June 27, 2012

Down on the farm: Checking in on the Twins’ top 10 prospects

Each winter I rank and profile the Twins' top 40 prospects, so with the minor-league season reaching the halfway point let's check in on the top 10 prospects to see how they're faring:

No. 1 prospect Miguel Sano got off to a huge start at low Single-A, hitting .276/.422/.586 in April, but then showed that for all the incredible long-term upside he's still a teenager with shaky strike-zone control facing full-season competition for the first time. Sano went into a prolonged slump right around his 19th birthday and has hit just .220 with 58 strikeouts in 48 games since May 1, putting on hold any talk of a first-half promotion to high Single-A.

Sano also struck out 137 times in 127 games of rookie-ball, so the lack of consistent contact is nothing new and remains a potential red flag. On the other hand 19-year-olds with massive raw power are supposed to be strikeout prone and Sano has made major strides in plate discipline by drawing 42 walks in 73 games for Beloit after totaling 47 walks in 127 games at rookie-ball. And even while struggling overall recently he's continued to hit for huge power.

Sano leads the Midwest League with 15 homers and ranks fourth slugging percentage, fifth in walks, and seventh in OPS despite being the sixth-youngest player in the league. His low batting average and high strikeout total are certainly worrisome and make it impossible to project him as a future .300 hitter, but in terms of being a middle-of-the-order monster Sano remains right on track with a .240/.355/.483 line at the same age as a college sophomore.

No. 2 prospect Joe Benson has had a miserable season that started bad and got much worse. Finally promoted to Triple-A for the first time at age 24 he hit .179 in 28 games for Rochester, at which point the Twins decided to send him back down to Double-A for a third straight year. He got off to a slow start there before breaking his wrist on a swing in his eighth game, requiring surgery and a two-month recovery timetable.

Wrist injuries often prove tricky for hitters to bounce back from and when combined with hitting .173 in 36 games between Double-A and Triple-A his stock has clearly plummeted this season. Reacting to 28 bad games at Triple-A by demoting Benson back to a level he'd already mastered for two seasons was an odd, seemingly panicky move by the Twins, but that's mostly a moot point now as he simply needs to get healthy and start hitting again somewhere.

No. 3 prospect Aaron Hicks made the jump to Double-A and hit well enough early on to create some optimism that he was finally ready to tap into his offensive potential after underwhelming power and batting averages in the low minors. Instead he's basically back to where he's always been, showing excellent plate discipline and good speed while hitting just .248 with seven homers in 63 games for New Britain.

He's still 22 years old and it would be silly to brush aside 33 walks and 16 steals in 63 games from a strong-armed center fielder, but at this point his long-term upside needs recalibrating. His defense, speed, and on-base skills are still more than enough to make Hicks a potential quality regular in the majors, but any thoughts of stardom can wait until his average or power rise and his switch-hitting actually leads to good production from both sides of the plate.

No. 4 prospect Eddie Rosario was one of the few Twins minor leaguers having a standout year, hitting .293/.362/.473 with seven homers, 20 doubles, and 27 walks in 62 games at low Single-A as a 20-year-old. Then a batting practice line drive off the bat of a Beloit teammate struck him in the face on June 12 and surgery to insert a metal plate above his lip followed, putting his season on hold for at least six weeks.

Halting his strong hitting isn't ideal, but the bigger issue is that Rosario had been transitioning from center fielder to second baseman and all the missed repetitions will further complicate an already difficult proposition. Also worth noting is that while hitting well overall before the facial injury his power was down substantially from last year, which is what many people expected to happen considering Rosario is more of a line-drive hitter than a slugger.

No. 5 prospect Liam Hendriks was the Twins' choice to replace the injured Scott Baker in the Opening Day rotation despite being 23 years old with just nine starts at Triple-A. He predictably struggled and was sent back to Rochester three weeks later, but then put together an impressive seven-start stretch there in which he threw 46 innings with a 1.94 ERA, .180 opponents' batting average, and 42-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

That and more injuries to the rotation earned Hendriks a return to the majors two weeks ago and he promptly served up three homers in his first start back after allowing a total of three homers in 16 starts at Triple-A. Learning to keep the ball in the ballpark will be crucial, because Hendriks' raw stuff is mediocre and his bat-missing ability is in question. Hendriks was the top pitching prospect by default and his upside as a mid-rotation starter hasn't changed.

No. 6 prospect Oswaldo Arcia has moved past the slumping Sano to own the highest OPS by any Twins minor leaguer and while his long-term upside can't compete with Sano he's in the mix as one of MLB's best young outfield prospects. Arcia began the year at high Single-A and hit .309/.376/.517 with seven homers, 16 doubles, and an improved strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 games to earn a promotion to Double-A and a spot in the Futures Game next month.

At just 21 years old Arcia is one of the half-dozen youngest hitters in the Eastern League and it's noteworthy that the Twins have gone away from their usual deliberate development by aggressively promoting him for a second straight season. In general testing good prospects is smart, although in Arcia's case his plate discipline and strike-zone control are shaky enough that constantly facing new, tougher competition makes improving those skills on the fly tough.

No. 7 prospect Kyle Gibson has been sidelined since undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery last September, but the 2009 first-round pick recently started a throwing program and is ahead of schedule in his recovery. He won't be an option for the Twins this season, whereas before the surgery he was on track to be in the majors by now, but getting back on the mound for some minor-league game action at some point in July would be great news.

No. 8 prospect Levi Michael was supposed to advance through the farm system quickly after starring in college at North Carolina, giving the Twins some much-needed middle infield depth. Jumping directly to high Single-A was part of that plan, but the switch-hitting first-round pick has struggled there by hitting .219 with two homers and 49 strikeouts in 61 games while splitting time between shortstop and second base.

Michael had excellent strike-zone control in college, totaling more walks (93) than strikeouts (73) in 2010-2011. So far the plate discipline side of that equation has remained with 31 walks despite a .295 slugging percentage not scaring pitchers, but the 49 strikeouts are a concern attached to such little power. Hopefully he simply wasn't as advanced as believed, since it'd be a shame if the Twins finally addressed their infield issues with a college pick who went bust.

No. 9 prospect Alex Wimmers recovered from extreme control problems to get back on track by the end of last season and the Twins were confident enough to assign the 2010 first-round pick to Double-A this year. Unfortunately he went down with an elbow injury after just one start there and was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, which typically leads to Tommy John surgery. For now he's attempting rest and rehab instead of surgery.

No. 10 prospect Brian Dozier began the year at Triple-A for the first time at age 25 and didn't play particularly well, but the Twins called him up in mid-May anyway and he arrived with some misguidedly inflated expectations among many fans and media members. Talk of him being "the next big thing" seems even sillier now, as Dozier has struggled both offensively and defensively while playing shortstop every day for the past six weeks.

He's hit .225/.249/.306 in 44 games with predictably little pop and a surprisingly ugly 33-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio after walking nearly as often as he struck out in the minors. Defensively he's shown iffy range and arm strength while also being less sure-handed than expected. He realistically never projected as anything close to a star, but struggling so much to control the strike zone and consistently make plays at shortstop is worrisome for 25-year-old.

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June 21, 2012

Twins Notes: Liriano, Benson, Rosario, Slama, Bard, Doyle, and Marquis

Francisco Liriano had a 9.45 ERA, .346 opponents' average, and 21-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings over six starts when the Twins demoted him to the bullpen in May. Since rejoining the rotation he has a 2.67 ERA, .155 opponents' average, and 35-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 innings over five starts. It's hard to imagine the Twins re-signing the impending free agent, in which case he has another half-dozen starts to build trade value.

• As if the Twins' farm system wasn't weak enough already now four of their top 10 prospects in my preseason rankings are on the minor-league disabled list. No. 7 prospect Kyle Gibson is still making his way back from last year's Tommy John surgery, No. 9 prospect Alex Wimmers is trying to rehab an elbow injury of his own to avoid the same fate, and now No. 2 prospect Joe Benson and No. 4 prospect Eddie Rosario are both sidelined for extended periods.

Benson fractured his left wrist and surgery will keep him out until mid-July. Rosario was struck in the face by a teammate's line drive and is expected to miss six weeks after surgery to insert a metal plate above his lip. Benson had already been demoted from Triple-A to Double-A and wrist problems often linger, so his injury is the bigger long-term concern. Rosario's injury is also a shame, because it sounds gruesome and he was hitting .293/.363/.473 at low Single-A.

• Sadly the "Free Anthony Slama" movement has been put on ice, and not because the Twins finally called him up after years of dominating in the minors. Slama is slated to miss six weeks after a line drive broke his leg, potentially ending his season with a 0.40 ERA, .175 opponents' average, and 37-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23 innings at Triple-A. He'll be 29 years old before next season and has a 2.24 ERA with 172 strikeouts in 141 career Triple-A innings.

• No. 42 pick Luke Bard was the last remaining holdout among the Twins' top 11 draft picks and the Georgia Tech right-hander agreed to a deal yesterday, meaning just two weeks after the draft they've signed every player selected within the first 250 overall picks. No. 2 pick Byron Buxton is expected to make his rookie-ball debut within a week, so the earlier signing deadline as part of the new collective bargaining agreement has worked well for the Twins.

Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that in preparing scenarios for the No. 2 pick the Twins narrowed their list to Buxton, Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and Kyle Zimmer. Most pre-draft speculation had them choosing whichever one of Buxton or Appel didn't go No. 1, but in reading between the lines it seems like they were set to take Correa if the Astros had taken Buxton. And there was lots of organizational disagreement about the best player.

• In examining the Twins' draft it was obvious that they went out of their way to get power arms, even if they came in the less-than-ideal form of college relievers. Sure enough vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff admitted that was the plan going in, saying: "Pitchability and playability, maybe we overemphasized that. Maybe we emphasized that for too long. It added up. This year, we went for the more presentable qualities."

• Going into the draft Mitch Brown seemed destined for the Twins, as they had six picks in the top 100 and the local right-hander from Rochester Century high school was regarded as a consensus top-100 player. General manager Terry Ryan even scouted him in person multiple times, but then the Twins passed on him at 32, 42, 63, and 72. Brown wound up with the Indians at 79 and signed for an above-slot bonus of $800,000.

• They also repeatedly passed on Gophers right-hander T.J. Oakes, who was selected by the Rockies in the 11th round and signed for $100,000. Oakes is considered a marginal prospect, placing 292nd in Baseball America's pre-draft rankings, but the Twins liked the 6-foot-5 starter enough to draft him in the 41st round last year as a sophomore and have a history of picking Gophers. Oakes had a 2.31 ERA and 78-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 97 innings as a junior.

Released by the Twins with an 8.47 ERA and more walks (14) than strikeouts (12) in seven starts, Jason Marquis signed a minor-league deal with the Padres and made one Double-A start before returning to the majors. Marquis and his agent were smart to choose an NL team with MLB's most-pitcher friendly park, but this is crazy: Through three starts he has a 1.86 ERA and 20/8 K/BB ratio in 19 innings, including his first double-digit strikeout game since 2001.

• Waiver claim Erik Komatsu became expendable once the Twins decided to recall Ben Revere from Triple-A a month ago, so the Rule 5 pick was designated for assignment and predictably the Nationals accepted his return. Komatsu had more upside than the guy he replaced as fourth outfielder, Clete Thomas, but there wasn't much fit for him on a roster that includes both Revere and Denard Span. He's back at Triple-A for the Nationals.

• Speaking of the Rule 5 draft, Terry Doyle is headed to Japan after the Twins selected him with the No. 2 pick only to send him back to the White Sox in spring training. Doyle rejoined the White Sox at Triple-A with a 2.83 ERA and 71-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 76 innings, including a near no-hitter against Rochester, but they agreed to release the 26-year-old right-hander so he could sign with a Japanese team. A fitting end to an all-around weird story.

Phil Dumatrait, who was pitching in Rochester's bullpen after spending much of last season with the Twins, announced his retirement at age 30. He spent parts of 10 years in the minors and finishes with a 6.20 ERA in 151 career innings as a big leaguer, but the 2000 first-round pick had enough smoke and mirrors to post a 3.92 ERA in 45 appearances for the Twins last season despite an ugly 29-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41 innings.

Kevin Mulvey also called it quits, becoming the first player from the Johan Santana trade to retire. At the time of the Santana deal Mulvey was 23 years old and the former second-round pick looked like a potential mid-rotation starter who was billed as close to MLB-ready, but he posted a 7.90 ERA in 27 innings as a big leaguer. He was a bust, but the Twins managed to get some value out of Mulvey by trading him to the Diamondbacks for Jon Rauch in mid-2009.

Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors crunched the numbers on every team's payroll commitments for next season and the Twins have the 13th-most money already spent at $65 million. This year's payroll is around $94 million, which represents a 17 percent drop from last year's $113 million.

Trevor Plouffe isn't the only Twins hitter putting up big numbers since May 15. Through that date the Twins' lineup scored an average of just 3.3 runs in 36 games, but in 31 games since then they've averaged 5.2 runs.

Alex Burnett has a great-looking 2.16 ERA, but he's gotten it done with a ton of smoke and mirrors while posting a horrid 13-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 33 innings. Burnett's strikeouts per nine innings have plummeted from 7.0 in 2010 to 5.9 in 2011 to 3.5 this season, which is the lowest mark by any reliever in baseball.

Jim Thome has hit .315 with 61 homers and a .640 slugging percentage in 194 career games against the Twins. He hit .266 with 37 homers and a .562 slugging percentage in 179 games for the Twins, producing the highest Isolated Power in team history.

Paul Konerko (.431) and Joe Mauer (.415) are the only hitters in the American League with an on-base percentage above .400.

Justin Morneau is hitting .310 with a .595 slugging percentage against right-handers and .091 with a .197 slugging percentage against left-handers.

Lew Ford, who last played in the majors for the Twins in 2007 and is now 35 years old, has hit .383/.450/.626 with five homers and four steals in 28 games at Triple-A for the Orioles.

John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com took a trip to Beloit to see the Twins' low Single-A team and had some interesting thoughts on a variety of prospects, including a pre-injury Rosario.

• ESPN.com ranked the 25 best single-game performances in postseason history and two of the top three spots belong to Twins.

• I was a guest on the Bucs Dugout podcast, talking about the Twins and my decade blogging about them with host Charlie Wilmoth.

• And if you haven't listened to this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode yet, the show was a good one as my guest co-hosts Parker Hageman and Joe Nelson subbed for Wally Pipp.

This week's blog content is sponsored by DiamondCentric and their new "Plouffe There It Is!" shirt, which is available in men's and women's sizes. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

March 29, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Also in this series: 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

5. Liam Hendriks | Starter | DOB: 2/89 | Throws: Right | Sign: Australia

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK+     3      3     3.71      17.0      19      0      13      1
         A-     11     11     3.51      66.2      73      3      62     15
2010     A-      6      6     1.32      34.0      16      0      39      4
         A+     13     12     1.93      74.2      63      2      66      8
2011     AA     16     15     2.70      90.0      85      5      81     18
         AAA     9      9     4.56      49.1      52      0      30      3
         MLB     4      4     6.17      23.1      29      3      16      6

Liam Hendriks signed with the Twins out of Australia as an 18-year-old in 2007, but missed all of 2008 and half of 2009 following knee and back surgeries. He returned in 2010 with a fantastic season between two levels of Single-A, throwing 109 innings with a 1.74 ERA as a 21-year-old, and then thrived between Double-A and Triple-A last season while winning Twins minor league pitcher of the year honors and making his big-league debut in September.

Statistically he was the best pitcher in the Twins' system in both 2010 and 2011, going from low Single-A to the majors during that time despite not turning 23 years old until last month. That includes a 3.36 ERA, 111-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and just five homers allowed in 139 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season, but unfortunately Hendriks' strikeout rate dipped dramatically once he got to Triple-A and his raw stuff isn't quite as impressive.

Hendriks is the prototypical Twins pitcher with excellent control and off-speed pitches that receive positive reviews, but his average fastball clocked in at just 89.9 miles per hour. Toss in an unspectacular, deteriorating strikeout rate with a neutral ground-ball rate and he looks like more of a strike-throwing No. 3 starter than a top-of-the-rotation guy. Kyle Gibson's injury makes Hendriks the top pitching prospect by default, but he should be MLB-ready soon.

4. Eddie Rosario | Second Base | DOB: 9/91 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-4

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    213     .294     .343     .438      5     16     16     28
2011     RK+    298     .337     .397     .670     21     39     27     60

Miguel Sano was the biggest name in Elizabethton's lineup, but rookie-ball teammate and 2010 fourth-round pick Eddie Rosario actually led the Appalachian League in homers and slugging percentage while hitting .337. They each topped 20 homers in the 68-game season after a grand total of one Appalachian League hitter had 20 homers in the past 20 years. Rosario can't compete with Sano's raw power, but should have far more defensive value.

At which position is unclear, because after playing Rosario in center field last season the Twins have moved him to second base in the hopes that he can fix their longstanding inability to develop middle infielders. Rod Carew and Chuck Knoblauch are the only second basemen in Twins history with an OPS above .750 in multiple seasons, which along with the organization's strong outfield depth certainly makes Rosario in the infield a worthwhile experiment.

Last year's record-setting slugging probably overstates Rosario's long-term power potential, but the 20-year-old left-handed hitter clearly has plenty of pop and moving up to full-season competition at low Single-A should provide a clearer picture of his all-around upside. So far he's hit .319 with 26 homers and 39 steals in 118 games after Baseball America's pre-draft report called him "the best pure hitter" in Puerto Rico and compared him to Bobby Abreu.

3. Aaron Hicks | Center Field | DOB: 10/89 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2008-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     A-     297     .251     .353     .382      4     22     40     55
2010     A-     518     .279     .401     .428      8     41     88    112
2011     A+     528     .242     .354     .368      5     41     78    110

Aaron Hicks' stock has gradually slipped since the Twins drafted him out of high school in 2008 and the expectations of a No. 14 pick shape how he's perceived. On one hand Hicks is a speedy 22-year-old center fielder with good range and a strong arm, led the system with 78 walks last year at high Single-A, and has a .377 career on-base percentage. On the other hand he's a .266 hitter, hasn't developed power, and struggles from the left side of the plate.

His upside certainly looks lower now than two years ago, but it's too early to write Hicks off as a bust. His defense, speed, and patience are all impressive, although it's possible he's actually too passive at the plate. And while the lack of pop is disappointing he's hardly in Ben Revere territory. Hicks had a .126 Isolated Power and 41 extra-base hits in 443 at-bats for Fort Myers. Revere had a .058 Isolated Power and 19 extra-base hits in 466 at-bats there in 2009.

Compared to Revere at the same age and level Hicks hits for twice as much power and draws twice as many walks. Revere is faster and has more range, but Hicks is also considered a strong defensive center fielder and has a vastly superior arm. Revere's flaws were just more easily hidden by lofty batting averages and even now Hicks has more all-around upside, but he absolutely needs more pop or consistency switch-hitting to look like a potential star again.

2. Joe Benson | Center Field | DOB: 3/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-2

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     A+     327     .285     .414     .403      5     18     46     74
2010     A+      96     .294     .375     .588      4     16      8     21
         AA     423     .251     .336     .527     23     50     39    115
2011     AA     472     .285     .388     .495     16     48     56    109
         MLB     74     .239     .270     .352      0      7      3     21

Joe Benson was pressed into major-league duty by the Twins' many injuries and predictably struggled while making the leap from Double-A to the majors at age 23, but prior to an ugly September he was very impressive in New Britain. Whether he should have been essentially repeating Double-A after spending most of 2010 there is a legitimate question, but he showed improvement while hitting .285 with good power, better patience, and fewer strikeouts.

Benson's inability make consistent contact is the biggest red flag in an otherwise well-rounded game, but while he whiffed 21 times in 74 plate appearances for the Twins his Double-A strikeout rate improved from 27 percent in 2010 to 23 percent in 2011. Overall in 213 games at Double-A he's smacked 39 homers and 98 total extra-base hits for a .241 Isolated Power. By comparison, Harmon Killebrew has the top Isolated Power in Twins history at .258.

Benson isn't the second coming of Killebrew, but should have 25-homer pop with plus speed and center field range with a right field arm. His all-around upside isn't far off from Michael Cuddyer, who manned right field for the Twins from 2006-2011. Cuddyer hit .282/.373/.478 in 279 games at Double-A, compared to .269/.363/.510 for Benson. Cuddyer also crushed Triple-A pitching after that, which Benson will finally get a chance to do this season.

1. Miguel Sano | Third Base | DOB: 5/93 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     DSL     80     .344     .463     .547      3      6     14     17
         RK-    161     .291     .338     .466      4     18     10     43
2011     RK+    293     .292     .352     .637     20     45     23     77

Miguel Sano has lived up to the hype and then some so far, emerging as one of baseball's elite prospects three years after the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old for a record $3.15 million bonus. As a soon-to-be 19-year-old who's yet to advance past rookie-ball Sano's odds of going bust are considerably higher than most top prospects, but his upside is incredible and his early production has been jaw-dropping.

Sano was 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds when the Twins signed him and is now at least 240, which is why his remaining at shortstop was a pipe dream and even sticking at third base may be a stretch. It would be nice to have a slugging third baseman instead of a slugging right fielder or first baseman, but if Sano's bat develops as hoped he'll be MVP-caliber anywhere on the diamond and join Justin Morneau as the only Twins with multiple 30-homer years since 1987.

He's struck out 137 times in 127 games and hasn't walked much, but that's expected from a raw teenager and Sano has hit .300/.364/.572 in pitcher-friendly environments. Last year he blasted 20 homers and 45 total extra-base hits in 66 games, slugging .637 in a league that slugged .404. Anyone who sees Sano inevitably comes away saying the same two things: He's massive and the ball explodes off his bat. And he's the best Twins prospect since Joe Mauer.

October 24, 2011

Twins Notes: More trimmings, fewer collisions, and shopping lists

Matt Tolbert, Jason Repko, Anthony Slama, and Rene Rivera were passed through waivers unclaimed and sent outright to Triple-A as part of the Twins' initial 40-man roster trimming and they've since done the same with Phil Dumatrait and Brian Dinkelman. Some of the six guys may stay in the organization, but they've all been removed from the 40-man roster and Tolbert quickly opted for free agency after spending his entire eight-year pro career with the Twins.

Dumatrait had a nice-looking 3.92 ERA for the Twins, but didn't actually pitch well with an awful 29-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio and seven homers in 41 innings. Even the 1.15 ERA he posted at Triple-A to coax the Twins into calling him up involved just 15 innings and a horrible 12-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Dumatrait is a 30-year-old journeyman with a 6.20 ERA and nearly as many walks (90) as strikeouts (97) in 151 career innings as a major leaguer.

Dinkelman is a similar story, as his .301 batting average vastly overstates how well he actually played in 23 games for the Twins. All but one of his 22 hits were singles, producing a measly .315 slugging percentage, and Dinkelman drew just four walks while striking out 14 times. His call-up never made much sense in the first place, as Dinkelman is 27 years old and has hit just .255/.327/.353 in 264 games at Triple-A while being iffy defensively at second base.

Of the six players dropped from the 40-man roster Slama is the only one with any sort of shot to be more than a marginal big leaguer and the Twins avoiding the status quo with their own collection of replacement-level talent is a positive thing. And even after those moves they still have plenty of fungible non-prospects taking up space on the 40-man roster, including Drew Butera, Jim Hoey, Jeff Manship, Kyle Waldrop, and Esmerling Vasquez.

• During a recent radio interview on 1500-ESPN general manager Bill Smith confirmed that the Twins will not make any changes to the training staff following one of the most injury wrecked seasons in team history. Smith noted that "there's nothing from a training standpoint that you can do to prevent" what he called "collision injuries" such as Tsuyoshi Nishioka fracturing his leg while trying to turn a double play or Michael Cuddyer injuring his wrist on a hit by pitch.

As he's done multiple times since the end of the season Smith suggested that Alexi Casilla's hamstring strain was the only prominent example of a non-collision injury, but as Phil Mackey of 1500-ESPN pointed out that's inaccurate. Casilla, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Jim Thome, Francisco Liriano, Delmon Young, Nick Blackburn, and Glen Perkins each required disabled list stints and missed significant time with non-collision injuries.

I'm not really in a position to say whether the Twins need to dramatically shake up the training staff, but for Smith to dismiss the never-ending flood of health problems as simply bad luck and spin the situation with misleading information is disappointing. Yes, many injuries were of the collision variety, but most of those players missed far more time than the initial diagnosis and there were also plenty of non-collision injuries that kept players out far longer than expected.

• Smith also revealed a few other tidbits during that same interview, admitting that the Twins "will be looking" for a veteran shortstop who can provide "solid leadership and solid defense." No surprise, as entering 2012 with Nishioka or Trevor Plouffe atop the shortstop depth chart was never going to happen, but after botching the J.J. Hardy situation upgrading the position is once again a priority. If history is any indication the next shortstop will be underwhelming.

Asked about upgrading the depth at catcher Smith called Butera "a wonderful backup catcher" despite a .178/.220/.261 career line making him one of the worst hitters ever. Of course, more important than the silly platitudes is Smith admitting that "we've got to have more offense out of that backup position" and "are looking to add that." If they aren't willing to cut Butera loose that points to keeping three catchers or at least two catchers and a catcher/designated hitter.

• Last week I wrote about how the Twins' minor league player of the year winners have been a mixed bag during the past decade. David Winfree is perhaps the least successful recipient during that time, winning the award in 2005 thanks to a nice-looking RBI total at high Single-A masking unspectacular overall production and an ugly 93-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Winfree never even reached the majors, leaving the organization as a free agent in 2009.

He's played at Triple-A for three different organizations during the two seasons since then, but put together a good 39-game stretch for the Diamondbacks' affiliate this season and somehow convinced them to add him to the 40-man roster. Winfree is a 26-year-old first baseman/corner outfielder with a .287/.331/.484 mark in 264 games at Triple-A, so even if he finally makes it to the majors in Arizona don't expect the former 13th-round pick to haunt the Twins.

LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the Twins are giving rookie-ball center fielder Eddie Rosario some reps at second base in instructional league games. Rosario had a monster season for Elizabethton as a 19-year-old, batting .337 with 21 homers in 67 games, and given the organization's solid outfield depth and longstanding inability to develop quality infielders it's worth a try while he's on the bottom rungs of the minor-league ladder.

John Bonnes, Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, and Parker Hageman are taking pre-orders for their annual "Offseason GM Handbook." I'm not part of the TwinsCentric group and have nothing to do with the handbook, but can absolutely vouch for product as a worthwhile investment. Plus, in addition to 135 pages analyzing offseason possibilities and all things Twins the e-book also features a foreword by Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune and 1500-ESPN. Check it out.

September 22, 2011

Twins Notes: Sisyphus, meetups, cash considerations, regrets, and returns

• I'll be on 1500-ESPN radio today from 10 a.m. until whenever Judd Zulgad and Joe Anderson kick me off the "Judd and Phunn" show. You can listen online here.

John Bonnes, Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, and Parker Hageman (also known as TwinsCentric) are hosting a get-together Saturday at noon for Game 1 of the Twins-Indians doubleheader. I'll be there as well and we'll be recording an episode of the "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast, so if you're interested in watching the game(s), drinking some beer, and talking Twins please come hang out.

The only catch is that we'll be at Manitou Station in White Bear Lake, which is a lengthy trek for most people and along with the Twins' dismal season has me worried that the crowd may be a little more sparse than a typical TwinsCentric gathering. But we're all making the drive and you should too. And as an added incentive I'm pledging to buy any AG.com readers who show up their first beer. Just show up, say hello, order a beer, and it's on me. Here are the details:

Who: Bonnes, Stohs, Nelson, Hageman, Gleeman, and hopefully more

What: TwinsCentric get-together during the Twins-Indians game

Where: Manitou Station in White Bear Lake (click here for map/directions)

When: Saturday from noon until whenever we go home

Why: Because the Twins are less depressing if you're watching with a group and/or drinking

• When the Twins traded Jim Thome to the Indians on August 25 they received a player to be named later or cash in return and they've somewhat surprisingly opted for the money, getting $20,000 to complete the deal. Obviously for a team with a $115 million payroll $20,000 means nothing and for the Twins to choose that instead of even a low-level prospect is frustrating at the end of a miserable year. In announcing the deal general manager Bill Smith explained:

We exchanged some names both ways and in the end we both felt this was the proper way to go. This was certainly the right thing to do for Jim Thome and the right thing to do for the Twins.

It's tough to imagine why they wouldn't pick some Single-A live arm and if any of those players ever finds out that they were passed over for $20,000 they'll probably retire on the spot, but ultimately it doesn't matter. Thome was dealt to save money and to give him a shot at playing meaningful games in September. Cleveland almost immediately fell out of contention following the move, but between his salary and the $20,000 throw-in the Twins saved about $650,000.

• As if the Twins' collapse isn't depressing enough, Wilson Ramos has hit .267/.331/.443 with 14 homers in 109 games for the Nationals. Those certainly aren't jaw-dropping raw numbers, but Ramos' production adds up to an adjusted OPS+ of 112 and that's damn impressive for a 23-year-old rookie catcher. In fact, during the past 25 years here's the complete list of every 23-year-old catcher to post an OPS+ above 100 in 400 or more plate appearances:

                  YEAR      PA     OPS+
Joe Mauer         2006     608     144
Buster Posey      2010     443     129
Jason Kendall     1997     572     114
Craig Biggio      1989     509     114
WILSON RAMOS      2011     420     112
Russell Martin    2006     468     101

That's it. That's the whole list. Oh, and he's also thrown out 34 percent of steal attempts. Sigh.

Denard Span returning to the lineup for a handful of meaningless September games seems like an iffy decision considering how poorly things went last month when he came back despite still having concussion symptoms. Toss in Justin Morneau's recent setback 15 months after his concussion and leaving Span on the sidelines sure seemed like the sensible plan, but at least he felt good after playing five innings. He also said: "I'm praying I wake up feeling good."

Jason Repko was hit in the helmet Sunday and has unfortunately joined Span and Morneau in suffering a concussion, with Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reporting that he's "been bothered by headaches and nausea." According to trainer Rick McWane "he had a CT scan and an MRI exam on his head and they both came back normal" and Repko hasn't officially been ruled out for the season yet, but he won't play again in 2011. What a shame.

• As the Twins zero in on the No. 2 overall pick next year Baseball America released their initial ranking of the top 50 prospects available in the 2012 draft. Generally speaking the draft class is considered underwhelming, particularly in terms of elite talent, but while that's bad luck for the Twins a lot can change before June. For now the main names to track are Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero, and Florida catcher Mike Zunino.

• Speaking of Baseball America, they named Miguel Sano the No. 1 prospect in the rookie-level Appalachian League this season after the 18-year-old third baseman batted .292/.352/.637 with 20 homers and 45 total extra-base hits in 66 games. Elizabethton's other record-setting slugger, 19-year-old center fielder Eddie Rosario, ranked No. 5 on the same list and this year's second-round pick, right-hander Madison Boer, ranked No. 17.

Mike Fast of Baseball Prospectus did an extensive study on the often overlooked impact MLB catchers have framing pitches. His research and results are way too interesting and in-depth for me to recap here, so I'll just note that Joe Mauer's pitch framing has been two runs above average per 120 games, while Drew Butera's pitch framing has been nine runs below average per 120 games. Check out the whole study for some very intriguing, unique stuff.

Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia are the only two players on the Twins' injury wrecked roster who'll log enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, but believe it or not that isn't particularly rare. Ten teams in baseball history have had just one hitter qualify for the batting title, two of which are the Astros and Giants this season, and the Twins are the 70th team to have two or fewer qualifiers in a season.

Brian Dinkelman is 20-for-53 (.377) and all 20 of his hits have been singles. Jim Perry is the only other player in Twins history to record at least 15 hits in a season without an extra-base hit. Perry, a starting pitcher who won the Cy Young award in 1970, went 17-for-92 (.185) with all singles in 1971.

Tom Tango launched his annual "scouting report by the fans for the fans," which is your shot to play a scout by entering in personal observations about the players you watch on a regular basis to become part of the huge collection of scouting reports compiled entirely by fans. Take a look at the instructions and details, and then go to the Twins page to mark down what you think of, say, Trevor Plouffe's throwing accuracy or Ben Revere's arm strength.

Kevin Slowey, after taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning last night only to fall apart for his seventh straight loss:

It's like we’re watching the fate of Sisyphus himself. We get to the top of that hill and just can't seem to figure it out.

Actually, there was probably no need to identify which player said that.

• On a related note, this would have been an interesting conversation to overhear:

Something tells me neither of them mentioned any Greek mythology.

Michael Kruse from Grantland wrote a lengthy article about 32-year-old career minor leaguer Chase Lambin, who spent this season playing at Triple-A for the Twins.

• Dating back to last season the Twins are 61-106 in their last 167 games, including 9-39 since late July. To avoid the second 100-loss season in team history they'd have to finish 4-4.

• If you haven't yet, please check out this week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek."

This week's content is sponsored by Jane Gallop's new book, "The Deaths of the Author: Reading and Writing In Time."

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