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.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Coordinated Business Systems, which offers innovative technology solutions for Minnesota businesses. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

March 26, 2012

Twins Notes: Outfield realignments, Rule 5 returns, and drugs of abuse

• In signing Josh Willingham to a three-year, $21 million contract in mid-December the Twins indicated that he'd be their everyday right fielder despite playing just 264 career innings there compared to 5,524 innings in left field. Getting a first-hand look at Willingham and the various other outfield options in camp apparently changed those plans, as Ron Gardenhire announced yesterday that Willingham will be the starting left fielder.

Gardenhire also made official what was expected by naming Denard Span the starting center fielder, which leaves right field for ... well, everyone. Depending on how often and at which positions Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are in the lineup right field could potentially be manned by Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Parmelee, or Ryan Doumit, none of whom have ever played the position on more than a semi-regular basis in the majors or minors.

For years the Twins stressed how valuable Michael Cuddyer's arm was in right field, so their willingness to use Revere there when he might have the majors' worst arm and his range is of better use in the more spacious left field is surprising to say the least. If nothing else it signals that Revere is headed for a part-time role, which along with Gardenhire's stubbornness could lead to his biggest strength being diminished and his biggest weakness being magnified.

If the manager were more willing to make daily shifts he could platoon Revere and Plouffe by using Revere in left field with Willingham in right field against right-handed pitching and Plouffe in right field with Willingham in left field against left-handed pitching. That's something plenty of managers do regularly, but it's something Gardenhire has always avoided with occasionally laughable results. Runners going first-to-third at will with Revere in right field would fit that bill.

Whatever the case, based on Terry Ryan's offseason comments and Gardenhire's outfield announcement yesterday it seems clear that the Twins are less sold on Revere than commonly believed. They're certainly right to be skeptical, as I've been making that case since Revere was in the low minors, but the less he plays the less chance their defense has of being above average and I'm similarly skeptical about Parmelee being ready to thrive offensively.

Terry Doyle seemed like an odd choice for the Twins with the No. 2 pick in the Rule 5 draft. Despite being 26 years old he had just 15 starts above Single-A, including zero at Triple-A, and nothing about his raw stuff or track record suggested more than back-of-the-rotation starter potential. At no point has the Rule 5 draft been a sure-fire way to add useful big leaguers, but when picking so high it seemingly made sense to at least target someone with more upside.

In explaining their reasoning for the pick the Twins talked about how impressed they were by Doyle's performance in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 1.98 ERA. However, that consisted of just eight starts and was fueled by an incredibly low batting average on balls in play that screamed fluke. My assumption was that they wouldn't have chosen Doyle if they weren't at least convinced he could stick in the majors as a mop-up man, but apparently not.

Doyle coughed up 10 runs in 5.1 innings this spring and the Twins didn't even keep him around until the end of camp, sending him back to the White Sox. Ultimately it's not a huge deal, as they're out $25,000 and the opportunity to add a higher-upside arm, but it's discouraging for a supposedly scouting-heavy team to take someone atop the Rule 5 draft while citing his fluky, small sample size performance in the AFL as a big factor and then cut him five innings later.

Aaron Thompson, a 25-year-old left-hander the Twins signed to a minor-league contract in December, has been suspended 50 games after violating MLB's drug policy for a "drug of abuse." His track record in the minors is mediocre at best, but Thompson is a former first-round pick and apparently the Twins will keep him in the organization despite the suspension. Once activated he'll likely be a fifth starter or long reliever at Triple-A.

• I'll have a lot more on this subject once my annual series ranking the Twins' top 40 prospects concludes later this week, but Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus recently released their annual organizational talent rankings and the Twins placed 20th and 22nd.

• On a related note, Baseball America crunched the numbers to find that the Twins ranked 15th in international spending last season after ranking 12th in 2010. Miguel Sano alone got a record $3.15 million signing bonus from the Twins in 2009, but in the two years since then they've spent a total of $4.85 million internationally.

• This offseason the Twins sliced $15 million from their payroll, but according to Forbes magazine in 2011 they had baseball's 13th-highest revenue at $213 million and an operating income of $16.6 million, causing the franchise's value to rise four percent to $510 million.

Nick Punto is getting the same treatment from the media in Boston that he got from the media in Minnesota. For instance:

In a game where talent can be measured by precise statistical metrics, Punto is a player whose value is harder to calculate but can’t be denied.

Punto played for $750,000 last year and will make $1.5 million both this season and next season, so teams seem to be in agreement that his value is fairly limited. Then again, I've not experienced his charm in person.

Seth Stohs of Twins Daily reports that the Twins released six minor leaguers: Michael Tarsi, Dan Osterbrock, Kane Holbrooks, Blayne Weller, Matt Schuld, and Derek Christensen. Osterbrock, Tarsi, and Holbrooks each cracked my annual top-40 prospects list at one point, but none were ever considered more than marginal prospects. Christensen was a 2010 draft pick and dominated the low minors, so cutting the 22-year-old right-hander loose seems odd.

• In late 2010 the Twins acquired reliever Brian Fuentes from the Angels for Loek Van Mil, a marginal pitching prospect whose claim to fame was being baseball's tallest player at 7-foot-1. He spent last year at Double-A, throwing 66 innings with a 2.04 ERA and 46-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but the righty from the Netherlands failed to make the Angels this spring and manager Mike Scioscia explained that "he's certainly searching for an out pitch" at age 27.

• Last season the local mainstream media often mocked Kevin Slowey for his intelligence, using it as a way to portray him in a negative light, but a fresh start in Cleveland means the narrative has changed. Jordan Bastian, who covers the Indians for MLB.com, wrote last week:

Always nice as a writer when you find ballplayers who are avid readers on the side ... two in Cleveland's clubhouse include Lonnie Chisenhall and Kevin Slowey.

Funny how that works.

• Last and least, with Opening Day right around the corner I'm restarting the AG.com "sponsor of the week" program. For details about advertising and to reserve your week, click here.