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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August 21, 2013

Twins Notes: Gibson, Morneau, Butera, Carroll, Mientkiewicz, and Liriano

kyle gibson final start of 2013

Kyle Gibson's first taste of the majors likely came to an end Monday, as the Twins demoted him back to Triple-A immediately following his poor outing against the Mets. Gibson pitched well in his Twins debut on June 29, but was mostly a mess after that and returns to Rochester sporting an ugly 6.53 ERA in 10 starts. His secondary numbers are only slightly more encouraging, including just 29 strikeouts in 51 innings and a .327 opponents' batting average with seven homers allowed.

Gibson got knocked around by big-league hitters and looked worn out at times, so considering the expected workload limit in his first full season since elbow surgery shutting him down soon made sense. He's thrown 144 total innings between the majors and minors and by shutting Gibson down after optioning him to Triple-A the Twins keep him from accumulating MLB service time while not pitching, although certainly the demotion could be purely based on performance.

There are some positives to be taken from Gibson's first 10 starts, including an average fastball of 92.2 miles per hour and a ground-ball rate around 50 percent, but the questions about his ability to generate strikeouts remain and overall he looked like anything but a top prospect. Hopefully he can come back strong next season, because Gibson will be 26 years old in a couple months and the Twins desperately need someone to emerge as more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.

• When the Twins traded Drew Butera to the Dodgers on July 31 for a player to be named later or cash considerations my assumption was that their return would be cash and the considerations would be approximately the cost of a bucket of baseballs. Instead they ended up getting Miguel Sulbaran, a diminutive 19-year-old left-hander with a solid track record in the low minors since signing out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old.

As one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League this season Sulbaran has a 3.26 ERA and 86-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 97 innings. For comparison, J.O. Berrios has a 3.45 ERA and 92-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 innings facing the same low Single-A hitters at the same age. Last year the Twins drafted Berrios with the 32nd pick and he has much better raw stuff, so they're hardly prospect equals, but to get any sort of useful player for Butera is shocking.

Sulbaran hasn't cracked any Baseball America or ESPN rankings, but Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com recently rated him as the No. 14 prospect in the Dodgers' farm system. Mayo wrote that Sulbaran "has a good feel for his low-90s fastball" and "his curveball is his best offspeed pitch and both his slider and changeup show promise." Butera is arguably the worst hitter of the past three decades, so any deal would get the "great trade ... who'd we get?" treatment, but this is a nice haul.

• Parting with Butera is the only move the Twins made before the July 31 deadline, but trades can also happen in August via the waiver wire system and they swung another deal by sending Jamey Carroll to the Royals for the familiar player to be named later or cash considerations. If the Twins get anything decent in return for Carroll that would be even more shocking than the Butera deal, because as a 39-year-old impending free agent he had zero value to them beyond this season.

Carroll didn't work out quite as well as the Twins hoped when they signed him as a free agent in November of 2011, but the reasoning behind the two-year, $6.5 million contract made sense. As usual the Twins' infield options were severely lacking and Carroll was a good, versatile defender with strong on-base skills. He did what he was supposed to do in 2012, drawing the third-most walks on the team to get on base at a .343 clip and starting 30-plus games at three positions.

When signing a 37-year-old to a multi-year deal rapid decline is always a risk and unfortunately this season Carroll's usually outstanding strike-zone control vanished and the Twins no longer trusted him to play shortstop at age 39. He was a worthwhile pickup who couldn't hold off father time long enough to provide a great return on a fairly modest investment. And yet among all the middle infielders in Twins history to appear in 150 games only 10 had a better OBP than Carroll.

• As expected, Justin Morneau passed through waivers unclaimed because he's a 32-year-old impending free agent first baseman with a $14 million salary and a .430 slugging percentage. At this point it's unclear if any contending teams are interested in Morneau, but at the very least no teams were interested in Morneau and the possibility of being stuck with the remaining $4 million on his contract.

Clearing waivers means Morneau can be traded to any team, with August 31 as the deadline for postseason eligibility. However, don't expect much if he's moved. Despite a confusing number of fans and media members continuing to act as if Morneau is an impact player he's been a below-average first baseman since the 2010 concussion, batting .257/.317/.409 in 320 games. This year there are 216 major leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances and he ranks 115th in OPS.

Josh Willingham returning from knee surgery followed by Ryan Doumit coming back from a concussion left the Twins with a roster crunch and they decided to make room by demoting Chris Colabello back to the minors. It's a shame, because Colabello's monstrous Triple-A production warranted an extended opportunity at age 29 and he was just starting to show some promise by hitting .286/.397/.551 with four homers and nine walks in his last 16 games.

Most of the talk surrounding a possible Morneau trade centers on what the Twins might get in return and whether they should try to keep him past this season, but one side effect is that not trading him takes at-bats away from guys like Colabello who could prove useful on a minimum salary for 2014 and beyond if given a chance. Instead, after hitting .354/.432/.652 at Triple-A he got a grand total of 96 plate appearances in the majors.

UPDATE: Well, the good news is that Colabello has already been called back up. Unfortunately it's because Joe Mauer was placed on the concussion disabled list after taking multiple foul tips to the mask Monday. Mauer was dizzy during batting practice Tuesday, which is an awfully scary thing to write following several paragraphs about Morneau being a shell of his former self since a concussion. Brain injuries are impossible to predict, so it's breath-holding time.

• Fort Myers manager Doug Mientkiewicz got into a brawl with the opposing manager Saturday, video of which you can see below courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press:

Because the beginning of the brawl wasn't captured on video it's tough to tell exactly what went on, but by all accounts Mientkiewicz escalated the situation in a huge way by running out of the dugout to tackle the other manager. Twins minor league director Brad Steil issued a statement saying "that's not the example we want him to set for our players" and "he realizes that's not how we want him to represent the Minnesota Twins."

However, general manager Terry Ryan explained that the Twins left any discipline to the Florida State League, saying: "Doug was apologetic. I think it's taken care of." And the FSL merely fined him, providing quite a contrast to the Twins allowing Double-A manager Jeff Smith to bench Miguel Sano four games for showboating on a homer and reacting poorly to being scolded. It's obviously apples and oranges, but imagine Sano tackling another player and only being fined.

Francisco Liriano is 14-5 with a 2.53 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 121 innings for the first place Pirates, allowing two or fewer runs in 15 of 19 starts while throwing fastballs far less often than he ever did with the Twins. Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote a lengthy, quote-filled article about Liriano's post-Twins turnaround, including this comment from Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage:

Because that's Frankie. If I try to make Frankie pitch like [someone else], we wouldn't have what we got. That's force-feeding him to do something that he's not comfortable doing. Frankie does pitch the way he pitches. So just let him be him. That's what we did.

Maybe he simply needed a fresh start somewhere else, but "just let him be him" certainly isn't something Twins coaches said often about Liriano and his improvement can be linked to a clear change in approach that runs counter to what the Twins preached regarding fastball usage. He's averaged 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings for the Pirates, whereas the Twins have used 10 different starters this year and none have averaged more than 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

• Whatever slim chance Nick Blackburn had of pitching for the Twins again is over following season-ending knee surgery. Blackburn's contract still includes an $8 million team option for next season, but that will obviously be declined. In signing Blackburn to a misguided long-term deal in March of 2010 the Twins ended up paying $14 million for 408 innings of a 5.56 ERA from a guy who would have been under team control through 2013 even without the guaranteed contract.

Darin Mastroianni wound up spending four months on the disabled list with an ankle injury that was initially deemed so minor that the Twins let him play through the pain for several weeks. He eventually underwent surgery, but now that Mastroianni is healthy again the Twins activated him from the disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A. In other words, Mastroianni lost his job because of the injury. And his 40-man roster spot might be in danger this offseason.

• For a lot more about Morneau going unclaimed on waivers and a look at the Twins' options for improving the rotation in 2014, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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May 21, 2013

Twins Notes: Thielbar, Gibson, Colabello, Hernandez, Diamond, and Radke

caleb thielbar twins debut

Pedro Hernandez posted a 6.67 ERA with just 10 strikeouts in six starts since replacing Liam Hendriks in the rotation, predictably struggling versus lineups stacked with right-handed hitters. Hernandez, not unlike Brian Duensing, simply isn't capable of handling righties well enough to be a consistent starter. He struggled against righties in the minors and they've clobbered him in the majors, hitting .389 with a .704 slugging percentage and more walks than strikeouts.

Hernandez may still have a big-league future as a reliever, but in the meantime he's headed back to Triple-A and the Twins called up an actual left-handed reliever, Caleb Thielbar, to replace him. That leaves the identity of Friday's starter against Detroit unknown for now, leading to speculation that it might be Kyle Gibson's debut. Gibson threw a complete-game shutout Sunday at Triple-A, his second in his last three starts, and Friday would be his normal turn for Rochester.

Gibson turned in a clunker between the shutouts and his overall Triple-A numbers are good rather than great with a 3.25 ERA and 46-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53 innings. If he doesn't get the nod Friday the other options are Rochester rotation-mates and short-term fixes P.J. Walters and Samuel Deduno, so presumably the choice comes down to whether the Twins believe Gibson is ready to stick in the majors yet.

UPDATE: Deduno will get the start Friday.

• As for Thielbar, he's a helluva story. Originally drafted by the Brewers out of South Dakota State in 2009, the Minnesota native got released before advancing past Single-A and latched on with the independent league St. Paul Saints. Thielbar had a 2.54 ERA and 62-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 50 innings for the Saints in 2011, which impressed the Twins enough to sign him. He started out at Single-A and has been at Triple-A since the middle of last season.

Thielbar had a 3.64 ERA and 66/24 K/BB ratio in 67 total innings at Triple-A, which isn't great for a 26-year-old reliever, but he's been unhittable for the past month and the Twins decided to give him a shot. He throws in the low-90s and has enough raw stuff to survive as a middle reliever, but based on Thielbar's track record too many walks and fly balls could get him in trouble. Assuming the Twins demote a reliever to make room for Friday's starter his stay this time may be brief.

Chris Parmelee has regularly been benched in favor of Ryan Doumit since Oswaldo Arcia's arrival created a first base/corner outfield/designated hitter logjam, frequently sitting even against right-handed pitching. Parmelee's main problem is that he hasn't hit since a big September call-up in 2011, batting .219/.285/.352 with an 86-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 100 games, but he's also hurt by everyone competing for playing time being a left-handed hitter or switch-hitter.

And that hurts the Twins too, because Parmelee and Doumit aren't starting-caliber hitters against left-handed pitching and Arcia could certainly use the occasional day off versus tough southpaws. But because the Twins lack a decent right-handed hitter to sub for them what happens is that one of the lefty bats sits versus right-handers when they should start and two of the lefty/switch bats start versus left-handers when they should sit. All of which brings me to Chris Colabello.

Colabello is a 29-year-old non-prospect signed out of an independent league and wasn't all that impressive at Double-A in 2012, hitting .284/.358/.470. He moved up to Triple-A this season and has hit .361/.419/.657 with 12 homers in 45 games. Being stretched defensively anywhere but first base hurts Colabello's cause, but he's a right-handed hitter and would seemingly be more useful to the Twins than Parmelee given their current roster construction.

UPDATE: That was quick. Colabello has been called up to replace Trevor Plouffe, who was put on the seven-day disabled list with post-concussion symptoms.

• At the most basic level a team's best relievers should throw the most relief innings, but because of how most managers' bullpen usage revolves around the save statistic that often isn't the case. Instead, when a setup man becomes a closer his workload almost always decreases and closers frequently throw fewer innings than middle relievers because they're constantly being held back for "save situations" that may never actually arrive.

Glen Perkins is proving to be a prime example, as Ron Gardenhire goes out of his way to avoid using Perkins in non-save situations and has essentially stopped using him to get more than three outs. Perkins has been fantastic for the third consecutive season, posting a 3.07 ERA and 23-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14.2 innings, but take a look at how his workload compares to the rest of the Twins' bullpen:

APPEARANCES                   INNINGS
Casey Fien          21        Anthony Swarzak     26.0
Jared Burton        20        Josh Roenicke       23.1
Brian Duensing      19        Ryan Pressly        21.2
Josh Roenicke       16        Jared Burton        19.0
Glen Perkins        15        Casey Fien          18.1
Ryan Pressly        13        Brian Duensing      17.1
Anthony Swarzak     12        Glen Perkins        14.2

Perkins missed a couple days with a sore left side, so if not for the injury he might have one more appearance, but the point remains. In terms of appearances Perkins' workload is closer to the long man (Anthony Swarzak) and Rule 5 pick (Ryan Pressly) than to the most-used relievers in the bullpen. And in terms of innings Perkins is the least-used reliever in the entire bullpen. How does that make sense? If you're not obsessed with the save statistic, it doesn't.

Scott Diamond has struck out exactly one of the last 54 batters he's faced, during which time he's served up four homers and allowed 12 runs on 23 baserunners. His career strikeout rate of 4.47 per nine innings is now the lowest among all active left-handed pitchers with at least 250 innings. This is Diamond's third season in the majors and take a look at how his career numbers compare to another recent Twins pitcher through three seasons:

               ERA     SO/9     BB/9     OAVG
Diamond       4.01      4.5      2.0     .287
Pitcher X     4.14      4.4      1.8     .293

Pitcher X is Nick Blackburn, about whom the same type of things were once said to explain his initial success despite terrible strikeout rates. Now, in fairness the above comparison is way too simplistic--Diamond gets more ground balls than Blackburn, to name one key difference--but you get the idea. Diamond is walking a very thin line right now as he tries to duplicate his unexpected 2012 success and avoid going further down the Blackburn path.

• After two injury wrecked seasons the Twins have been remarkably healthy so far, but their lone significant injury has provided a glimpse into the same question marks that filled 2011 and 2012. Darin Mastroianni injured his ankle late in spring training, but instead of simply placing him on the disabled list to begin the season the Twins kept him on the active roster. He was too limited to actually do much, but they used him as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement.

Then, after appearing in eight games without logging a single plate appearance, the Twins deemed Mastroianni healthy enough to start two games in center field. Shortly after that he was placed on the DL and diagnosed with a stress reaction in his ankle. Initially the Twins said he'd be out three weeks, but that came and went with Mastroianni still in a walking boot and now he's expected to miss the rest of the first half following surgery. I'm no doctor, but that's an awfully familiar story.

Rafael Perez, who signed a minor-league deal with the Twins in February, was released from Triple-A after failing to impress coming back from shoulder surgery. At the time of the signing the Twins indicated that Perez was close to being full strength and they planned to stretch him out as a starter, but within weeks he'd been shut down. Perez pushed back his May 1 opt-out clause to give the Twins more time to evaluate him, but after four appearances they'd seen enough.

Rich Harden, like Perez, signed a minor-league deal with the Twins coming back from shoulder surgery and, like Perez, it hasn't gone well. Harden hasn't been released yet because his opt-out clause isn't until July 31, but he's yet to appear in a game and assistant general manager Rob Antony revealed that his progress is going "slow" and "not very well to be honest." Harden has been hurt for basically his entire career, so he was always a long shot.

• There are eight American League starting pitchers with an opponents' batting average of .310 or higher and four of them (Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, Diamond, Hernandez) are Twins. Kevin Correia avoids that list, but his .292 mark isn't exactly pretty and in his last four starts he has a total of seven strikeouts and five homers allowed.

• Twins pitchers have allowed an MLB-high 47 runs in the first inning through 41 games. They've allowed 25 or fewer runs in every other inning. And since that will make everyone curious: Brad Radke had a 5.05 ERA in the first inning and a 4.07 ERA in all other innings.

• For a whole lot more about Gibson and Colabello, plus a bunch of other Twins topics, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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March 25, 2013

Twins Notes: Hicks, Butera, Gibson, Diamond, Benson, and 612 Brew

aaron hicks three homers

• Making official what was pretty clearly the plan as soon as they followed up the Denard Span trade by also trading Ben Revere, the Twins named Aaron Hicks the Opening Day center fielder. Perhaps if Hicks had a terrible spring training Darin Mastroianni could have worked his way into the gig as a place-holder, but Hicks made that a moot point by hitting .350/.397/.650 with three steals in 18 games, including a headline-making three-homer game.

Hicks is a very good prospect with an all-around skill set that could make him a long-term building block, so I'm extremely excited to see him play. However, by jumping him from Double-A to the big leagues at age 23 the Twins may be rushing his development a bit and are definitely sacrificing their ability to delay his eventual free agency for the maximum amount of time. If he never goes back to the minors Hicks will be a free agent following the 2018 season, at age 29.

Based on service time rules they could've pushed back his free agency by an entire year, gaining an extra season and 162 games of team control, by sending Hicks to Triple-A for as little as four weeks. In that scenario if the Twins called him up in late April or early May and Hicks never went back to the minors he'd be a free agent following 2019, at age 30. Short-term gratification is hard to ignore, but stretching a prospect's pre-free agency years is done regularly by many teams.

Instead of having Hicks for 135 games this year and 162 games in 2019 they'll have him for 162 games this year and zero games in 2019. That math seems straightforward enough, especially considering Hicks is likely to be better as a 29-year-old veteran than as a 23-year-old rookie and the Twins might actually be contending in 2019. It's not about being cheap, it's about maximizing a player's value before he can leave. But it apparently never factored into the Twins' decision.

• One thing that has always made Hicks an intriguing prospect is excellent plate discipline, which he displayed immediately as an 18-year-old at rookie-ball in 2008 and has maintained ever since. He's averaged 98 walks per 150 games as a pro, including 79 walks in 129 games at Double-A last season, which is not a skill set you typically find in speedy, athletic, up-the-middle defenders. Joe Mauer, who knows a little something about plate discipline, took notice of Hicks' approach:

I've been real impressed by him. For a young guy to take pitches and work at-bats is pretty impressive. Even today, I talked to him and told him taking pitches is going to help the guys behind him. He has a pretty good grasp on how to approach an at-bat.

Ron Gardenhire tends to use speedy center fielders and middle infielders atop the lineup even if they lack strong on-base skills, so it's nice that Hicks is actually a patient hitter. By comparison, Revere drew a grand total of 57 walks in 254 games for the Twins. Hicks' high walk rate has also come with lots of strikeouts and mediocre batting averages, so it'll be interesting to see how he adjusts to facing pitchers with better control and no fear of throwing him strikes.

• Back in December the Twins tendered Drew Butera a contract for 2013 and then in January the two sides avoided arbitration with a one-year, $700,000 deal, but he'll be making that money in Rochester after being optioned to the minors. On one hand it's encouraging that the Twins finally realized a career .183/.232/.265 hitter probably shouldn't be in the majors. On the other hand it would have been nice to come to that conclusion before signing him to a $700,000 contract.

One-year deals to avoid arbitration aren't fully guaranteed until certain dates this month, so even after signing Butera they could've saved five-sixths or three-fourths of the money by releasing him. Detroit recently did that with Brennan Boesch, saving $1.9 million of a $2.3 million deal, but those deadlines have passed. Gardenhire talked of wanting a stronger bench and removing Butera fits that, but he also talked of wanting Jim Thome and that apparently isn't happening.

Kyle Gibson won't be joining Hicks on the Opening Day roster, as initial reports of him looking great coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery gave way to struggles in actual games and the Twins sent him to Triple-A. He'll be limited to 130 innings this season, so there's an argument for not wasting them at Triple-A, but the problem with that line of thinking is assuming Gibson is ready to succeed against big-league hitters when he hadn't even done that yet before surgery.

• What was supposed to be minor surgery to remove a bone chip from Scott Diamond's elbow in December has become a season-opening stint on the disabled list for the would-be Opening Day starter. For now the plan is for Diamond to make his season debut in mid-April, missing the Game 1 matchup versus Justin Verlander and a couple more starts, but the Twins' injury timetables haven't been worth a whole lot in recent years and worrying about elbow issues tends to loom.

• Diamond on the DL and Gibson at Triple-A means Samuel Deduno or Cole DeVries is likely to be in the Opening Day rotation and both of them could get a spot if the Twins decide to send Liam Hendriks back to Triple-A. At the beginning of the offseason Terry Ryan spoke of big plans for fixing the awful rotation, yet the Twins are already turning to the same career minor leaguers who were thrown against the wall to see if they stuck last season as emergency options.

Joe Benson was sent to Triple-A after a lackluster spring training, but even if he'd played well there wasn't much room for him on a roster with Hicks and Mastroianni. Benson is coming off a terrible, injury wrecked season, so he needs to get back on track or risk falling off the prospect radar, but he'd seemingly be the obvious call-up if Hicks struggles or if any of Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Chris Parmelee, or Ryan Doumit gets injured.

Danny Rams and Cole Nelson were among a handful of minor leaguers released by the Twins. Rams was a 2007 second-round pick with lots of power, but couldn't turn himself into a quality defensive catcher and hit .241 with 543 strikeouts in 406 games while failing to get past Single-A. Nelson and Lester Oliveros were acquired from the Tigers for Delmon Young in 2011--the same day "Gleeman and The Geek" debuted--but the big left-hander from Edina stalled at Single-A.

Anthony Swarzak will join Diamond in beginning the season on the disabled list as he recovers from the fractured ribs suffered in the "horseplay" incident during Twins Fest.

Tim Wood, who was a candidate for the Twins' bullpen and out of minor-league options, has been shut down with a strained rotator cuff.

Matt Capps failed to make the Indians on a minor-league deal and may accept an assignment to Triple-A one year after beginning the season as the Twins' closer.

Scott Baker's comeback from Tommy John surgery has been derailed by a strained elbow and he'll be shut down for at least a month.

• Thanks to everyone who came to the Twins Daily meet-up Saturday at 612 Brew. It was a great turnout and we're definitely planning to host semi-regular events throughout the season. Between the beer and laid-back space 612 Brew is an ideal venue, with the added bonus that the owners are Twins fans and the head brewer is a "Gleeman and The Geek" listener. I'm sure we'll be back there at some point, but in the meantime I highly recommended checking out 612 Brew.

• I didn't think to take any pictures until after the crowd had already thinned out a bit, but ...

twins daily 612 meetup2

twins daily 612 meetup1

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twins daily 612 meetup3


This week's blog content is sponsored by Territory Train, which takes the heavy lifting out of planning and executing Twins road trips. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

December 13, 2012

Twins Notes: Burton’s extension, Hicks’ clock, and Mientkiewicz’s return

• It was mostly lost in the shuffle on a day when the Twins traded Ben Revere to the Phillies and selected Ryan Pressly in the Rule 5 draft, but they also signed Jared Burton to a two-year, $5.5 million contract that includes a third-year team option. Arbitration eligible for the final time before becoming a free agent next offseason, the 31-year-old Burton will instead get $2.05 million in 2013, $3.25 million in 2014, and $3.6 million or a $200,000 buyout in 2015.

Burton joined the Twins on a minor-league deal last offseason after several injury wrecked years with the Reds and proved he was healthy in spring training to win a bullpen job. He was fantastic, emerging as the primary setup man with a 2.18 ERA, 55/16 K/BB ratio, and .186 opponents' batting average in 62 innings. Despite barely pitching in the previous two seasons Burton was at his best in the second half, convincing the Twins he can hold up physically.

Given his injury history a multi-year commitment is risky, but because he was set to become a free agent next offseason going year-to-year was risky as well. Another good, healthy season would have meant trying to convince Burton to sign an extension before hitting the open market or trying to out-bid 29 other teams for him, neither of which seem likely. Now if he stays healthy they'll get a bargain and if not $5.5 million isn't a huge commitment anyway.

My assumption following the Revere and Denard Span trades was that the Twins would go with Darin Mastroianni as the starting center fielder, basically asking him to keep the position warm until 23-year-old prospect Aaron Hicks is ready to take over around midseason. However, it sure sounds like the Twins will give Hicks every opportunity to win the Opening Day job and potentially jump directly from Double-A to the majors.

I'm generally not in favor of that scenario, for a couple reasons. One is that by delaying Hicks' arrival by as little as six weeks the Twins could add another full season of team control based on service time rules, basically pushing off his free agency for an extra year. Considering their long odds of contending in 2013 anyway I'd rather have Hicks for 162 extra games at age 29 than 30 extra games at age 23, and that service time tactic is common practice across MLB.

Beyond that, asking a 23-year-old to thrive at Triple-A for a month or two before making the jump to the big leagues seems smart from both development and performance standpoints. If he crushes Triple-A pitching for 30 games there's no harm done and if he struggles in Rochester odds are he wasn't ready for the majors anyway. Plus, nearly all of the best hitters to debut with the Twins in the past decade or so spent at least 50 games at Triple-A:

Denard Span         179
A.J. Pierzynski     167
Justin Morneau      143
Michael Cuddyer     139
Corey Koskie        135
Doug Mientkiewicz   130
Jason Kubel         120
Torii Hunter         81
Jacque Jones         52
Joe Mauer             0

Some of those players spent time at Triple-A, debuted in the majors, and then returned to Triple-A, so I counted the number of Triple-A games played before becoming an established big leaguer. Joe Mauer is the only one to jump directly from Double-A to the majors, but obviously he wasn't your average top prospect. Cristian Guzman also went from Double-A to Minnesota, but then hit .263/.303/.383 for the Twins and doesn't crack the "best hitters" list.

Except for Mauer the best homegrown hitting prospects in recent Twins history all spent at least two months at Triple-A and most of them played more than 100 games there. Some of them surely were ready for the majors before then, but if the "prove it at Triple-A first" approach was good enough for the guys on that list then why not Hicks too? Span and Revere, the two players he'd be replacing, played 179 and 55 games at Triple-A, respectively.

• After spending some time as a hitting coach in the Dodgers' farm system Doug Mientkiewicz is returning to the Twins as the manager at high Single-A Fort Myers, where he began his playing career in 1995. Mientkiewicz, who went to high school and college in Florida, played his 12th and final big-league season in 2009 and is now 38 years old. I'm excited to get a little more use out of my ability to type "Mientkiewicz" without looking. It took years of practice.

Jason Lane spent six seasons as an outfielder for the Astros, hitting .241/.315/.458, but was finished as a big leaguer at age 30. After five seasons in the minors Lane gave pitching a try this year, faring well on an independent league team managed by Gary Gaetti before struggling at Triple-A for the Diamondbacks. And now at age 35 the left-hander signed a minor-league deal with the Twins.

• In addition to Lane the Twins also announced minor-league deals with Brandon Boggs, Ray Olmedo, Bryan Augenstein, Reynaldo Rodriguez, Scott Elarton, Virgil Vasquez, and Michael O'Connor. Odds are none of them will play for the Twins and only Boggs, Olmedo, and Augenstein received spring training invites, but it's an interesting mix of former prospects and one-time big leaguers.

Elarton played 10 seasons in the majors, but was rarely effective after age 25 and hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2008. Olmedo is a potential utility man. Boggs could be a backup outfielder. Rodriguez is a first baseman with some power. Vasquez is a generic Triple-A starter. Augenstein and O'Connor could be decent middle relievers. Mostly, though, they're all around to help Rochester have a winning record.

• St. Paul native and former Gophers star Jack Hannahan signed a two-year contract with the Reds that includes an option for 2015. Terry Ryan repeatedly talking about wanting some competition for Trevor Plouffe at third base led to speculation that the Twins were interested in Hannahan, but it's unclear if they ever offered him more than a minor-league contract and a multi-year deal wouldn't have made any sense.

Kevin Correia's two-year, $10 million deal with the Twins finally became official Thursday afternoon. He'll get $4.5 million in 2013 and $5.5 million in 2014.

• For a lengthy discussion about the Revere trade and how much the Twins' farm system has improved in the past six months check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

• Last night I hosted a live chat at TwinsDaily.com. It was supposed to go an hour, but there was a good turnout and we ended up going for two hours. You can read the transcript here.

This week's content is sponsored by DiamondCentric's new "Game Six" shirt, commemorating one of the most exciting moments in Minnesota sports history.

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