September 11, 2013

Twins Notes: September call-ups, bad Buxton, and cleaning up young

aaron hicks september1

• Rochester's playoff run ended Sunday at Triple-A, so the Twins made seven September call-ups after initially not adding reinforcements. Eduardo Escobar, Chris Parmelee, Scott Diamond, and Michael Tonkin return after playing for the Twins previously this season and Cole De Vries is back in Minnesota for the first time this year after spending much of last season in the Twins' rotation, leaving Shairon Martis and Eric Fryer as the surprising call-ups.

Fryer is a 28-year-old journeyman catcher with 2,081 plate appearances in the minors compared to 34 plate appearances in the majors. He hit just .219/.339/.365 in 65 games for Rochester and is a career .208/.312/.313 hitter at Triple-A, but with Joe Mauer on the disabled list recovering from a brain injury and the Twins apparently no longer as willing to use Ryan Doumit behind the plate they wanted another catcher around for the final three weeks.

Martis is a 26-year-old right-hander who spent most of last season and all of this season in the Twins' farm system after being signed to a minor-league deal. He was a full-time starter until this year, shifting to the bullpen in Rochester and throwing 80 innings with a 4.26 ERA and 65-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio. There is absolutely nothing about his performance that stands out, this season or in past seasons, so aside from "they just wanted an extra arm" his call-up is odd.

My assumption is that Fryer and Martis will be dropped from the 40-man roster immediately after the season, in which case adding them now has no real impact aside from not giving those same temporary spots to more deserving options this month. De Vries also seems likely to be dropped, along with a handful of other names as part of the annual season-ending purge. Tonkin is the only call-up in the group with big upside, although certainly some people still believe in Diamond.

• As for who the Twins didn't add, the healthy players on the 40-man roster who haven't joined the team are Aaron Hicks, Trevor May, Danny Santana, and B.J. Hermsen. Of that group only Hicks' lack of a call-up is at all surprising, because May, Santana, and Hermsen all spent the season at Double-A and Hermsen was bad enough to potentially be dropped from the roster soon. Hicks, meanwhile, was the Opening Day center fielder and spent four months in the majors.

Hicks was terrible following an August 1 demotion to Triple-A, hitting .221/.317/.333 with zero homers and a 21-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22 games to continue a miserable season that began with the Twins shoving aside development and service time considerations by rushing him from Double-A to the majors at age 23. Of course, Parmelee hit just .231/.318/.370 in 45 games at Triple-A following his midseason demotion and still got a September call-up.

• I dug through the minor-league records back when the Twins promoted Byron Buxton from low Single-A to high Single-A in late June and found that he was one of just six teenagers in the past 30 years to post an OPS of .975 or higher in the Midwest League:

Byron Buxton       2013     .990
Javier Baez        2012     .979
Oscar Taveras      2011    1.028
Mike Trout         2010     .979
Alex Rodriguez     1994     .984
Larry Walker       1986    1.011

After the promotion to high Single-A he played 57 games for Fort Myers, hitting .326/.415/.472 with 23 steals. Here's a list of all the teenagers in the past 30 years to post an OPS of .875 or higher in the Florida State League:

Byron Buxton       2013     .887
Jesus Montero      2009     .989
Giancarlo Stanton  2009     .968
Joel Guzman        2004     .899
Nick Johnson       1998    1.004
Adrian Beltre      1997     .967

So during the first half of the season Buxton did something only five other players have done in the past 30 years and then during the second half of the season Buxton did a different thing only five other players have done in the past 30 years. Overall he hit .334/.424/.520 with 55 steals, 49 extra-base hits, and 76 walks in 125 games between two levels where the average pitchers were 23 years old. He doesn't turn 20 until mid-December. Buxton is a bad, bad man (or kid, I guess).

UPDATE: Right on cue, Baseball America just announced that Buxton is their minor league player of the year, joining Mauer in 2003 as the only Twins to win the award.

• Sunday afternoon Oswaldo Arcia batted fourth for the first time in his career, making his debut in the cleanup spot at 22 years and 122 days old. He's the youngest player to bat cleanup for the Twins since Mauer did it at 22 years and 88 days old in July of 2005 and Justin Morneau did it at 22 years and 26 days old in June of 2003. Here's the complete list of every Twins hitter to bat cleanup before turning 23:

Kent Hrbek        156
Butch Wynegar     101
David Ortiz        44
Justin Morneau     12
Tom Brunansky      12
Joe Mauer           6
Steve Brye          6
OSWALDO ARCIA       3
Don Mincher         1

Butch Wynegar, one of the biggest phenoms in team history, was the youngest Twins cleanup hitter at 20 years and 63 days old in May of 1976. In fact, the 90 youngest instances of a Twins hitter batting cleanup all belong Wynegar and then the 91st spot is Tom Brunansky at 21 years and 266 days old. Steve Brye is the odd man out on that list, batting cleanup six times for the Twins as a 22-year-old in 1971 despite going on to be a career .258/.309/.365 hitter.

• After missing all of last season and the first five months of this season following Tommy John elbow surgery Scott Baker finally made his 2013 debut Sunday for the Cubs. He'd been very ineffective while rehabbing in the minors, but Baker tossed five shutout innings against the Brewers in his first start since August 8, 2011. He'll be a free agent again this offseason.

• There was some talk of the Twins being in the mix for Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero, but he ended up signing with the Dodgers for $32 million.

• While looking up some stats I stumbled across this tidbit: In their respective Double-A careers Michael Jordan (.289) had a higher on-base percentage than Drew Butera (.287).

Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote an interesting column about Morneau's first two weeks with the Pirates and how he relates to Penguins star Sidney Crosby.

• For a lot more on Buxton's great season, plus talk about Mauer's concussion, Josmil Pinto's hot start, and Trevor Plouffe's future, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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July 17, 2013

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Hitters

joe mauer and aaron hicks

Offense was expected to be a relative strength for the Twins this season, but instead they finished the first half hitting just .245/.316/.386 with the second-fewest homers in the league, rank 10th among AL teams in runs per game with 4.12, and are on pace to score the second-fewest runs of any Twins team during the past 30 years. Before the second half gets underway here's a hitter-by-hitter look at the individual performances ...

Joe Mauer: .320/.402/.473 in 403 plate appearances

Joe Mauer has done his part following the oft-debated decision to move him into the No. 2 spot, basically matching his career numbers by hitting .320 with a .402 on-base percentage that ranks second in the league. He's scored 32 percent more runs than anyone else on the team despite the guys hitting behind him not exactly thriving, but his RBI chances have dried up because the Twins' leadoff men and No. 9 hitters have combined for a laughable .262 on-base percentage.

Within the standard production is a huge spike in strikeouts, as 75 in 88 games is already the second-most of his career and a 75 percent increase per plate appearance. He's made up for that with career-highs in line drives and batting average on balls play in, leading MLB in both stats, but it's a different path to the usual destination. Defensively he's thrown out an AL-best 46 percent of steal attempts after sagging last year and his all-around value is on pace to surpass $30 million.

Justin Morneau: .273/.331/.406 in 366 plate appearances

At this point every time Justin Morneau homers fans and media members start talking about how it might be the start of him getting back on track, which is perhaps the surest sign that he's now just a shell of his former self. This season's power outage has been well-documented, but going all the way back to his mid-2010 concussion Morneau has hit just .259/.321/.404 in 289 games and 1,224 plate appearances.

There are 193 hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances since 2011 and Morneau ranks 128th in batting average, 134th in on-base percentage, 138th in slugging percentage, and 143rd in OPS. He hasn't been even an average first baseman in a long time and at 32 years old with a lengthy injury history in addition to the concussion re-signing the impending free agent just doesn't make sense for the Twins. If they can get any kind of decent return for him a trade, they should.

Ryan Doumit: .237/.295/.393 in 325 plate appearances

Signed to a two-year, $7 million contract extension midway through last season, Ryan Doumit is having the worst season of his career. He's been particularly awful in 24 starts as the No. 3 hitter, batting .245/.299/.316 with one homer, and for the second straight season Twins pitchers have an ERA above 5.00 throwing to him. Doumit is a poor defensive catcher and very stretched in the outfield, so with an OPS below .700 he's been one of the worst regulars in baseball.

The good news is that his power is in line with his career norms, he's already drawn 25 walks in 81 games after totaling 29 walks in 134 games last season, and Doumit is actually striking out less than usual. His struggles mostly stem from a .256 batting average on balls in play, which is 43 points below his career mark. That suggests Doumit should bounce back in the second half, but whatever chance the Twins had of getting a decent return for him in trade is probably gone.

Brian Dozier: .235/.310/.386 in 322 plate appearances

After a brutal rookie season shifting from shortstop to second base dramatically changed Brian Dozier's outlook defensively, but through two months he was again bad enough offensively that the Twins were hinting at giving up on the 26-year-old. However, in his final 44 first-half games Dozier hit .270/.372/.493 with seven homers, 12 doubles, and nearly as many walks (20) as strikeouts (24), which is more than enough to buy him some more time.

In the minors Dozier generally controlled the strike zone very well, so that aspect of his recent improvement was particularly encouraging, and even while struggling overall he showed more power than expected. Of course, he's still 26 with a .235/.290/.358 career line in 165 games after hitting even worse than that at Triple-A, so the clock is definitely ticking on Dozier. He benefits from the lack of other MLB-ready middle infielders in the Twins' system.

Josh Willingham: .224/.356/.398 in 298 plate appearances

Josh Willingham followed up a career-year in 2012 with a big April, but then the 34-year-old's knee started bothering him and he hit .213/.338/.343 in 50 games from May 1 until the Twins finally shut him down in late June. Willingham needed regular days off and cortisone injections to stay in the lineup at what was obviously less than full strength and it didn't do anyone any good anyway, as he stopped hitting and was even worse than usual in the outfield.

It turns out he had a torn meniscus, undergoing surgery that will likely keep him out until at least mid-August and could cost him the rest of the season. Willingham is under contract for $7 million next season, which is reasonable enough, but whatever chance the Twins had of cashing him in for some long-term help in a trade last July or this offseason is long gone and it's hard to know what to expect from a 35-year-old should-be designated hitter coming off knee surgery.

Chris Parmelee: .223/.303/.372 in 274 plate appearances

Chris Parmelee's defense in right field was the highlight of his first half, which isn't exactly how things were supposed to go. Parmelee had a big September debut in 2011 and destroyed Triple-A pitching for two months last season, but he's hit just .226/.298/.376 in 147 games for the Twins since then. During that span he managed just 13 homers in 484 plate appearances while striking out 118 times versus 40 walks, which is why he was demoted back to Triple-A on Sunday.

Prior to the dominant stretch at Triple-A last season Parmelee's track record in the minors wasn't especially impressive and included a measly .416 slugging percentage in 253 games at Double-A. He's also 25 years old, so in terms of inexperienced hitters struggling Parmelee is much different than some other Twins. There's no need to give up on him yet, but it's looking more and more likely that Parmelee's overall track record is right and he's simply not a starting-caliber hitter.

Trevor Plouffe: .265/.323/.445 in 264 plate appearances

Last year Trevor Plouffe started slow, hit like Babe Ruth for a month, and then slumped down the stretch while dealing with a thumb injury. This season has been much less extreme, but his .265/.323/.445 overall line is close to his .235/.301/.455 mark last year. Plouffe's transformation from light-hitting shortstop prospect to big-league power hitter looks to be for real, as he's now hit .250 with 20-homer pop for 1,000 plate appearances dating back to 2011.

Unfortunately his defense cancels out most of that offensive value and his putrid .223/.285/.391 mark versus right-handed pitching suggests that Plouffe would be better suited in a platoon role. Plouffe can smack around left-handed pitching and that should keep in the majors for a while, but as an everyday player he's not really an asset and while a move across the diamond to first base would make him less of a defensive liability the standard for offense there is much higher.

Aaron Hicks: .197/.264/.366 in 263 plate appearances

Despite a brutal 2-for-48 start to his career after jumping from Double-A to an Opening Day job the Twins stuck with Aaron Hicks and he recovered to hit .237/.288/.447 with eight homers in his final 55 first-half games. He's still striking out a ton and Hicks' formerly strong plate discipline has vanished, but his power has been better than expected, he's made a handful of spectacular defensive plays, and now he simply looks like a 23-year-old rookie learning on the job.

Nothing has changed my opinion that he should have started the season at Triple-A, both for his development and service time considerations, but in contrast to their handling of Oswaldo Arcia the Twins have kept Hicks in the majors all season. Hicks has always projected as a low-average hitter, so the key will be rediscovering his ability to draw walks and cleaning up his defense so that the highlight-reel catches and throws aren't mixed in with poor routes and misplays.

Pedro Florimon: .235/.295/.342 in 261 plate appearances

Pedro Florimon's defense has been as advertised, with very strong overall numbers and plenty of standout plays along with a relatively high error count. Unfortunately his offense has also been as advertised. Florimon's fast start soon gave way to him being terrible at the plate and he's now hit .227/.285/.327 in 124 games as a major leaguer after hitting .250/.319/.352 in 290 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

Every few weeks Florimon unleashes a swing that shows he has plenty of power, but it's resulted in just six homers in 421 career plate appearances. Similarly, his relatively patient approach at the plate has led to just 31 walks versus 91 strikeouts. Florimon's defense is good enough that he's definitely worthy of a big-league job, but in an organization that wasn't so devoid of shortstop options he'd be headed for a utility man role.

Oswaldo Arcia: .257/.317/.403 in 224 plate appearances

Fast start, slump, demotion. Fast start, slump, demotion. Oswaldo Arcia has gone through that same three-stage cycle twice in his rookie season and now he's back at Triple-A. There's no doubt that Arcia looked brutal during his slumps, but they were 20 or 30 at-bats in length and the Twins have shown a far more patient approach with Hicks' prolonged rough patches. They also pushed Arcia very aggressively through the minors, so growing pains should have been expected.

His overall performance has been right around league-average offensively, which is both far from impressive from a poor defensive corner outfielder and very impressive from a 22-year-old with fewer than 100 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Arcia projects as a middle-of-the-order bat long term, but his plate discipline and ability to handle left-handed pitching are potential stumbling blocks. Remember, though: Arcia is younger than the average player at high Single-A.

Jamey Carroll: .219/.276/.252 in 164 plate appearances

Last season Jamey Carroll hit .315 in the second half, suggesting he'd have plenty of value this season at age 39, but instead he's struggled in a part-time role. He's made 22 starts at third base and 13 starts at second base compared to two starts at shortstop, which is where he began last season as the starter before giving way to Dozier and then Florimon. Controlling the strike zone has long been Carroll's main strength, but he had 28 strikeouts versus 12 walks in the first half.

Carroll has a $4 million team option or $250,000 buyout for 2014 that becomes a player option if he reaches 401 plate appearances, but with just 164 plate appearances through 92 team games that obviously won't happen. He's not part of the Twins' future plans and looks just about washed up, but it's possible that a contending team could be interested in Carroll as a utility man. If the Twins do find a taker for Carroll they aren't going to get much in return.

Eduardo Escobar: .214/.268/.328 in 143 plate appearances

Hitting well for a few weeks in April had an awful lot of people excitedly overlooking Eduardo Escobar's terrible track record, but he hit .137 in his final 41 games before being demoted back to Triple-A. Escobar has now hit .216/.273/.294 in 114 games as a big leaguer, which is exactly what you'd expect from someone who hit .267/.312/.348 in the minors. He's a good, versatile defender, but at no point has Escobar's bat looked better than utility man-caliber.

Clete Thomas: .234/.309/.351 in 123 plate appearances

Clete Thomas got off to a good enough start after being called up from Triple-A in June that he stuck around when Hicks returned from the disabled list, but he quickly came back down to earth by hitting .152 in July. Thomas' overall numbers more or less match his career totals, which is to say they're backup-caliber at most, but he's started 28 of 33 games since his call-up and is in line for continued regular action following the demotions of Arcia and Parmelee.

Note: For a similar first-half review of the Twins' pitchers, click here.


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January 24, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35.

40. Ryan Pressly | Reliever | DOB: 12/88 | Throws: Right | Rule 5: Red Sox

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     A-     26     24     3.72     113.2     110      9      96     43
2011     A+     26     26     4.50     130.0     125      9      72     53
2012     A+     20     12     6.28      76.0      86      9      61     26
         AA     14      0     2.93      27.2      23      2      21     10

Picking fourth in the annual Rule 5 draft the Twins selected Double-A right-hander Ryan Pressly from the Red Sox, who originally picked him out of a Texas high school in the 11th round of the 2008 draft. Pressly's numbers as a starter aren't pretty, but he shifted to the bullpen at Double-A in the second half last year and threw 28 innings with a 2.93 ERA and 21-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And then he thrived in the Arizona Fall League with an 18/1 K/BB ratio in 14 innings.

Rule 5 picks must stick in the majors all season or be offered back to their original team for half of the $50,000 selection fee, although teams can work out a side deal to get around that like the Twins and Braves did with Scott Diamond in 2011. Last winter the Twins touted Terry Doyle's performance in the Arizona Fall League after taking him from the White Sox with the second pick in the Rule 5 draft, only to let him go midway through spring training.

Doyle was a 26-year-old, low-velocity control pitcher, whereas Pressly is a 24-year-old with what Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com described in his Rule 5 preview as "a big arm that can fire fastballs in the mid-90s and ... an outstanding power curve." Of course, he's still a long shot to crack the Opening Day roster and at this point Pressly's resume includes 400 innings of mediocre pitching as a starter and 40 innings of good pitching as a reliever.

39. Eduardo Escobar | Shortstop | DOB: 1/89 | Bats: Switch | Trade: White Sox

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     A+     408     .285     .327     .402      3     29     23     76
         AA     216     .262     .294     .376      3     14      9     35
2011     AAA    536     .266     .303     .354      4     31     27    104
2012     AAA    151     .217     .259     .304      1      7      8     26
         MLB    146     .214     .278     .260      0      5     11     31

Eduardo Escobar won the White Sox's utility infielder job out of spring training and collected dust on the bench until being traded to the Twins along with Pedro Hernandez for Francisco Liriano in August. Sent to Triple-A after the trade, he hit just .217/.259/.304 in 35 games for Rochester and then received a September call-up to Minnesota, where he hit just .227/.271/.227 in 14 games for the Twins.

In seven seasons as a minor leaguer Escobar has hit .267/.312/.348, including .255/.293/.343 in 167 games at Triple-A, so while he's still just 24 years old it's pretty safe to conclude that his defense will have to carry him. And it might, because Baseball America named Escobar the best defensive infielder in the White Sox's farm system for 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Of course, even the slickest of fielders are destined for bench roles unless they can hit at least a little bit.

And so far at least it looks like Escobar can't hit, even a little bit. His power is non-existent, with a grand total of 15 homers in 2,700 plate appearances between the minors and majors, and both his plate discipline and strike zone control are severely lacking. Good-fielding middle infielders are hard enough to find that Escobar cracks this list despite those considerable flaws, with the hope that he's perhaps still capable of improving into "decent role player" territory.

38. Deolis Guerra | Reliever | DOB: 4/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Mets

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     AA     19     19     6.24     102.1     127     14      67     37
         AAA     5      4     6.84      25.0      35      5      18      8
2011     AA     37     10     5.59      95.0     102     11      95     28
2012     AA      7      0     0.71      12.2       5      0      15      1
         AAA    29      0     4.87      57.1      59      7      56     21

Deolis Guerra is the Twins' last chance to squeeze more value out of the Johan Santana trade and at age 24 he remains in the organization after being dropped from the 40-man roster and passed through waivers unclaimed in November. When the Twins acquired Guerra from the Mets he was an 18-year-old starter and consensus top-50 prospect, but after years of struggling he shifted to the bullpen full time in the middle of last season

Guerra pitched very well as a reliever at Double-A down the stretch in 2011 and continued to thrive back in New Britain last year, earning a promotion to Triple-A in late April. His secondary numbers were solid in Rochester with a 56-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57 innings, but Guerra served up seven homers on the way to posting a 4.87 ERA. He also missed some time with injuries and was bypassed for a September call-up despite then being on the 40-man roster.

Guerra no longer has much upside and has lost velocity since his teenage peak, but since moving to the bullpen his performance has been promising enough to suggest he can be a useful reliever. During the past one-and-a-half seasons he's thrown 124 innings out of the bullpen with a 3.56 ERA and 136-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio between Double-A and Triple-A, but he'll face an uphill climb to crack a Twins bullpen that appears pretty well set for 2013.

37. Josmil Pinto | Catcher | DOB: 3/89 | Bats: Right | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     A-     392     .225     .295     .378     10     32     32     67
2011     A+     236     .262     .305     .389      5     17     12     36
2012     A+     393     .295     .361     .473     12     36     39     63
         AA      52     .298     .365     .553      2      7      4     10

Josmil Pinto appeared on this list in 2010, ranking 36th after impressive rookie-ball production, but back-to-back seasons with a sub-.700 OPS at Single-A followed. He repeated high Single-A last year and bounced back in a big way, hitting .295/.361/.473 in 93 games while controlling the strike zone well, and then hit .298/.365/.553 in 12 games at Double-A to finish the season. That convinced the Twins to add Pinto to the 40-man roster in November.

His lack of high-minors experience, inconsistent track record, and uncertain future defensively made Pinto's addition somewhat surprising, but clearly the Twins think the 23-year-old from Venezuela has a chance to be an impact bat. And he'll probably need to be to have significant value, because despite good caught stealing numbers Pinto draws mixed reviews as a catcher and saw about half of his action last season at designated hitter.

Generally speaking a 23-year-old part-time catcher, part-time designated hitter with barely any time above Single-A and a career .266/.337/.427 line is a long shot to develop into a quality big leaguer, but Pinto has shown flashes of noteworthy potential. This season should provide a big test both offensively and defensively, and by this time next year odds are Pinto will either be at least a dozen spots higher on this list or no longer on the 40-man roster.

36. Alex Wimmers | Starter | DOB: 11/88 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2010-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     A+      4      4     0.57      15.2       6      0      23      5
2011     A+     12      4     4.20      40.2      28      5      39     22
2012     AA      1      1     4.15       4.1       6      1       3      2

What a shame. Alex Wimmers' fast track to the majors was derailed in early 2011 by extreme control problems, which he conquered enough to throw a seven-inning no-hitter in his final start of the season only to blow out his elbow one start into last year. On the Twins' advice Wimmers initially tried to avoid going under the knife, but that simply delayed Tommy John surgery until August and could mean he won't pitch at all in 2013.

Once upon a time Wimmers was a polished, strike-throwing right-hander who won back-to-back Big Ten conference pitcher of the year awards at Ohio State on the way to being the Twins' first-round pick in 2010, but between the Steve Blass/Rick Ankiel-like control problems and elbow injury he's now 24 years old and has appeared in one game above Single-A. His career totals consist of 63 innings in three pro seasons.

Even if Wimmers successfully returns from elbow surgery it's impossible to guess what type of pitcher he's capable of being at this point and he was never considered a high-upside arm to begin with. For both Wimmers and the Twins it would be nice if he could get back on track enough to re-emerge as a potential back-of-the-rotation starter, but we may have to wait until 2014 to find out if that's at all possible.

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September 6, 2012

Twins Notes: September call-ups, Dozier, Slama, Span, Parmelee, and AFL

• As of September 1 rosters can expand from 25 to as many as 40 players, but the Twins waited until September 4 to do so and then called up just two players: Eduardo Escobar and Luis Perdomo. Escobar is a light-hitting 23-year-old middle infielder who was acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade and hit just .217/.259/.304 with a 26-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 games at Triple-A following the deal.

Perdomo is a 28-year-old journeyman reliever who was signed as a minor-league free agent back in November and began this season at Double-A before moving up to Triple-A. Between the two levels he threw 73 innings with a 2.60 ERA and 68-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and Perdomo also got a five-game stint with the Twins earlier this season in which he walked seven in six innings. He throws hard, but has iffy control and a 4.07 career ERA at Triple-A.

• Apparently those are the only planned additions for the entire month, which means players on the 40-man roster not getting call-ups include Brian Dozier, Deolis Guerra, Jeff Manship, Pedro Hernandez, and Oswaldo Arcia. Dozier's lack of a call-up is the most surprising, because when the Twins demoted him to Triple-A last month the assumption was that he'd definitely be back once rosters expanded.

Instead he was a mess in Rochester, hitting just .171 with a 16/3 K/BB ratio in 20 games to continue the troubling lack of strike-zone control he showed in the majors. Combined between Triple-A and the majors Dozier hit .233 with a .276 on-base percentage and .334 slugging percentage while striking out 92 times compared to 30 walks. Plenty of prospects bounce back from a terrible season, but the difference with Dozier is that he's already 25 years old.

• And then there's Anthony Slama, who as usual posted amazing numbers at Triple-A and as usual is ignored by the Twins. Slama finished his fourth consecutive season in Rochester with a 1.24 ERA, .195 opponents' average, and 56 strikeouts in 36 innings, giving him a lifetime 2.27 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 154 innings at Triple-A. Slama is 28 years old, so whatever career he was capable of having has been wasted because the Twins wouldn't give him a chance.

For his minor-league career Slama has a 1.99 ERA and 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, racking up more than twice as many strikeouts (446) as hits allowed (213) in 325 innings. Maybe he would have struggled against big-league hitters, but the Twins will never know because they repeatedly left Slama in the minors to rot. This year that involved giving Jeff Gray five months and 50 innings to show that his lengthy track record of mediocrity wasn't a fluke.

Denard Span was finally placed on the disabled list after staying on the Twins' active roster for 18 days with a shoulder injury that allowed him to play just four games during that time. Rather than another rant about the Twins' medical staff I'll focus on the fact that Span's injury opens the door for Chris Parmelee to get an extended opportunity down the stretch after mostly sitting on the bench for a month last time he was in the majors.

Parmelee certainly deserves a chance after hitting .338/.457/.645 with 17 homers, 17 doubles, and a 52-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64 games at Triple-A, but as I wrote three weeks ago without a trade or an injury there wasn't anywhere for him to play. It's interesting that the Twins are using Parmelee in right field because he figures to be below average there and played zero innings in the outfield for Rochester.

• This year's Arizona Fall League participants are out and the Twins are sending Kyle Gibson, Michael Tonkin, Logan Darnell, Caleb Thielbar, Chris Herrmann, Nate Roberts, and Evan Bigley. Going to the AFL is a way for Gibson to get some work in after missing most of the season following last year's Tommy John surgery and a strong performance there could give him at least some chance to compete for a spot in the Twins' rotation next spring.

Gibson, Herrmann, and Roberts each cracked my list of the Twins' top 40 prospects heading into the season and Tonkin will definitely be on the 2013 list after breaking out between two levels of Single-A. This will be Herrmann's second trip to the AFL, as he was part of the Twins' contingent there last year along with Dozier, Aaron Hicks, Cole DeVries, Scott Diamond, Dakota Watts, Brett Jacobson, and Bruce Pugh.

Lester Oliveros pitched well enough in the minors this season to emerge as a bullpen option for 2013, but now the hard-throwing right-hander will likely miss all of next year after Tommy John elbow surgery. Acquired from the Tigers in last season's Delmon Young trade, Oliveros threw 48 innings with a 2.42 ERA and 51-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio between Double-A and Triple-A at age 24 and has (or at least had) a legitimate mid-90s fastball.

• As the Twins appear headed for another top-five draft pick it's worth noting that the 2013 draft class, much like the 2012 draft class, is viewed as lacking elite-level talent. Keith Law's early ESPN rankings include Mark Appel in the top spot after the Stanford right-hander fell to No. 8 and turned down $3.8 million to go back to school, followed by Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek, Stanford outfielder Austin Wilson, and Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea.

• After bludgeoning the White Sox for 18 runs Tuesday night the Twins rank fourth among all MLB teams in games with double-digit runs scored this season, yet they rank just 13th in overall runs per game. When the Twins score double-digit runs they're 13-0. In all other games they're 43-81 while averaging 3.6 runs per game.

Jamey Carroll snapped the majors' longest homerless streak Monday, going deep off White Sox starter Hector Santiago for his first home run in 1,540 plate appearances dating back to August 9, 2009. In between Carroll long balls Jose Bautista led the majors with 134 homers, seven players homered at least 100 times, and 93 players homered at least 50 times.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily used video and numbers to examine Joe Mauer's struggles throwing out runners this season.

Ben Revere is now hitting .300 with a .690 OPS, which would make him the first player since Lenny Randle in 1974 to hit .300 or higher with an OPS below .700. Aside from Revere and Randle no other .300 hitter has posted a sub-.700 OPS since 1943.

• In the comments section of my post last week about Darin Mastroianni's future several people wondered if he could be an option at second base after seeing some time there in the minors, but Ron Gardenhire has already shot that idea down pretty thoroughly.

• For a lot more about September call-ups, Dozier, Slama, and the Twins' medical staff check out this week's episode of Gleeman and The Geek (which is back to being fueled by beer).

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July 30, 2012

Twins trade Liriano to White Sox for Escobar and Hernandez

Saturday night, with about 65 hours to go until the trade deadline, the Twins pulled the trigger on an increasingly inevitable Francisco Liriano deal by sending him to the White Sox for left-hander Pedro Hernandez and infielder Eduardo Escobar. Both players have spent time in the majors for the White Sox this year and figure to be September call-ups if the Twins don't promote them before then, but unfortunately neither player is considered much of a prospect.

Escobar draws strong reviews for his defense at shortstop and also has experience at second base, but he's never hit at any level and has spent most of this season glued to the White Sox's bench while going 16-for-82 (.195) with 22 strikeouts. Chicago letting him collect dust as a big-league utility man at age 23 doesn't make much sense, but it does suggest they weren't particularly concerned about his development and perhaps viewed him as a marginal player.

And rightfully so, as Escobar hit .266/.303/.354 with four homers and a 104-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 137 games at Triple-A last season and is a career .270/.315/.351 hitter in the minors. He's still young enough to improve at the plate and if Escobar's defensive reputation is accurate he won't have to hit much to be valuable, but so far the switch-hitter has shown almost zero power along with terrible plate discipline and no ability to control the strike zone.

Hernandez was traded from the Padres to the White Sox as the lesser half of a two-prospect haul for outfielder Carlos Quentin on December 31. He debuted for the White Sox two weeks ago and got knocked around by the Red Sox, allowing three homers and eight runs in four innings before an immediate trip back to the minors. Based on both his track record and raw stuff Hernandez is a typical Twins pitcher with modest velocity, good control, and few whiffs.

His fastball tops out in the low-90s along with a slider and changeup, he's induced more fly balls than ground balls, and in 145 innings between Double-A and Triple-A he's allowed more than a hit per inning while averaging 6.5 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine frames. Those numbers combined with fly-ball tendencies and underwhelming velocity make it tough to project the 23-year-old lefty as more than a back-of-the-rotation starter or long reliever.

Terry Ryan revealed after the trade that the Twins and Liriano never talked long-term deal, which isn't surprising from either side's point of view. Liriano is two months from being able to hit the open market and take bids from all 30 teams, so unless the Twins blew him away with a huge offer it made little financial sense to pass up free agency. And after living with his ups and downs for seven years the Twins can't be blamed for avoiding a long-term commitment.

Under the new collective bargaining agreement making a "qualifying offer" to Liriano was also an option and would have led to either re-signing him to a one-year deal for around $12 million or receiving draft pick compensation when he signed elsewhere. I'd have preferred a draft pick to what they ended up getting and keeping him for 2013 without the long-term commitment wouldn't have been such a bad thing either, but clearly the Twins felt otherwise.

Getting a pair of C-level prospects is certainly preferable to letting Liriano walk for nothing, but I'm just having a difficult time believing that's the best the Twins could have done. To believe that you'd have to assume the numerous local and national reports about no fewer than a half-dozen teams being interested in Liriano were mostly false or at least that the half-dozen interested teams were only willing to offer the Twins marginal prospects in return.

Maybe that's true. After all, trading Liriano to a division rival--the Twins and White Sox last made a deal in 1986--suggests Ryan felt it was definitely the best offer and for as well as he's pitched since rejoining the rotation in May he's still a two-month rental with an inconsistent track record who turned in a clunker in front of a collection of scouts last time out. Of course, plenty of other two-month rentals are being traded for vastly superior prospects this month.

My expectations for a Liriano trade were never particularly high, or so I thought. I certainly did not expect the Twins to land anything close to an elite prospect and thought even a prospect in the B-plus range was probably wishful thinking, but to wind up with two likely role players who didn't crack the top 10 in arguably MLB's worst farm system is disappointing. If this is truly the best the Twins could do a lot of people wasted a lot of energy reporting and speculating.

Nine years ago in one of the best trades in team history the Twins acquired Liriano from the Giants along with Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser for A.J. Pierzynski. At the time Liriano was 19 and universally viewed as a high-upside arm, but coming off an injury wrecked Single-A season he rated behind Bonser in most prospect rankings. Bonser ultimately proved to be a bust, but Nathan developed into an elite reliever and Liriano ... well, that's a bit more complicated.

Following the trade Liriano was healthy and dominant in the minors, establishing himself as one of baseball's top 10 prospects. As a rookie in 2006 he worked out of the Twins' bullpen for six weeks and then joined the rotation in mid-May, doing the impossible by upstaging Johan Santana with an 11-2 record, 1.95 ERA, .162 opponents' batting average, and 105-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 innings spread over his first 14 starts.

He had a mid-90s fastball and a devastatingly unhittable slider that racked up a combination of strikeouts and ground balls rarely seen. He was simply as good as a pitcher can possibly be. And then he got hurt. After an unsuccessful comeback attempt Tommy John surgery followed, knocking Liriano out for all of 2007 and leaving him at Triple-A to begin 2008. He returned to the Twins in mid-2008 as a much lesser but still effective version, but then struggled in 2009.

Liriano seemingly put it all back together in 2010, posting a 3.62 ERA and 201 strikeouts in 192 innings to show that he was still very capable of dominating despite missing a few miles per hour off his pre-surgery stuff. And then he unraveled last season, throwing away all the progress he'd made, and began this year with a 9.45 ERA in six starts before the Twins demoted him to the bullpen in May.

Three weeks and a handful of unspectacular relief outings later Liriano rejoined the rotation and put together an 11-start stretch in which he posted a 3.68 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings. His raw stuff was still closer to the excellent, post-surgery 2010 version than the otherworldly, pre-surgery 2006 version, but Liriano's strikeout rate and swing-and-miss totals were as dominant as ever.

He picked a bad time for his one clunker during that 11-start span, failing to make it out of the third inning while allowing seven runs in Chicago last Monday night, although doing that damage against Liriano didn't stop the White Sox from trading for him. Coming into the game Liriano had gone at least five innings in every start since April 27, but he allowed three homers in 2.2 innings after allowing a total of three homers in his previous 71 innings.

It's unlikely that one ugly start significantly altered Liriano's trade value and by trading him for a pair of middling prospects just 12 hours before his final scheduled pre-deadline start the Twins certainly showed that they didn't think one impressive outing would give him a big last-minute boost. So now in an odd twist of fate (or at least scheduling) Liriano's next start will come Tuesday at Target Field, against the Twins. And his new batterymate? A.J. Pierzynski.

Liriano's time in Minnesota was both amazing and maddening, but it's hard not to think back to that unhittable rookie and dream about what could have been if only his elbow had held up under the pressure of a high-stress delivery and overpowering raw stuff. He left his mid-90s fastball on the operating table and never learned to consistently throw strikes with lesser velocity, which is how limitless potential turns into a 4.33 ERA and two marginal prospects.


For a whole lot more about the Liriano trade and the Twins' other potential deadline deals, listen to this week's episode of Gleeman and The Geek:

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