September 19, 2012

Twins Notes: Herrmann, Mauer, Florimon, Dozier, and Cedar Rapids

• As part of September roster expansion the Twins called up just two players, Luis Perdomo and Eduardo Escobar, but injuries to Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit left Drew Butera as the team's only healthy catcher and led to Chris Herrmann being added to the 40-man roster as a third call-up. Herrmann ranked 20th on my list of Twins prospects coming into this season and should hold a similar spot for next year after a solid Double-A campaign.

Herrmann hit .276/.350/.392 in 127 games for New Britain, nearly matching his .264/.357/.382 career line and showing his usual on-base skills, good strike-zone control, and modest power with 58 walks versus 89 strikeouts and 10 homers in 558 plate appearances. His performance at Double-A was nothing special, particularly for a 24-year-old repeating the level after playing 97 games there in 2011, but Herrmann likely has a big-league future beyond this month.

How long and in which role that future will be depends largely on his defense behind the plate, as Herrmann was an outfielder at the University of Miami before moving to catcher at high Single-A in 2010. This season he played 83 games at catcher compared to 43 games between left field and designated hitter. His defense gets mixed reviews, but Herrmann threw out 44 percent of steal attempts this year and 38 percent in 2011.

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

Rene Rivera, a journeyman catcher who played 45 games for the Twins last year, indicated via Twitter that he was upset about being passed over for the call-up in favor of Herrmann:

I guess I should not expect promises to be kept. Best of luck to everyone. #Disappointed #Lies

Rivera later tried to put that toothpaste back in the tube, tweeting that he never mentioned the Twins and various other damage control, but there seemingly isn't a whole lot of nuance or need for interpretation in his original words. I have no idea what was or wasn't promised, but based on performance alone Rivera didn't warrant more time in the majors. He's a 29-year-old career .193 hitter in the majors and hit .226/.307/.385 at Triple-A this year.

• After going 3-for-4 with two walks last night Mauer is now hitting .325 with a league-leading .419 on-base percentage, which is remarkable considering he was hitting .265 on May 18. Here's a list of all the players in Twins history with an on-base percentage of .410 or higher:

                    YEAR      OBP
Joe Mauer           2012     .419
Joe Mauer           2009     .444
Joe Mauer           2008     .413
Joe Mauer           2006     .429
Chuck Knoblauch     1996     .448
Chuck Knoblauch     1995     .424
Rod Carew           1978     .411
Rod Carew           1977     .449
Rod Carew           1975     .421
Rod Carew           1974     .433
Rod Carew           1973     .411
Harmon Killebrew    1970     .411
Harmon Killebrew    1969     .427

And then there's also this: Mauer's current OPS? .877. Mauer's career OPS? .874.

Pedro Florimon looks good defensively at shortstop and can't hit, so Ron Gardenhire has predictably taking a liking to him immediately:

I'm very comfortable with him out there. We're not going to name a starting lineup [for 2013] or anything like right now, or even later, but I really like him out there. I think there are things he can get better at ... but I like him. I like the way he moves, I like the way he watches. He pays attention. He's got great hands.

Assistant general manager Rob Antony agreed about Florimon and also indicated that Brian Dozier's future may no longer be at shortstop:

Florimon has kind of made the plays and shown some of the range that you really like from a shortstop, that Dozier didn't necessarily do. So it might be a situation where we still think Dozier can be a good player, but he may end up being a second baseman instead of a shortstop.

While perhaps a surprise to the people who didn't know any better and bought into the misguided hype surrounding Dozier's arrival, his defense at shortstop has always been in question. Of course, for as bad as Dozier was offensively this year there's at least some reason to believe he's capable of being a decent hitter. The same is not really true of Florimon, who has hit .228/.284/.327 in the majors and .250/.318/.352 between Double-A and Triple-A.

According to Baseball-Reference.com the Twins' attendance is down 4,967 fans per game, which is a drop of 372,000 total fans compared to this same point last season. And that represents tickets sold rather than actual attendance, of course. Only the Astros have seen their attendance drop more than the Twins this year, no other team is down more than 3,400 fans per game, and across baseball overall attendance is up nearly 1,000 fans per game.

• In their last 324 games (two full 162-game seasons, basically) the Twins are 127-197 for a .392 winning percentage.

Josh Willingham became the fourth player in Twins history with 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs in a season, joining Harmon Killebrew (seven times), Justin Morneau (three), and Gary Gaetti (two). Overall the Twins now have 13 of the 665 total instances of a hitter reaching 30-100 since 1961. By comparison, Alex Rodriguez has 14 seasons with 30-100 all by himself.

• After eight years with Beloit as their low Single-A affiliate the Twins have switched their Midwest League team to Cedar Rapids, which offers better facilities in addition to being closer to Minnesota.

Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune does Twins updates for Baseball America and got an interesting quote on Tsuyoshi Nishioka from vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff:

The player we all saw was not the player we scouted in Japan. For whatever reason, we haven't seen that guy. I mean, none of us believed that he wouldn't hit.

When the Twins spent $15 million to acquire Nishioka in December of 2010 he was coming off a batting title in Japan, but a deeper look at his numbers showed that the .346 average was due to unsustainable success on balls in play. However, even projections adjusting for that had Nishioka as a decent all-around hitter. Instead he's hit .215/.267/.236 for the Twins and .260/.318/.327 for Rochester. Radcliff is right, but sadly the Twins were very wrong.

• Twins prospects Miguel Sano and Oswaldo Arcia were both selected for Baseball America's minor league all-star team, which includes a total of 30 players.

• This year eight American League pitchers with at least 50 innings have posted an Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) worse than 5.00. Three of them are Twins: Jeff Gray, Nick Blackburn, Alex Burnett.

• Perdomo, who the Twins called up while leaving Anthony Slama and his consistently great numbers to rot in the minors, now has a 5.06 ERA and 10 walks in 10.2 innings this season.

• Complete list of players in Twins history with more plate appearances and a lower OPS than Alexi Casilla: Al Newman, Danny Thompson.

• Old friend Pat Neshek, who spent most of the past three seasons at Triple-A before being called up by Oakland three weeks ago, now has a 0.63 ERA in 17 appearances for the A's.

• Regarding the Twins' offseason plans John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote that the free agent starting pitcher market "isn't deep." That jibes with some comments general manager Terry Ryan made previously, but on this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode we spent about 45 minutes breaking down the various free agent starters and found that to be anything but true. It's plenty deep, especially in the type of pitchers the Twins usually go after.

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May 22, 2012

Twins Notes: Marquis, Parmelee, Sano, old friends, and Babe Butera

• Sunday on Gleeman and The Geek we talked about Jason Marquis' latest clunker of a start and how much longer the Twins could possibly stick with him in the rotation. It didn't take long for an answer, as the Twins designated Marquis for assignment seven starts into a $3 million deal given to the 33-year-old veteran who was supposed to help stabilize a shaky rotation. Minnesota native and former Gophers star Cole De Vries was called up to take his spot.

Marquis now goes in the same pile as Ramon Ortiz, Livan Hernandez, and Sidney Ponson, each of whom were signed more for their veteran-ness than ability and got booted from the rotation after performing terribly. Those four pitchers combined to cost the Twins around $12 million for 303 innings of a 5.88 ERA and in each case the terrible performances were entirely predictable, although certainly Marquis was even worse than anyone could have expected.

He posted an 8.47 ERA and allowed 33 runs in 34 innings with more walks than strikeouts and nine homers, as opponents hit .371/.434/.629. To put that in some context, consider Albert Pujols is a career .325/.417/.609 hitter, so Marquis basically turned every batter he faced into a souped-up version of this era's best hitter. He wasn't throwing strikes, he wasn't keeping the ball in the ballpark, and he ranked dead last among MLB pitchers in swinging strikes.

When the Twins signed Marquis this winter I called it "an uninspired pickup made necessary by payroll slashing" and noted how odd it was for Terry Ryan to praise his ability to "throw the ball over the plate" when in reality his career walk rate was identical to Francisco Liriano's at 3.5 per nine innings. Marquis' awful control shouldn't have been a surprise, but all the homers from a ground-ball pitcher were unexpected and turned a questionable signing into a disaster.

• Unfortunately the Chris Parmelee situation played out exactly as I'd feared when the Twins chose to focus on an impressive September call-up and strong spring training while dismissing a mediocre track record. They had Parmelee skip Triple-A despite hitting just .282/.355/.421 in two seasons at Double-A and then relegated him to the bench when he predictably struggled in the majors, demoting him to Rochester when Justin Morneau came off the disabled list.

Parmelee was and still is a decent prospect with some long-term upside, but at no point has he ever looked like a potential star and it's silly to expect a 24-year-old to go directly from slugging .421 at Double-A to thriving in the majors. Hopefully the less than ideal development decisions won't keep him from getting back on track in Rochester and hopefully the Twins will cease taking such short-term views of their prospects.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus wrote an article for ESPN.com about the minors' best power-hitting prospects and 19-year-old Twins phenom Miguel Sano sits atop the list:

For one scout, "the list begins and ends with Sano." Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $3.15 million in 2009, Sano hit 20 home runs in 66 games in the rookie-level Appalachian League last year. As one of the youngest players in the Midwest League this year--the toughest offensive circuit among full-season leagues--expectations, at least statistically, were tempered.

Apparently nobody told Sano, though, as he leads the Midwest League in home runs (11) and total bases (85) while hitting .287/.406/.625 in 38 games. He just turned 19 last weekend, and for players this young, power is usually overwhelmingly on the projection side of the ledger. We haven't see this kind of in-game power from a player so young in low Class A since Giancarlo Stanton was known as Mike.

Giancarlo Stanton hit .293/.381/.611 with 39 homers in 125 games at low Single-A in 2008 as an 18-year-old and was in the majors five months shy of his 21st birthday, quickly emerging as one of the league's top sluggers. He's now 22 years old with 290 career games for the Marlins and has hit .263/.344/.523 with 65 homers, trailing only Pujols, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez in Isolated Power among all active right-handed hitters.

Nick Blackburn is back on the disabled list, although this time at least it's not an arm injury. Since signing a four-year contract extension in March of 2010 he's thrown 343 innings with a 5.31 ERA and .306 opponents' batting average. During that time Blackburn's strikeout rate of 4.3 per nine innings is MLB's worst among all pitchers with 250-plus innings. He's making $4.75 million this season and under contract for $5.5 million next year.

P.J. Walters has gone from Triple-A depth to spot starter to being secure in the big leagues based on two decent starts and the Twins reaching the bottom of an already shallow barrel for rotation reinforcements. He's allowed four homers through 12 innings with the Twins, which gives Walters a total of 16 homers allowed in 63 career innings as a big leaguer and ranks as the sixth-highest home run rate in MLB history among all pitchers with 60-plus innings.

• One-time top prospect turned minor-league veteran Joe Thurston signed with the Twins for Triple-A depth in late April, but went 4-for-43 (.093) in 15 games and was released last week. They also cut Triple-A first baseman Aaron Bates, who re-signed with the Twins after hitting .316/.408/.439 in 106 games for Rochester last season only to hit .238 in 28 games this year. After back-to-back 90-loss seasons got their manager fired Rochester is on a 62-82 pace.

Wilson Ramos, whom the Twins misguidedly traded to the Nationals for Matt Capps in July of 2010, will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. That lessens the chances of Ramos' departure haunting the Twins, but it doesn't actually make the trade less bad any more than, say, selling your house for $100,000 below the market rate only to see the new owners accidentally burn it down makes that decision less bad.

Lew Ford, who last played in the majors for the Twins in 2007 and is now 35 years old, signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles and took over as the leadoff hitter and center fielder on their Triple-A team. Since being dropped from the 40-man roster by the Twins in late 2007 he's played for multiple organizations at Triple-A along with the independent league Long Island Ducks and teams in Mexico and Japan.

Steve Tolleson never reached the majors with the Twins, getting dropped from the 40-man roster in February of 2010, but he had a brief cup of coffee with the A's that year and the 2005 fifth-round pick is now back in the big leagues with the Orioles. Tolleson was no more than a marginal prospect, cracking my annual top-40 list just once at No. 37 in 2010, but he always looked capable of being a useful utility man.

• San Diego's ex-Twins middle infield is no more, as the Padres released Orlando Hudson with about $5.5 million remaining on his contract and placed Jason Bartlett on the disabled list. Hudson quickly latched on with the White Sox, who're his fifth team in five seasons, and he's apparently going to play third base for the first time in his career.

• Old friend J.C. Romero may finally be finished at age 36. He debuted for the Twins in 1999.

• In blanking the Twins last week Indians right-hander Derek Lowe became the first pitcher to throw a complete-game shutout without a strikeout since Scott Erickson in 2002.

• Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Oswaldo Arcia are the only hitters in the Twins' entire farm system with an OPS above .800, and none of them are above Single-A or older than 21.

Ben Revere had just one total extra-base hit in 23 games at Triple-A, so naturally he has four extra-base hits in four games back with the Twins. Play right field, hit for power. Easy!

• Not only is he hitting .360 in nine games since being recalled from the minors, Drew Butera became the sixth position player in Twins history to pitch when he mopped up in Sunday's blowout loss. Better yet, Butera averaged 91.1 miles per hour with his fastball, topped out at 94.4 mph, and struck out Carlos Gomez in a scoreless inning. Butera's average fastball clocks in higher than Marquis, Blackburn, Walters, Carl Pavano, Scott Diamond, and Liam Hendriks.

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May 2, 2012

Twins Notes: Butera, Burroughs, Mauer, Morneau, Pavano, and Guerra

• I was on KFAN this morning, sitting in for a couple segments on Paul Allen's show to talk Twins and blogging and all sorts of other stuff. You can listen to my full appearance here.

• After playing every inning of the first 21 games Joe Mauer took a foul ball off his knee and sat out Monday. He returned last night as designated hitter, but the Twins felt the need to add Drew Butera as a third catcher while designating Sean Burroughs for assignment to make room on the roster. Butera was hitting .279/.319/.419 in 15 games for Rochester, which is simultaneously terrible for a 28-year-old at Triple-A and the best numbers of his career.

Burroughs was signed to a minor-league deal in December and the 30-year-old former top prospect impressed the Twins during spring training, winning an Opening Day bench spot. In theory he was a nice fit, offering a left-handed bat and solid glove at third base to complement and perhaps even push Danny Valencia, but in practice he got three starts and 17 at-bats in a month. He's barely played since 2005, let alone had any success, so he may clear waivers.

Justin Morneau gave everyone a scare when he exited Monday's game with soreness in his surgically repaired left wrist and immediately flew from California to Minnesota to be examined by team doctors. Now he's on the way back to the West Coast after an MRI exam showed no structural damage, but Morneau revealed that the wrist was bothering him before Monday and the Twins have said that Friday is the best-case scenario for being back in the lineup.

Thursday is a scheduled off day, so that absence isn't quite as long as it sounds, but giving him 15 days to heal up on the disabled list would seemingly be worthwhile. Instead the Twins will keep Morneau on the active roster, which is something they've done too often with injured players in recent years and becomes particularly problematic when combined with a 13-man pitching staff and Butera. Last night's bench was literally only Butera and Trevor Plouffe.

Carl Pavano managed zero strikeouts Friday for the third time in his last 33 starts and his average fastball has clocked in at just 86.6 miles per hour this season, down from 89.0 mph in 2011 and 90.1 mph in 2010. Pavano signed a two-year, $16.5 million contract with the Twins after throwing 221 innings with a 3.75 ERA in 2010, but since then he's logged 255 innings with a 4.38 ERA and just 4.2 strikeouts per nine innings. At age 36 he's running on fumes.

Deolis Guerra's overall numbers at Double-A last year were ugly, but his success shifting to the bullpen in the second half earned him the No. 27 spot in my Twins prospect rankings. He picked up where he left off at New Britain with a 0.71 ERA and 15-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 innings, at which point the Twins promoted the last remaining piece of the Johan Santana trade to Rochester and he debuted there with three scoreless innings Saturday.

• Another potential bullpen option, Kyle Waldrop, is on the comeback trail after an elbow injury cost him a spot on the Opening Day roster. I'm skeptical of Waldrop's ability to be more than a decent middle reliever because he's already 26 years old and his strong ground-ball rate comes along with underwhelming velocity and few strikeouts, but he certainly warrants more of an extended opportunity than Jeff Gray.

• As has too often been the case recently Twins management subtlety cast some doubt on the legitimacy of Scott Baker's elbow injury before a second opinion from outside the organization led to Tommy John surgery. In speaking to the local media following surgery Baker addressed what Jon Krawcynski of the Associated Press described as "whispers both inside and outside Target Field":

I knew I wasn't crazy. I knew there was some speculation that maybe I was babying it or taking it easy, but good grief. I did everything I possibly could to get better and to try to pitch with it. But that just wasn't going to happen.

When an injured player has to defend himself amid speculation that his injury isn't as serious as he claims and that speculation is fueled at least in part by the team that's obviously not a good situation. Toss in the ongoing questions about the competency of the Twins' medical staff and it gets even worse. On the other hand, Baker also admitted injured pitchers "are not always completely forthright with the staff" and made it clear that he doesn't hold a grudge.

• As expected Ben Revere's return to Minnesota was brief, with the end of Josh Willingham's paternity leave sending him back to Triple-A. Revere is still better off playing in Rochester than mostly sitting in Minnesota, although Sunday being "Ben Revere bat day" at Target Field perhaps wasn't the best timing (or planning) by the Twins.

• In an effort to beef up the Double-A and Triple-A teams the Twins signed a bunch of veteran minor leaguers during the offseason, yet some reinforcements were still needed a month into the season. Joe Thurston is the latest veteran to join Rochester, although once upon a time he was a promising prospect in the Dodgers' system. Now he's 32 years old with 184 games in the majors and 1,485 games in the minors, including 5,000 plate appearances at Triple-A.

Ron Gardenhire will be away from the team for this weekend's Mariners series, missing all three games to attend his daughter's college graduation from Southwest Minnesota State. Bench coach Scott Ullger will fill in as manager, as he's done on a few other occasions.

Luke Hughes' time as Oakland's starting third baseman was short-lived, as he went 1-for-13 with three errors in four games and the A's signed a washed-up, recently released Brandon Inge to replace him. Hughes was designated for assignment, so he's back on the waiver wire.

• Congratulations to Delmon Young for making the front page of the New York Post. MLB suspended Young for seven days following his arrest on assault and hate crime charges, presumably because an eight-day suspension would have made Hanukkah jokes too easy.

• Willingham was a smart free agent signing and has been amazing at the plate so far, but his defense in left field has been just short of Delmon-esque.

Interesting note from Twins media communications manager Dustin Morse: Saturday was the ninth time weather caused a delay or postponement in 174 total games at Target Field.

• Compared to this same time last year MLB-wide attendance is up 1,700 fans per game overall, but the Twins' attendance is down an MLB-worst 5,000 fans per game.

• For his career Valencia has hit .328/.378/.491 versus left-handers and .243/.282/.369 versus right-handers, which is one of the more extreme platoon splits you'll see and along with iffy defense makes him a poor fit in an everyday role. By the way, that play was ruled a "double."

• After last night Denard Span has 76 career steals and has been picked off 26 times.

No. 11 prospect Adrian Salcedo was hit in the face by a comebacker while pitching Monday at high Single-A and suffered a broken nose.

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April 2, 2012

Drew Butera loses his scholarship as Twins set Opening Day roster

"No scholarships." That's how Terry Ryan stressed not handing players jobs this year simply because they had jobs last year. Tsuyoshi Nishioka was the first casualty and now Drew Butera joins him in Rochester after two years in Minnesota. Butera's job was in jeopardy as soon as Ryan Doumit signed, but Ron Gardenhire's fear of catching emergencies and the Twins' aversion to ditching marginal guys for whom they develop an affinity had me skeptical.

Actually replacing replacement-level players is a step in the right direction, although Butera remains on the 40-man roster and, considering Joe Mauer's injury history and Doumit's shaky defense, there's a good chance he'll be back. Butera stuck around despite the lowest OPS of any non-pitcher with 300 plate appearances since 1990 because the Twins loved his defense, liked him as a person, and believed he had a big influence as Carl Pavano's personal catcher.

There's no doubt that Butera did a good job controlling the running game despite Pavano barely paying attention to runners, so the pairing may have been a good fit and may have even helped Pavano. However, evaluating catcher defense is very complicated and assuming something is true because a pitcher thinks it's true doesn't always show itself in the results. In terms of preventing runs Butera catching Pavano was the same as Mauer catching Pavano:

Pavano with Butera catching: 294 innings, 4.14 ERA.
Pavano with Mauer catching: 201 innings, 4.08 ERA.

Butera is a good catcher who can't hit. And not just "can't hit" like most bench players "can't hit." He's historically awful, hitting .178/.220/.261 for the Twins after hitting .214/.296/.317 in the minors. There are plenty of good-glove, no-hit players in the majors, and rightfully so in many cases, but good defenders with absolutely zero hitting ability belong in the minors and by sending Butera there the Twins set the position player side of the Opening Day roster:

   LINEUP                     BENCH
 C Joe Mauer               IF Luke Hughes
1B Chris Parmelee          IF Sean Burroughs
2B Alexi Casilla           OF Ben Revere
SS Jamey Carroll           OF Trevor Plouffe
3B Danny Valencia
LF Josh Willingham
CF Denard Span
RF Ryan Doumit
DH Justin Morneau

My assumption is that Doumit will be the primary right fielder because he's one of the team's best hitters, has experience there, and presumably wasn't signed to mostly sit on the bench regardless of his position. However, if demoting Butera means that Gardenhire will use Doumit as more of a true backup catcher then Trevor Plouffe would seemingly be in line for most of the starts in right field or at least a time-share with Ben Revere.

Chris Parmelee parlayed a big September call-up and strong spring training into the starting first base job, with the Twins deciding that the best chance of keeping Justin Morneau in the lineup is at designated hitter. Morneau may prove healthy enough to return to first base and Parmelee may show that his mediocre track record is more telling than his most recent 100 at-bats, in which case the Twins could shift Doumit to DH and use Plouffe/Revere in right field.

They certainly have no shortage of first base/designated hitter/corner outfield options, which should be good for an offense that scored the second-fewest runs in the league last season, but they're also lacking a true backup middle infielder should 38-year-old shortstop Jamey Carroll or oft-injured second baseman Alexi Casilla need time off and it's unclear to me what role there is for Sean Burroughs unless he eats into Danny Valencia's starts at third base.

On an individual basis this is far stronger than the typical Twins bench during the past decade, although that admittedly isn't saying much. Burroughs, Plouffe, and Luke Hughes are each useful hitters and Revere is at the very least a useful fourth outfielder, but in terms of actually putting that collection of individuals into practice as a functioning bench the lack of a quality defensive middle infielder could get tricky. And speaking of tricky, here's the pitching staff:

   ROTATION                   BULLPEN
SP Carl Pavano             RH Matt Capps
SP Francisco Liriano       LH Glen Perkins
SP Liam Hendriks           LH Brian Duensing
SP Nick Blackburn          RH Anthony Swarzak
                           RH Jared Burton
   DISABLED LIST           LH Matt Maloney
SP Scott Baker             RH Alex Burnett
SP Jason Marquis           RH Jeff Gray
RP Kyle Waldrop

Injuries are keeping the Twins from beginning the season with their preferred 12-man pitching staff. Scott Baker is on the disabled list with an elbow injury, so 23-year-old Liam Hendriks will step into his rotation spot. Jason Marquis has been away from the team following his daughter's bicycling accident and the Twins will take advantage of an early off day on the schedule to skip his first turn in the rotation, which means they'll have eight relievers initially.

Kyle Waldrop would have been one of those eight relievers, but he's on the DL with an elbow injury of his own, leaving space in the bullpen for a pair of early offseason waiver claims (Matt Maloney and Jeff Gray), a non-roster invitee on a minor-league contract (Jared Burton), and a 2011 holdover with a 5.40 ERA in 98 career innings (Alex Burnett). Once everyone is healthy one or two of those guys will lose their spot, but that's a very shaky middle relief corps.

And the presumed late-inning options don't inspire a whole lot more confidence aside from Glen Perkins as the primary setup man. Matt Capps has plenty of questions to answer at closer coming off a disastrous season, Anthony Swarzak seemingly lacks the raw stuff and bat-missing ability for a high-leverage role, and Brian Duensing still needs to show that he can consistently get right-handed hitters out after flopping as a starter.

Aside from overpaying Capps it's a bullpen built on the cheap with failed starters, waiver wire pickups, former mid-level prospects, and injury comebacks. Odds are at least one solid reliever will emerge from that group because that's just how relievers work--my money would be on Burton, assuming he's healthy--but in the meantime things could get pretty ugly as Gardenhire searches for someone dependable beyond Perkins.

March 12, 2012

Twins Notes: Perkins’ extension, prospect hyperbole, and 1987 romance

• Two months after avoiding arbitration for this season with a one-year, $1.55 million deal Glen Perkins and the Twins agreed to a three-year, $10.3 million extension that includes a team option for 2016. Perkins would have been arbitration eligible for the final time in 2013, so the extension pre-pays that bill and then covers his first two seasons of free agency while giving the Twins a $4.5 million option or $300,000 buyout for his third season of free agency.

Between his 5.06 ERA as a starter and an injury grievance filed against the team Perkins was deep in the doghouse and close to being discarded, but instead he stayed with the Twins and shifted to the bullpen with great success. Perkins wore down late in the season, but that isn't shocking from a 29-year-old working as a full-time reliever for the first time ever and he still finished with a 2.48 ERA and 65-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62 innings overall.

Perkins wasn't quite as great as his ERA suggested, largely because allowing just two homers in 253 plate appearances isn't sustainable, but his 2.92 xFIP ranked 16th among all relievers with 50 or more innings. And while committing $10.3 million to a 29-year-old with a 4.41 career ERA is certainly risky, Perkins was a completely different pitcher last season thanks to adding 3-4 miles per hour to his fastball moving from the rotation to the bullpen.

Obviously waiting to see if Perkins could duplicate that success before making the commitment would have been ideal for the Twins, but another standout year would establish him as an elite reliever and leave him just one season away from a big contract in free agency. Once a player can sniff the open market the motivation to sign a long-term deal often vanishes, so if the Twins believe the Perkins they saw in 2011 is the real deal they did well to sign him now.

Perkins will get $2.5 million in 2013, $3.75 million in both 2014 and 2015, and $4.5 million or a $300,000 buyout in 2016, all of which will be bargains if he keeps thriving as a reliever. And while the deal also includes incentives based on games finished to raise those salaries if he becomes a closer, by signing Perkins as a setup man the Twins don't have to worry as much about how racking up saves would strengthen his bargaining power and perceived value.

• More and more lately I've been trying to take the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" approach to the local mainstream Twins coverage, but sometimes it's just too tough. Last week Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote a pair of columns about Twins prospects that really had me shaking my head. First he wrote a column entitled "Brian Dozier is going to be the next big thing for Twins" that was full of fawning hyperbole:

Dozier, a shortstop from Tupelo, Miss., is going to be the next big thing for the Twins. The only question is: How soon is next? ... At the moment, there seems to be no alternative [at shortstop]. However, Twins fans should take comfort in knowing this dire situation appears temporary. Because Dozier has been advancing through the farm system at breakneck speed.

Apparently in Powers' mind "advancing through the farm system at breakneck speed" means a soon-to-be 25-year-old who began last season at high Single-A and has yet to play a game at Triple-A. But wait, there's more:

Everyone seems convinced that Dozier is the next big thing. Of course, spring training is all about hope. If you can't get excited over a prospect in spring training, heck, you should be watching a different sport. But in this case, I really do think that "next" is going to be pretty darn quick.

Powers writes that "everyone seems convinced that Dozier is the next big thing." In reality, Dozier appeared on zero prominent top-100 prospect lists and doesn't even rank as one of the Twins' top seven prospects according to John Manuel of Baseball America or Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus or Keith Law of ESPN.com. Dozier has the potential to become a solid big leaguer, but the picture being painted by Powers is misleading at best.

And then a couple days later Powers wrote another column with similarly hyperbolic prose touting Chris Parmelee as a future middle-of-the-order slugger:

A true power hitter has a different air about him when he talks about home runs. It's not about getting a good pitch to hit or guessing right on a fastball, but rather it's about a certain feeling that occurs when bat and baseball collide. True power hitters get sort of a faraway look just describing it.

"It's some feeling when you know you got it," Chris Parmelee said. "It's a good feeling, a great feeling." And if the ball is going over the fence anyway, it might as well go waaayyy over the fence, right? "Yeah, why not?" Parmelee said with a chuckle.

Parmelee, like Dozier, has the potential to be a solid big leaguer. He also has a grand total of 19 homers in 253 games and 1,073 plate appearances at Double-A. But wait, there's more:

Called up Sept. 6, Parmelee, a lefty first baseman, hit .355 in 76 at-bats. His on-base percentage was .443, and he had six doubles and four home runs. And those homers traveled a long way. ...

The good news is that he never has lost sight of his best attribute: the ability to hit the baseball a long way. In other words, his role is that of a power hitter. ... Here's a kid who can hit the ball a mile. Put him in the lineup until he shows he doesn't belong there.

Powers makes a huge deal about the four homers Parmelee hit for the Twins in September, using them as evidence that the 24-year-old with zero Triple-A experience should be playing every day in the majors, and repeatedly writes things that make it seem as though he's a big-time slugger. Yet not once in the entire 20-paragraph article does Powers mention that Parmelee had just 19 homers and a .416 slugging percentage in two seasons at Double-A.

J.J. Hardy joined David Ortiz in saying that the Twins coached him not to maximize his power potential, although unlike Ortiz he later clarified the comments to be less critical. Whatever the case, the Twins' homer total hasn't been among the league's top five since way back in 1988 and they've ranked 10th or worse 16 times during that span. They've also had one of the league's top five offenses just three times in the past 19 seasons.

Alexi Casilla didn't look awful and graded out decently statistically in 36 starts at shortstop last year, but apparently the Twins weren't impressed. During an in-game interview on FSN last week Terry Ryan said: "We tried Casilla at shortstop a couple times and it didn't really work out."

Kevin Mulvey, who was acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana deal and then traded to the Diamondbacks for Jon Rauch, has re-signed with the Mets on a minor-league contract after being released by the Diamondbacks. And at age 26 he's little more than Triple-A filler.

• California high school right-hander Lucas Giolito is one of the Twins' potential targets with the No. 2 overall pick, but he'll miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury.

Bobby Valentine, who managed Tsuyoshi Nishioka in Japan for six years, says he predicted Nishioka's broken leg and even warned him about it last spring.

Drew Butera has hit .178/.220/.261 in the majors after hitting .214/.296/.317 in the minors, which makes this article pretty hilarious.

Jason Pridie was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a "drug of abuse," which means the Twins probably won't try to acquire him for a third time.

Doug Mientkiewicz, who last played in 2009, is the Dodgers' new rookie-ball hitting coach.

Joel Zumaya is scheduled for Tommy John surgery and will attempt another comeback.

Gary Gaetti's son is marrying Dan Gladden's daughter.

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