie-level Elizabethon.

Chris Parmelee is 26 years old and has batted .235 with a .299 on-base percentage and .370 slugging percentage in 677 plate appearances since his big September debut, so it's probably time to stop getting excited whenever he has a decent week.

• His batting average isn't pretty, but Brian Dozier's current 112 adjusted OPS+ is the best by a Twins middle infielder since Todd Walker in 1998 and Chuck Knoblauch in 1994-1996.

• He's a deserving All-Star, but it's odd to hear Kurt Suzuki endlessly praised for "handling" a pitching staff that ranks 28th in ERA, especially when pitch-framing stats show him as poor.

• This offseason the Twins were believed to be deciding between Suzuki and John Buck as their veteran catcher addition. Buck hit .226/.293/.286 for the Mariners and just got released.

• I looked this up after watching him leg out a single Monday evening: Kendrys Morales has 48 career infield hits, including at least 10 in three different years. Imagine that.

Eduardo Escobar was hitting .314/.357/.473 on June 15. Since then he's 9-for-66 (.136) with 17 strikeouts and 2 walks. Track records: Trust 'em.

Hisashi Iwakuma owns the Twins, with a 5-0 record and 0.00 ERA in five starts against them.

Vance Worley has a 2.28 ERA and 18/5 K/BB ratio in four starts for the Pirates, who think they've fixed whatever ailed him with the Twins last season.

Pat Neshek, who has a 2.39 ERA since being waived by the Twins in 2011, made his first All-Star team at age 33.

Lew Ford, now 37 years old, is hitting .372 with a .445 on-base percentage and .568 slugging percentage in the independent Atlantic League. And he's the team's hitting coach too.

• One-time Twins minor leaguer Yangervis Solarte turned back into a pumpkin after a big April and May for the Yankees.


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September 18, 2013

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

parmelee hendriks duensing

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 third 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):

Andrew Albers: Odds are Albers' early success after being called up is enough to keep him on the 40-man roster for next season, but as of about two months ago he was nowhere to be found in the Twins' plans and soft-tossing former independent leaguers tend to always be close to the chopping block. Extreme strike-throwing could allow Albers to survive as a fifth starter for a bit, but he's totally lacking in upside and has predictably struggled to miss bats.

Doug Bernier: Signed to a minor-league deal this offseason, Bernier had the best season of his dozen-year career by hitting .295/.370/.407 in 95 games as Rochester's starting shortstop. That earned him a call-up in July when the Twins demoted Eduardo Escobar from the utility infielder role and Bernier has played sparingly. As a 33-year-old career .249/.347/.341 hitter in 600 total games at Triple-A there's no reason to keep a marginal utility man on the roster.

Chris Colabello: He crushed Triple-A pitching to be named MVP of the International League, but Colabello has hit just .196 with a 51-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 47 games for the Twins and 29-year-old rookies signed out of independent leagues often don't get second chances. He's shown some pop and based on his Triple-A destruction Colabello seems capable of being at least a useful platoon first baseman against lefties, but it's hard to imagine his roster spot being secure.

Cole De Vries: As a local guy and undrafted free agent De Vries making his big-league debut last year at age 27 was a great story, but he was never particularly deserving of the call-up in the first place based on his track record and this year he was injured and ineffective at Triple-A. De Vries is exactly the type of pitcher who will be available on minor-league deals every offseason and there's zero reason for the Twins to keep him on the 40-man roster like they have since mid-2012.

Brian Duensing: After a miserable first half that saw him demoted from setup man to mop-up man Duensing has quietly turned things around in the second half. His overall numbers are solid, including a 53-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just three homers allowed in 56 innings, but he'll never be trustworthy versus right-handed hitters and with a raise to at least $2 million coming up via arbitration he's a non-tender candidate.

Eric Fryer: Added to the 40-man roster and called up two weeks ago because the Twins simply needed another warm body behind the plate after Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit suffered brain injuries, Fryer got the nod despite a .215/.339/.365 line in 65 games at Triple-A. His track record is similarly poor and at age 27 there's no upside to be had, so it seems safe to assume that Fryer will be dropped from the 40-man roster as soon as the season is over.

Liam Hendriks: Being rushed to the majors slightly ahead of schedule in 2012 hasn't helped and giving up on Hendriks at age 24 would be a drastic move. On the other hand underwhelming raw stuff and mediocre strikeout rates always made him a second-tier prospect, his results for the Twins so far have been brutally bad, and this year his Triple-A performance also ceased being encouraging. It all depends on how long the Twins want to wait for a potential fourth starter.

B.J. Hermsen: Terrible strikeout rates and poor fastball velocity stopped Hermsen from being a quality prospect despite nice-looking ERAs in the low minors. He was named Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2012, but ranked just 29th in my prospect rankings coming into the season and then got knocked around at Double-A for a 4.81 ERA and .328 opponents' batting average with just 35 strikeouts in 86 innings. He's still only 24 years old, but has very little upside.

Pedro Hernandez: Acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade, Hernandez is a soft-tossing left-hander who likely struggles too much against right-handed hitters to succeed as a starter. Righties have hit .331/.400/.587 off him through 57 innings in the majors and also did a lot of damage off him in the minors. Hernandez fares well enough versus lefties to possibly carve out a bullpen niche, but that's true of most southpaw pitchers and his value is pretty limited.

Shairon Martis: Much like Fryer on the position player side, adding Martis to the 40-man roster and calling him up earlier this month would have warranted a lot more criticism if it didn't seem so obvious that the Twins will cut him loose as soon as the season ends. Martis is 26 years old with a 5.24 ERA in the majors and a 4.40 ERA at Triple-A, which includes a mediocre performance after shifting to the bullpen in Rochester this year. He has no business in the big leagues.

Darin Mastroianni: It's tough to evaluate Mastroianni's season because he got hurt during spring training and initially tried to play through the injury before undergoing ankle surgery that cost him four months. However, even before the lost season he was a marginal major leaguer ticketed for a bench role and he can't afford to lose any speed considering it's his primary skill. If healthy he's a useful backup outfielder, but he's a fairly fungible player type.

Chris Parmelee: There have been a few brief flashes of big-time production, both for the Twins and at Triple-A, but Parmelee simply hasn't hit enough. He's at .225/.299/.371 in 152 games for the Twins since an impressive September debut in 2011 and hit just .231/.318/.380 in 45 games at Triple-A this year. Going back further he hit just .282/.355/.416 at Double-A and will be 26 years old before spring training, so at the very least the clock is winding down on Parmelee.

Mike Pelfrey: Signed to a one-year, $4 million contract coming off Tommy John elbow surgery, Pelfrey was terrible early, decent in the middle, and terrible again recently. Add it all up and you get 28 starts of a 5.34 ERA with just 96 strikeouts in 147 innings and a .300 opponents' batting average. His fastball velocity doesn't help much without a usable off-speed pitch and a slow pace on the mound makes watching him torture. Free agency will take him off the 40-man roster.

Wilkin Ramirez: The latest example of the Twins overreacting to a strong spring training by a mediocre player, Ramirez won an Opening Day job despite a decade-long track record of terrible plate discipline and poor overall production in the minors. He's a career .255/.310/.430 hitter at Triple-A and hit .272/.302/.370 with an ugly 23-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the Twins before multiple injuries wrecked his season. He's also not a true center fielder defensively.

Josh Roenicke: Claimed off waivers from the Rockies last fall, Roenicke has done about what should have been expected by eating some low-leverage relief innings with too many walks and not enough strikeouts. He's basically a replacement-level middle reliever and at age 30 with a raise via arbitration eligibility ahead Roenicke wouldn't be missed in what looks to be a relatively deep right-handed bullpen mix for 2014.

Clete Thomas: Aaron Hicks' struggles and Mastroianni's injury led to Thomas getting a second shot with the Twins after struggling mightily last year in a brief look. He stuck around much longer this time, logging more than 300 plate appearances, but Thomas has hit just .219/.291/.314 with a ton of strikeouts and is simply overmatched as a regular. Decent range in center field is enough to make Thomas a usable backup outfielder, but the Twins should be able to do better.

For a lengthy discussion about what the Twins' roster will look like next season, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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September 11, 2013

Twins Notes: September call-ups, bad Buxton, and cleaning up young

aaron hicks september1

• Rochester's playoff run ended Sunday at Triple-A, so the Twins made seven September call-ups after initially not adding reinforcements. Eduardo Escobar, Chris Parmelee, Scott Diamond, and Michael Tonkin return after playing for the Twins previously this season and Cole De Vries is back in Minnesota for the first time this year after spending much of last season in the Twins' rotation, leaving Shairon Martis and Eric Fryer as the surprising call-ups.

Fryer is a 28-year-old journeyman catcher with 2,081 plate appearances in the minors compared to 34 plate appearances in the majors. He hit just .219/.339/.365 in 65 games for Rochester and is a career .208/.312/.313 hitter at Triple-A, but with Joe Mauer on the disabled list recovering from a brain injury and the Twins apparently no longer as willing to use Ryan Doumit behind the plate they wanted another catcher around for the final three weeks.

Martis is a 26-year-old right-hander who spent most of last season and all of this season in the Twins' farm system after being signed to a minor-league deal. He was a full-time starter until this year, shifting to the bullpen in Rochester and throwing 80 innings with a 4.26 ERA and 65-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio. There is absolutely nothing about his performance that stands out, this season or in past seasons, so aside from "they just wanted an extra arm" his call-up is odd.

My assumption is that Fryer and Martis will be dropped from the 40-man roster immediately after the season, in which case adding them now has no real impact aside from not giving those same temporary spots to more deserving options this month. De Vries also seems likely to be dropped, along with a handful of other names as part of the annual season-ending purge. Tonkin is the only call-up in the group with big upside, although certainly some people still believe in Diamond.

• As for who the Twins didn't add, the healthy players on the 40-man roster who haven't joined the team are Aaron Hicks, Trevor May, Danny Santana, and B.J. Hermsen. Of that group only Hicks' lack of a call-up is at all surprising, because May, Santana, and Hermsen all spent the season at Double-A and Hermsen was bad enough to potentially be dropped from the roster soon. Hicks, meanwhile, was the Opening Day center fielder and spent four months in the majors.

Hicks was terrible following an August 1 demotion to Triple-A, hitting .221/.317/.333 with zero homers and a 21-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22 games to continue a miserable season that began with the Twins shoving aside development and service time considerations by rushing him from Double-A to the majors at age 23. Of course, Parmelee hit just .231/.318/.370 in 45 games at Triple-A following his midseason demotion and still got a September call-up.

• I dug through the minor-league records back when the Twins promoted Byron Buxton from low Single-A to high Single-A in late June and found that he was one of just six teenagers in the past 30 years to post an OPS of .975 or higher in the Midwest League:

Byron Buxton       2013     .990
Javier Baez        2012     .979
Oscar Taveras      2011    1.028
Mike Trout         2010     .979
Alex Rodriguez     1994     .984
Larry Walker       1986    1.011

After the promotion to high Single-A he played 57 games for Fort Myers, hitting .326/.415/.472 with 23 steals. Here's a list of all the teenagers in the past 30 years to post an OPS of .875 or higher in the Florida State League:

Byron Buxton       2013     .887
Jesus Montero      2009     .989
Giancarlo Stanton  2009     .968
Joel Guzman        2004     .899
Nick Johnson       1998    1.004
Adrian Beltre      1997     .967

So during the first half of the season Buxton did something only five other players have done in the past 30 years and then during the second half of the season Buxton did a different thing only five other players have done in the past 30 years. Overall he hit .334/.424/.520 with 55 steals, 49 extra-base hits, and 76 walks in 125 games between two levels where the average pitchers were 23 years old. He doesn't turn 20 until mid-December. Buxton is a bad, bad man (or kid, I guess).

UPDATE: Right on cue, Baseball America just announced that Buxton is their minor league player of the year, joining Mauer in 2003 as the only Twins to win the award.

• Sunday afternoon Oswaldo Arcia batted fourth for the first time in his career, making his debut in the cleanup spot at 22 years and 122 days old. He's the youngest player to bat cleanup for the Twins since Mauer did it at 22 years and 88 days old in July of 2005 and Justin Morneau did it at 22 years and 26 days old in June of 2003. Here's the complete list of every Twins hitter to bat cleanup before turning 23:

Kent Hrbek        156
Butch Wynegar     101
David Ortiz        44
Justin Morneau     12
Tom Brunansky      12
Joe Mauer           6
Steve Brye          6
OSWALDO ARCIA       3
Don Mincher         1

Butch Wynegar, one of the biggest phenoms in team history, was the youngest Twins cleanup hitter at 20 years and 63 days old in May of 1976. In fact, the 90 youngest instances of a Twins hitter batting cleanup all belong Wynegar and then the 91st spot is Tom Brunansky at 21 years and 266 days old. Steve Brye is the odd man out on that list, batting cleanup six times for the Twins as a 22-year-old in 1971 despite going on to be a career .258/.309/.365 hitter.

• After missing all of last season and the first five months of this season following Tommy John elbow surgery Scott Baker finally made his 2013 debut Sunday for the Cubs. He'd been very ineffective while rehabbing in the minors, but Baker tossed five shutout innings against the Brewers in his first start since August 8, 2011. He'll be a free agent again this offseason.

• There was some talk of the Twins being in the mix for Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero, but he ended up signing with the Dodgers for $32 million.

• While looking up some stats I stumbled across this tidbit: In their respective Double-A careers Michael Jordan (.289) had a higher on-base percentage than Drew Butera (.287).

Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote an interesting column about Morneau's first two weeks with the Pirates and how he relates to Penguins star Sidney Crosby.

• For a lot more on Buxton's great season, plus talk about Mauer's concussion, Josmil Pinto's hot start, and Trevor Plouffe's future, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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August 8, 2013

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

drew butera twins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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