July 18, 2012

Twins Notes: Liriano, Santana, Mauer, Blackburn, Capps, and Pavano

• How dominant was Francisco Liriano against the A's on Friday night? Not only were his 15 strikeouts the second-most in Twins history behind Johan Santana with 17 on August 19, 2007, his 30 swings and misses induced were the most by any MLB pitcher since ... Santana had 32 on August 19, 2007. I went back through the AG.com archives to find what I wrote about his incredible performance that day and shockingly it included a Jessica Alba comparison.

Liriano's first start following his brief demotion to the bullpen also came against Oakland and he overpowered the A's then too, giving him a ridiculous 24-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14 innings against them since May 30. And it was good timing, as at least a half-dozen teams reportedly sent scouts to evaluate Liriano for a potential trade. Since rejoining the rotation he's thrown 57 innings with a 2.83 ERA, .170 opponents' batting average, and 67 strikeouts.

• Some fun facts from that Santana start on August 19, 2007: He struck out 17 in eight innings and then closer Joe Nathan struck out two more in the ninth inning, as they combined for 19 strikeouts, zero walks, and two hits allowed in a 1-0 shutout of the Rangers. Michael Cuddyer homered for the game's only run, C.J. Wilson pitched in relief for Texas, and the Rangers had a 38-year-old Sammy Sosa batting cleanup. And here was the Twins' lineup:

1. Alexi Casilla, 2B
2. Joe Mauer, DH
3. Torii Hunter, CF
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Mike Redmond, C
7. Rondell White, LF
8. Tommy Watkins, 3B
9. Nick Punto, SS

Oh, and Jason Tyner came in defensively for Rondell White late in the game. One not-so-fun fact about the game: Santana made just seven more starts in a Twins uniform.

• Friday's deadline to sign draft picks came and went without much drama for the Twins, who'd already agreed to deals with their first 11 picks weeks ago. Or so everyone thought. It turns out sixth-round pick Andre Martinez, a high school pitcher from Florida who originally agreed to an over-slot $260,000 bonus, ended up reworking his deal after a pre-signing physical exam revealed shoulder issues. He signed Friday for $80,000 compared to the $200,000 slot.

Another last-minute signing was 20th-round pick Zach Larson, a high school outfielder from Florida who agreed to a $190,000 deal that's nearly twice the slot value for picks after the 10th round. By saving money elsewhere compared to the slot values for various picks the Twins had plenty of extra money to throw Larson's way and in fact overall they spent about $300,000 less than their MLB-high $12.3 million allotment.

Ninth-rounder L.J. Mazzilli is the earliest Twins pick not to sign, as the Connecticut second baseman and son of longtime big leaguer Lee Mazzilli presumably turned down close to the $130,000 slot amount for the No. 280 overall pick. Mazzilli hit .339/.404/.548 with 16 steals in 58 games as a junior, but also committed 20 errors and was no sure thing to stick at second base defensively as a pro. In all the Twins signed 27 of 43 picks, including 14 of their first 15.

Mark Appel, the Stanford pitcher represented by Scott Boras who fell to No. 8 after being an oft-projected No. 1 pick and possible Twins choice at No. 2, ended up as the only first-rounder not to sign. He turned down $3.8 million, which is $900,000 more than slot and the most the Pirates could offer without forfeiting next year's pick. Appel can return to college for his senior year and be drafted again, while the Pirates get the No. 9 pick in 2013 as compensation.

• After going 3-for-4 with a walk (and a great diving catch) last night Joe Mauer is now hitting .333/.420/.462, which is nearly identical to his .324/.404/.470 career line despite offense being down across baseball. He leads the league in on-base percentage and ranks second in batting average, has hit .385 in his last 45 games, and is projected to be worth $26 million this year according to Fan Graphs. He's being paid $23 million.

Nick Blackburn is already back with the Twins after allowing one earned run in two starts at Triple-A following his demotion, but the bad news is that he managed just five strikeouts in 15 innings. He succeeded there by keeping the ball in the ballpark, but his ground-ball rate wasn't exceptional and as usual there's little reason to think pitching to that extreme level of contact is going to get the job done against big-league hitters.

Matt Capps' return from the disabled list lasted all of five days, as he showed decreased velocity and was shut down again with more shoulder problems. That ruins whatever chance the Twins had of trading Capps before July 31, which is a shame because reportedly at least one team was actually showing interest. Suffice it to say that the Twins' decision to forfeit a draft pick in order to re-sign Capps for $5 million has gone about as well as expected.

Carl Pavano isn't close to returning from his own shoulder injury, so the even slimmer odds the Twins had of trading him before the July 31 deadline is officially gone. It's possible that he could return in time to make a few starts before the August 31 waiver trade deadline, but even that's no sure thing and obviously counting on Pavano to be effective enough to draw interest at that point would be wildly optimistic.

David Laurila of Fan Graphs interviewed Terry Ryan and the lengthy transcript is definitely worth reading, but here's one particularly interesting excerpt about the team's oft-questioned involvement with statistical analysis:

We never messed with that too much back in the '70s, but we did in the '80s and the '90s and the 2000s. We've been looking at that forever. ... People don't want to hear that out of the Minnesota Twins. But we've been looking at that forever. Way before some. We're not as deep as some, but we do believe in certainly doing our work, and that stat page is one big piece to the puzzle of putting players together.

Our scouts, and our people, will tell you if I'm looking at a player, and I go down and look at his line, and it doesn't add up, I've got to give him a call quick. I tell him, "This doesn't make any sense." His role, his skills and his statistical history, and you're going to tell me this? How do you get there? I believe in that.

All forms of information are good. I've drilled that into our people. Bring it on. All forms, let me sort it out. ... I read all that stuff, and sometimes it's so much information that I do get paralyzed reading it and taking it all in. You can spend as much time as you want on everything that is available. It's almost mind-boggling how much stuff is out there.

Ryan and other Twins decision-makers have adopted "we're into that even if you don't know it" as their response to those questions. And that's fine, although it's worth noting that, for instance, assistant general manager Rob Antony lacked familiarity with basic aspects of statistical analysis as recently as two years ago and even in the above excerpt Ryan talking about looking at stats isn't really what anyone would consider a new-school approach.

When people wonder if the Twins are involved with statistical analysis the questions aren't about literally looking at a player's stats--that much is assumed, no matter a team's public stance--but rather taking full advantage of new technology and the increasingly in-depth data available. They've recently hired some stat-heads and clearly want to keep things secretive, but what little Ryan and others do say about the issue leaves plenty of room for skepticism.

• Midseason prospect rankings are out and Baseball America moved Miguel Sano from No. 18 to No. 22, whereas ESPN.com moved Sano from No. 28 to No. 26. In other words Sano remains a top-30 talent as an all-around prospect and among hitters who don't play up-the-middle positions only Wil Myers of the Royals, Oscar Taveras of the Cardinals, and Nick Castellanos of the Tigers rank ahead of Sano on both lists.

• As part of their minor-league roster shuffling the Twins released Jairo Perez, who ranked 34th on my preseason list of the team's prospects. He hit .337/.413/.580 at low Single-A last year and .265/.350/.403 at high Single-A this year, which makes cutting Perez in July an odd move. On the other hand at age 24 he was very old for Single-A and didn't really have a clear defensive home. And now he's playing in an independent league.

Matt Maloney parlayed a good spring training into an Opening Day bullpen spot after the Twins claimed him off waivers from the Reds in October, but the soft-tossing left-hander coughed up 10 runs in 11 innings and not surprisingly passed through waivers unclaimed in May. He was even worse at Triple-A, allowing 33 runs in 24 innings, and now he'll be out until mid-2013 following Tommy John elbow surgery.

• Twins castoff Luke Hughes was released by the A's after hitting .223/.316/.338 in 42 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Ballplayer: Pelotero, a controversial new documentary about baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic starring Miguel Sano as a 16-year-old.

February 20, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 36-40.

35. Scott Diamond | Starter | DOB: 7/86 | Throws: Left | Trade: Braves

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     AA     23     23     3.50     131.0     152      5     111     53
2010     AA     17     17     3.52     102.1     113      4      90     39
         AAA    10     10     3.36      56.1      53      2      33     15
2011     AAA    23     23     5.56     123.0     158     11      90     36
         MLB     7      7     5.08      39.0      51      3      19     17

Scott Diamond was a worthwhile pickup when the Twins plucked him from the Braves' system in last winter's Rule 5 draft, but rather than simply keep him in the majors as a long reliever they traded former second-round pick Billy Bullock to Atlanta for the right to stash him in the minors. Not only was Bullock the better, higher-upside prospect, making the swap lopsided in talent alone, the Twins ended up promoting Diamond to the majors in July anyway.

Once there he struggled in seven starts with a 5.08 ERA, 19-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .317 opponents' batting average in 39 innings, showing the mediocre raw stuff that limits his long-term potential. His average fastball clocked in at just 88.9 miles per hour and batters also did damage against his 83-mph changeup. Seven bad starts aren't necessarily meaningful and Diamond did a good job inducing ground balls, but the marginal stuff matched his track record.

He's allowed just 13 home runs in 33 career starts at Triple-A, but that comes with a 4.87 ERA and 123-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 179 innings from a left-hander who'll turn 26 years old this summer. For the first time in a long time the Twins' system is short on starting pitching and Diamond is nice to have around as depth, but he seems unlikely to be more than a fifth starter and giving up Bullock to keep him when the Twins basically already had him was a mistake.

34. Jairo Perez | Third Base | DOB: 6/88 | Bats: Right | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     RK-    142     .217     .324     .317      1      9     17     12
2011     A-     316     .337     .413     .580     15     36     32     48

Jairo Perez signed with the Twins out of Venezuela as an 18-year-old in 2006 and hit .338 over 48 games in the Dominican summer league in 2008. That earned him a 2009 promotion to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, but he hit just .217 in 37 games and then missed all of 2010 following Tommy John elbow surgery. Perez was totally off the prospect radar, but the Twins moved him up to low Single-A last year and he responded with a monster half-season.

He hit .337/.413/.580 with 15 homers and 20 doubles in 74 games, showing decent strike-zone control with 32 walks versus 48 strikeouts in 316 plate appearances. Perez also committed 17 errors in just 49 games at third base and likely lacks the range to play second base despite seeing some time there for Beloit, but the Twins can obviously find a home for him further down the defensive spectrum if he keeps hitting.

Everything about Perez was surprising last season, but his power was particularly noteworthy from a guy listed at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds. Because of the season lost to elbow surgery Perez is already 24 years old and he may prove to be a one-year wonder, but posting the second-best OPS in the entire Midwest League is worth noticing in a farm system severely lacking in impressive production above rookie-ball last season.

33. James Beresford | Shortstop | DOB: 1/89 | Bats: Left | Sign: Australia

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     A-     505     .289     .342     .313      0     11     34     70
2010     A-     540     .297     .349     .363      1     25     34     56
2011     A+     545     .270     .328     .299      0     13     43     63

James Beresford showed some power development while repeating low Single-A in 2010, doubling his extra-base hit total and adding 50 points to his slugging percentage, but the skinny shortstop from Australia moved up to high Single-A last season and took several steps backward. He failed to homer in 545 plate appearances and managed just 12 doubles, producing a measly .299 slugging percentage despite a solid .270 batting average.

To put that lack of power in some context, consider that no hitter in Twins history with 500 plate appearances in a season has ever posted an Isolated Power below .040. He had a .029 Isolated Power for Fort Myers and a .037 Isolated Power for his career. Beresford has a good enough glove that he certainly doesn't need to be a slugger, but at some point he'll have to show some ability to drive the ball or it's tough to see him developing beyond a utility man.

Beresford is 6-foot-2 and an above-average athlete, but for whatever reason he's been unable to put on muscle since the Twins signed him as a 16-year-old. He's still just 23 years old, so that could change, and he's done a nice job controlling the strike while drawing a fair number of walks for someone to whom pitchers will gladly throw strikes. With even a little pop he'd be very intriguing and as always the Twins could use some long-term middle infield help.

32. Terry Doyle | Starter | DOB: 11/85 | Throws: Right | Rule 5: White Sox

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK+    12     10     2.98      57.1      51      1      75     15
2010     A-      7      7     0.96      47.0      31      2      58     12
         A+     20     20     3.71     121.1     115     13      99     34
2011     A+     11     11     2.84      73.0      71      3      49     11
         AA     15     15     3.24     100.0      91      8      73     22

With the No. 2 pick in the Rule 5 draft the Twins selected right-hander Terry Doyle from the White Sox. Doyle's strong performance in the Arizona Fall League got the Twins' attention, but that involved just eight starts and he split the regular season between Single-A and Double-A despite being a 25-year-old drafted out of college in 2007. He fits the Twins' mold with good control and a low-90s fastball, throwing 173 innings with a 3.07 ERA and 122/33 K/BB ratio.

Rule 5 picks must remain in the majors all season or be offered back to their original team, but last year the Twins got around that by overpaying the Braves to retain Diamond as a minor leaguer. That move never made sense to me and made even less sense when Diamond was in Minnesota around midseason anyway, so presumably by passing on higher-upside arms to take Doyle with the No. 2 pick they're willing to simply keep him in the majors as a long man.

Vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff told John Manuel of Baseball America that the Twins think Doyle "has got the ability to be a fourth or fifth starter" with velocity that ranges from "marginal" to "average." Not exactly the upside you'd ideally like to target atop the Rule 5 draft and his declining strikeout rate isn't encouraging from a 26-year-old with 15 career starts above Single-A and none at Triple-A, but Doyle isn't without potential.

31. Tyler Grimes | Shortstop | DOB: 7/90 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2011-5

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     A-     159     .225     .316     .406      4     13     13     53

As part of their uncharacteristically loading up on college middle infielders last year the Twins drafted Wichita State shortstop Tyler Grimes in the fifth round and signed him for a $132,500 bonus. He showed minimal power as a junior, but hit .300 with 57 walks in 65 games for an excellent .467 on-base percentage. He also struck out 61 times in 65 games and Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted both his lack of consistency and all-or-nothing swing.

Those concerns proved accurate in his professional debut, as Grimes skipped rookie-ball and hit just .225 with 53 strikeouts in 42 games at low Single-A. He also failed to maintain the standout plate discipline that he showed in college, drawing just 13 walks in 159 plate appearances, but did flash more pop than expected with four homers and 13 total extra-base hits for a solid .181 Isolated Power.

Grimes' future at shortstop is in question because he made a ton of errors in college, continued to do so during his pro debut, and the Twins used him at second base about one-fourth of the time in Beloit. His arm strength isn't in question, but Baseball America noted that "he plays out of control at times." In theory at least Grimes' speed and on-base skills make him a welcome addition to a Twins system that's perpetually lacking middle infield depth.