January 9, 2013

Twins Notes: Goin, Tosoni, Harden, Bullock, Diamond, and Liriano

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily interviewed Twins manager of major league administration and baseball research Jack Goin for a glimpse into the team's use of statistical analysis. Hageman co-hosted this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode and we discussed that topic quite a bit. Short version? While it's nice to see the Twins get more involved in statistical analysis my sense remains that they're merely dipping their toes in the water while other teams are swimming.

Rene Tosoni, who the Twins dropped from the 40-man roster in August, has signed with the Brewers on a minor-league contract. Tosoni cracked my annual ranking of Twins prospects at No. 11 in 2010 and No. 14 in 2011, but he was sidetracked by injuries and then basically just stopped hitting. Now he's a 26-year-old corner outfielder who struggled in 60 games for the Twins in 2011 and hit just .224/.293/.315 in 81 games between Double-A and Triple-A last season.

Clete Thomas, who briefly filled a bench spot while the Twins kept Ben Revere at Triple-A for a bit longer, has re-signed on a minor-league deal. Thomas struck out 16 times in 28 at-bats for the Twins and hit just .232/.281/.405 with a 109-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 109 games at Triple-A, so despite his big-league experience the 29-year-old outfielder now looks like little more than depth for Rochester.

• After appearing on "Gleeman and The Geek" two weeks ago Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com did some digging and found that Rich Harden's minor-league contract with the Twins includes a July 31 opt-out clause. As far as opt-out clauses go that's a very late one, so if he doesn't look to be at full strength in spring training the Twins can stash Harden at Triple-A for a while and that makes what was already a worthwhile, low-risk flier look even better.

• Free agent Brett Myers was linked to the Twins by various sources throughout December, but ended up signing a one-year, $7 million deal with the Indians that includes an $8 million team option for 2014. And according to Wolfson the Twins never even made him an offer, which has become a familiar story this offseason and makes Kevin Correia's two-year, $10 million deal all the more confusing.

• And speaking of the Indians, they're the latest mid-market team to secure a new local television deal that significantly surpasses the Twins' current contract with FOX Sports North.

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPN New York and had an interesting little note related to the Twins, reporting that they would have taken Jefry Marte from the Mets with the No. 4 pick in the Rule 5 draft had Ryan Pressly of the Red Sox not been available. Marte is a 21-year-old third baseman who hit just .251/.322/.366 at Double-A last season and was not selected by another team, with the Mets later trading him to the A's for Collin Cowgill.

Billy Bullock, the 2009 second-round pick traded to the Braves for the ability to stash Scott Diamond at Triple-A as a Rule 5 pick, was suspended 50 games for a "drug of abuse." He still throws hard with lots of strikeouts, but Bullock's control is awful and he's no longer a prospect at age 24. I hated that trade at the time and it's worked out very well for the Twins, although I still think they should have just kept Diamond as a long reliever and kept Bullock.

• On a related note, Diamond underwent minor elbow surgery to remove a bone chip and should be ready for spring training, but he won't pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic.

• In looking over Mike Pelfrey's career it struck me how amazing his draft class ended up being. Pelfrey was the No. 9 pick out of Wichita State and among the players selected ahead of him were Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, and Ryan Zimmerman. But wait, there's more. Other top-30 picks included Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Cameron Maybin, Jacoby Ellsbury, Colby Rasmus, and Matt Garza, who the Twins took No. 25. That's crazy.

Jeff Clement was the No. 3 pick in that same draft--between Gordon and Zimmerman--and after hitting just .218/.277/.371 in 152 games for the Mariners and Pirates he'll likely spend this season at Triple-A for the Twins.

• After spending nearly all of last season in the Twins' bullpen despite adding to his lengthy track record of mediocrity with a 5.71 ERA and 26-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52 innings Jeff Gray was dropped from the 40-man roster in late August. He went unclaimed on waivers, became a free agent, and agreed to a minor-league deal with the White Sox.

Kiley McDaniel, who formerly worked for several MLB teams, recently watched Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton play instructional league games and wrote very detailed, interesting scouting reports for Fan Graphs.

Francisco Liriano's two-year, $12.75 million deal with the Pirates is in jeopardy because of an offseason injury to his non-throwing arm.

• An oral history of Nick Punto sliding into first base is the best thing you'll read today.

• Podcast listeners who enjoy when we're interrupted by a drunk person will absolutely love this week's episode, and there's also some good Twins talk about how the roster is shaping up.

May 11, 2012

Twins Notes: Birthday boys, pimping, demoting, neglecting, and mocking

• Reminder: Gleeman and The Geek airs live on KFAN at 4:00 on Sunday. I can neither confirm nor deny that this week's show will just be me sighing into the microphone for an hour.

• Happy birthday to No. 1 prospect Miguel Sano, who turned 19 years old today and is hitting .303/.417/.655 with 10 homers and 20 walks in 33 games at low Single-A. Last week Sano hit a game-winning homer against the Angels' affiliate and the benches cleared because, as Cedar Rapids manager Jamie Burke put it: "I think he kind of pimped that home run a little bit." Here's more from Jeff Johnson of the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

Sano stood in the batter's box awhile to watch his homer against relief pitcher Carmine Giardiana. He trotted the bases, but virtually stopped a few feet before touching the plate, taking off his batting helmet as Kernels catcher Abel Baker barked at him.

Sano glared at the Kernels dugout after finally touching the plate, with Kernels players continuing to give him significant grief. He took a step toward Baker, and the dugouts began to empty, with umpires Fernando Rodriguez and Paul Clemons, as well as both teams' coaching staffs, doing a good job of squelching what could have been an ugly scene.

Also worth noting is that being annoyed by Sano's actions following the homer didn't stop Burke from effusively praising him as a player:

He's young, but he's one heck of a player, man. He's unbelievable. That's the best player I've seen here, by far.

Twins fans may remember Burke as the White Sox catcher who got destroyed by Torii Hunter in a home plate collision back in 2004.

Anthony Slama has never gotten an extended shot with the Twins despite dominating every level of the minors and was dropped from the 40-man roster after injuring his elbow late last season. He's healthy again, posting a 0.57 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 16 innings as Rochester's closer, which gives him a 2.35 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 133 career innings at Triple-A. Slama is 28 years old and has shaky control, but there's no excuse for ignoring him at this point.

Remember when the Twins signed Jason Marquis and Terry Ryan said "he throws the ball over the plate" despite the fact that his career walk rate of 3.5 per nine innings was the exact same as Francisco Liriano's? Through five starts Marquis has more walks (11) than strikeouts (10) in 27 innings and has thrown the same percentage of his pitches for strikes as Liriano, who's been banished to the bullpen.

Sean Burroughs and Clete Thomas cleared waivers after being designated for assignment by the Twins, meaning they'll both remain in the organization at Triple-A but no longer reside on the 40-man roster. Stockpiling that type of depth is a good thing, but in making room for Thomas in Rochester's outfield the Twins demoted No. 2 prospect Joe Benson from Triple-A to Double-A despite the fact that he'd already spent two seasons there.

Benson was off to a rough start, hitting .179 with 27 strikeouts in 28 games, but was hitting for power and drawing walks. At the time of the demotion Benson had a .584 OPS and Ben Revere had a .592 OPS. Demoting a 24-year-old back to Double-A for a third straight season because he struggled in 28 games seems odd, particularly when Chris Parmelee is struggling in the majors after skipping Triple-A following far worse Double-A production than Benson.

• Parmelee sticking in the majors because the Twins trusted September and March instead of a mediocre track record was misguided enough, but now he's not even playing consistently. Parmelee is a left-handed hitter, yet he's been on the bench for three straight games against right-handed pitchers. It'll be buried beneath the mountain of problems, but the handling of prospects Parmelee, Benson, Revere, and Liam Hendriks leaves a lot to be desired.

Dan Osterbrock was the Twins' seventh-round pick out of the University of Cincinnati in 2008 and spent four seasons in the farm system before injuring his shoulder and getting released this spring. Since then he's been extremely outspoken about the Twins' handling of his injury and other pitcher injuries. For instance, when it was announced that Scott Baker needed Tommy John surgery after the Twins initially said he could pitch Osterbrock tweeted:

Wait, the Twins allowed an injury to linger longer than a year without taking care of it?! Shocker.

Then in responding to various questions about his own health status, Osterbrock wrote:

Twins released me. My shoulder was hurting so instead of helping me out, they got rid of me.

I really enjoyed my time with the Twins, but I'm none too pleased with the way it ended and how it was handled.

Shoulder surgery Round 2 tomorrow morning. Looking forward to finally getting this fixed properly.

Surgery went well. Should be throwing soon. Special thanks to the Twins for completely neglecting the obvious injury I had.

Osterbrock also said in an interview with the University of Cincinnati's website that "they kept telling me that I was going to be all right and that I should try to play through it and I did for as long as I could." Because of the increasing number of questions about the competency of the team's medical staff Osterbrock's comments got some attention and the Twins were forced to respond. Not surprisingly they denied any wrongdoing.

• Tommy John surgery has already derailed the career of 2009 first-round pick Kyle Gibson and now 2010 first-round pick Alex Wimmers may be facing the same fate. Wimmers came back from extreme control problems last season to re-establish himself as one of the Twins' better prospects, but he's been shut down with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. Predictably the Twins are saying he can avoid surgery and will try rest and rehab. Good luck.

• Twins owner Jim Pohlad gave votes of confidence to Ryan and Ron Gardenhire, dismissing the notion that either man's job could be in jeopardy. That's certainly not surprising, but it's also worth noting that Pohlad gave Bill Smith a public vote of confidence in October ... and then fired him five weeks later.

Jared Burton served up two homers in his Twins debut and gave up a run two appearances later, but he's been unhittable since then. Literally. Burton has thrown 10.2 consecutive no-hit innings dating back to April 13. During that time batters are 0-for-32 with 11 strikeouts off him, getting on base only via two walks and two plunkings.

• Minnesota native Michael Wuertz held an open tryout for teams in mid-March and the Twins were in attendance, but six weeks later the once-dominant and oft-injured reliever signed a minor-league deal with the Reds.

• Since the Twins traded him to the Orioles last offseason J.J. Hardy has 38 homers in 709 plate appearances. During that same time the Twins' entire infield has combined for 52 homers in 3,828 plate appearances. This season Hardy is out-homering the Twins' infield 8-to-3.

• In starting the season with an MLB-worst 8-23 record the Twins have been outscored by 67 runs in 31 games while no other team has been outscored by more than 32 runs.

• How did Dan Haren lose to the Twins? He was hurt. At this point I'll assume that every Twins victory will be followed by the opposing pitcher revealing an injury within 48 hours.

Jim Callis of Baseball America published his first mock draft and it has the Twins selecting Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton with the No. 2 pick.

• Last and least, I guess now we know that Robby Incmikoski checks Twitter while he's working the game for FSN.

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May 8, 2012

Morneau’s latest injury leads to Dozier’s arrival and roster shakeup

Justin Morneau exited last Monday's game with soreness in his surgically repaired left wrist, immediately flying from California to Minnesota to be examined by team doctors and admitting that the injury had been bothering him for several days. At the time I wondered why the Twins wouldn't just put him on the disabled list for two weeks if the situation was serious enough for a cross-country flight and an MRI exam for a chronically injured player.

Instead, as they've done far too many times with far too many injured players during the past few seasons, they kept Morneau on the active roster for a week despite his being unavailable to actually play and then, only after completing an entire West Coast road trip with a one- or two-man bench, finally put him on the DL. Sadly when it comes to both Morneau's health and the Twins' handling of injuries, it turns out not much has changed.

When the Twins finally decided to shut down Morneau it set in motion a series of moves that reshaped the roster following an MLB-worst 7-20 start. Brian Dozier was called up from Triple-A and handed the starting job at shortstop, shifting Jamey Carroll into a utility man role that will also involve pushing second baseman Alexi Casilla and third baseman Danny Valencia for playing time.

Scott Diamond joined Dozier in being promoted from Triple-A and will step into the rotation for Liam Hendriks, who allowed 18 runs in 18 innings replacing the injured Scott Baker. And then just for good measure the Twins swapped backup outfielders too, designating Clete Thomas for assignment three weeks after claiming him off waivers from the Tigers and replacing him by claiming Erik Komatsu off waivers from the Cardinals.

Dozier arrives with inflated expectations thanks to assorted fans who don't know any better and media members who should know better touting him as a top prospect. In reality Dozier is 25 years old with limited upside and was at Single-A as of the middle of last season. He can certainly be a valuable player and ranked 10th on my annual list of Twins prospects coming into the season, but he hit just .276/.339/.371 in 28 games at Triple-A before the call-up.

There are also plenty of questions about Dozier's defense, with many prospect analysts believing he's better suited for second base than shortstop. Ron Gardenhire has been publicly clamoring for Dozier since last season, so it's not surprising that the manager would anoint him the starting shortstop upon arrival, but it's worth noting that Carroll was perfectly solid defensively even if he wasn't hitting.

Whenever a 38-year-old hits .208 through 27 games it's natural to wonder if he's simply washed up, particularly since Carroll was never exactly a star-caliber player to begin with, but drawing 13 walks with just 14 strikeouts in 116 plate appearances are positive signs at the plate and while he's in no danger of reminding anyone of Ozzie Smith range-wise his defense was hardly a major weakness at shortstop.

By signing Carroll to a two-year, $6.5 million contract the Twins committed to him as more than just a short-term stop gap, as he's both in their plans for next season and being paid way too much for a typical backup role. In other words, expect to see Carroll in the lineup plenty even if Dozier sticks at shortstop and expect to see plenty of speculation about the Twins parting ways with Casilla and/or Valencia in the near future.

Hendriks' struggles are more a confirmation that he wasn't ready to thrive in the majors than an indictment of his future value. He remains a potential mid-rotation starter, perhaps as soon as later this season, but at 23 years old and with just nine starts at Triple-A pushing him to the big leagues was always an iffy idea. Diamond is 25 and a lesser prospect with 39 starts at Triple-A, so turning to him while giving Hendriks a chance to develop further makes sense.

Last year the Twins selected Diamond in the Rule 5 draft, decided they couldn't keep him in the majors all season, and traded former second-round pick Billy Bullock to the Braves for the ability to stash him in the minors. That move made no sense to me at the time and was even weirder when they called up Diamond in July anyway. He didn't pitch well at Triple-A last year and struggled in seven starts for the Twins, but did some nice work in Rochester this season.

Diamond was my 35th-ranked Twins prospect coming into the season and projects as a potential back-of-the-rotation starter who'll hopefully make up for modest velocity and poor strikeout totals by inducing lots of ground balls. He posted a 2.60 ERA and 26-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 innings for Rochester before the call-up, but that only improved his career Triple-A numbers to a 4.50 ERA with just 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

Three weeks ago the Twins claimed Thomas off waivers from the Tigers because they decided he was much better suited for a little-used bench role than Ben Revere, who at 24 years old deserved a chance to continue developing by playing regularly at Triple-A. Thomas homered in his second at-bat for the Twins and they proceeded to give him more starts than Revere was getting, but when he followed the homer by going 3-for-26 with 16 strikeouts they cut bait.

Thomas isn't as bad as he looked for the Twins, mostly because it's nearly impossible to actually be that bad, but as I noted at the time of the waiver claim he's a 28-year-old with a mediocre track record in the minors and majors who rates as essentially a replacement-level outfielder. In designating Thomas for assignment they removed him from the 40-man roster and exposed him to waivers again, assigning him to Rochester after he went unclaimed.

They filled his spot by claiming Komatsu, who's now with his fourth team in 10 months after the Nationals acquired him from the Brewers for Jerry Hairston last July only to lose him in the Rule 5 draft when they opted not to protect him with a 40-man roster spot. Rule 5 picks must remain in the majors all season or be offered back to their original team, which means the Twins won't be able to send Komatsu to the minors if they sour on him like they did Thomas.

It's also worth noting that the Twins picked second in the Rule 5 draft and passed on Komatsu to select Terry Doyle, whom they returned to the White Sox. None of which means Komatsu isn't a useful player. He lacks Thomas' power, but is four years younger with much better plate discipline. Because he skipped Triple-A it's tough to get a feel for Komatsu's readiness, but he plays all three outfield spots and hit .302 with a .389 on-base percentage in the minors.

Much of that was in the low minors and isn't particularly relevant now, but Komatsu spent all of last season at Double-A as a 23-year-old and hit .277/.367/.382 with 21 steals and nearly as many walks (64) as strikeouts (66). Commanding the strike zone that well is impressive for a hitter with just seven homers in 124 games, as pitchers certainly weren't afraid to throw him strikes. He doesn't project as a regular, but Komatsu's skill set fits the backup outfielder role.

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April 17, 2012

Twins claim Clete Thomas off waivers, demote Ben Revere to Triple-A

Late in spring training the Twins essentially chose Chris Parmelee over Ben Revere for the final starting job and once that happened it made sense for them to find a new fourth outfielder via the waiver wire or an inexpensive trade rather than keep Revere around to play sparingly in a reserve role. Sure enough they came to that realization after using Revere for just 11 plate appearances in eight games, claiming Clete Thomas off waivers from the Tigers.

Despite homering in his Twins debut Thomas has a pretty limited skill set with plenty of flaws and resembles a replacement-level player more than he does a starter, but that's basically what the fourth outfielder role calls for anyway and as a 28-year-old veteran of 255 games at Triple-A and 145 games in the majors he's far better suited for a little-used bench gig than the 23-year-old Revere.

And that's coming from someone who's been very skeptical of Revere's upside, but whatever chance he has of developing into an above-average regular is better with him actually playing in Rochester rather than sitting in Minnesota. Revere played just 32 games at Triple-A before the Twins' never-ending injuries last season accelerated his timetable, so while sending him back there after 134 games in the majors isn't ideal it makes sense developmentally.

Odds are Revere will be back in the majors relatively soon and hopefully that return will come because he thrived at Triple-A, but there will also be an opportunity for him if someone gets injured or Parmelee proves that he could use some time in Rochester himself. Whatever the case, in the meantime the Twins are better off using Thomas as a defensive replacement and spot starter because that's the role both his current and future ability fit best in.

Thomas was actually the Twins' fifth-round pick in 2002 out of high school, but he chose to play college ball at Auburn instead of signing. Three years later the Tigers picked him in the sixth round and three years after that Thomas cracked their Opening Day roster as a 24-year-old despite underwhelming production in the minors. He spent two seasons going back and forth between Triple-A and the majors, hitting .253/.336/.391 in 142 games for the Tigers.

Knee surgery knocked Thomas out for most of 2010 and he spent all of last season at Triple-A, hitting .251/.314/.401 with 12 homers and an ugly 130-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 113 games. He still managed to make this year's Opening Day roster, but Thomas was designated for assignment after appearing in three games without getting a plate appearance. And then, naturally, he was claimed off waivers by the Twins and homered in his second at-bat.

Coming back from microfracture knee surgery is extremely difficult, so if you give Thomas some benefit of the doubt he's likely better than he looked at Triple-A last season. On the other hand his .253/.336/.391 career line in the majors is nearly identical to his .252/.336/.409 career line at Triple-A, so at 28 years old it's fairly easy to conclude that what you see with Thomas is probably what you'll get at this point.

He doesn't walk a lot and strikes out too much, which drags down his average, but Thomas has enough pop for 10-15 homers, enough speed for 10-15 steals, and (before the surgery, at least) enough range to back up all three outfield spots. That isn't someone who should play regularly, but for the occasional start versus righties and some late-game defense or running he's a reasonable enough fit while the Twins hope Revere will prove too good for that role.

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