November 20, 2013

Twins Notes: Bartlett, Welker, Johnson, Ibarra, Rosario, and Fryer

jason bartlett twins

• After being injured and ineffective in 2012 and sitting out all of this season Jason Bartlett is making a comeback, signing a minor-league deal with the Twins. During his first stint as general manager Terry Ryan traded Brian Buchanan to the Padres in mid-2002 for Bartlett, who was a 22-year-old non-prospect at Single-A. He later became the Twins' starting shortstop, although not before being stuck at Triple-A for far too long so they could play Juan Castro instead.

Bartlett has the third-highest OPS among all shortstops in Twins history, but at age 27 he was traded to the Rays as part of the Matt Garza-for-Delmon Young disaster. Bartlett played well in Tampa Bay for three years, including an All-Star season in 2009, but hasn't been the same since being traded to San Diego. He's now 34 years old and hasn't been healthy and productive since 2010, but considering the other infield options it won't be shocking if Bartlett snags a bench job.

• Back in August the Twins traded Justin Morneau to the Pirates for outfielder Alex Presley and reliever Duke Welker, except they couldn't officially announce Welker's inclusion at the time and instead insisted that they would be choosing a player to be named later from a predetermined list. Six weeks later it became official, as the Twins acquired Welker as the PTBNL. And then yesterday, less than three months after the initial trade, the Twins sent Welker back to the Pirates.

In a move totally separate from the Morneau swap the Twins traded Welker back to Pittsburgh for left-hander Kris Johnson, a 29-year-old career minor leaguer who finally got to the big leagues in August. Welker never appeared in a game as a member of the Twins organization and the oddness of the trade extends beyond that because he's a mid-90s thrower with strong strikeout rates and Johnson has a low-90s fastball with a 4.76 ERA in 431 career innings at Triple-A.

That includes a shiny 2.39 ERA at Triple-A this year, but Johnson managed just 94 strikeouts in 136 innings and had a sub par walk rate. For his Triple-A career Johnson has 5.9 strikeouts and 3.4 walks per nine innings, which is terrible. It's possible that he'll be able to stick for a while as a fifth starter or middle reliever and odds are Welker won't have much of a career anyway, but I'd have taken my chances on the hard-throwing pitcher who hasn't been awful at Triple-A.

• Speaking of left-handers with nice-looking ERAs and poor secondary numbers, the Twins added 24-year-old reliever Edgar Ibarra to the 40-man roster. He posted a 1.93 ERA this year between Double-A and Triple-A to convince the Twins he needed protecting from the Rule 5 draft, but he's not a hard-thrower and a 54-to-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 innings was unimpressive. Ibarra also had a 4.69 ERA with poor control and just 69 strikeouts in 79 innings last season.

• There's been no confirmation from the Twins yet, but based on this Spanish-language report it sounds like second base prospect Eddie Rosario is facing a 50-game suspension. Rosario ranked seventh on my list of Twins prospects coming into the year and hit .302/.350/.460 in 122 games between high Single-A and Double-A as a 21-year-old, likely rising even higher on the 2014 list and putting himself in position to reach Minnesota in the second half.

• When the Twins called up Eric Fryer for September catching depth my assumption was that he'd be dropped from the 40-man roster as soon as the season ended, yet two months later he remains. Fryer isn't quite the new Drew Butera, but he's a 28-year-old career .208/.312/.313 hitter at Triple-A who has no real business on a 40-man roster regardless of how worried the Twins are about their catching situation with Joe Mauer moving to first base.

• In preparation for the Rule 5 draft the Twins added Max Kepler, Logan Darnell, Jorge Polanco, and Kennys Vargas to the 40-man roster and dropped B.J. Hermsen. No surprises.

Clete Thomas, who started 79 of the Twins' final 105 games this year before being removed from the 40-man roster last month, signed a minor-league contract with the Phillies.

Pedro Hernandez, the soft-tossing left-hander acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade, was also dropped from the 40-man roster and signed with the Rockies.

Antoan Richardson, a journeyman outfielder who never got a chance with the Twins this year despite hitting .285 with a .404 on-base percentage in the minors, signed with the Yankees.

• For a lengthy discussion of Mauer switching positions and an attempt to figure out the Twins' odds of signing a big-money pitcher, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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May 22, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 29, 2010

Twins Notes: Valencia, Mauer, Young, Harris, and Rumors

• Beating up on the cellar-dwelling Orioles and Royals tends to make teams look good, but the Twins have won 10 of 14 to go from 4.5 games behind the White Sox to just one game back despite playing that entire stretch minus Justin Morneau. Even without the AL's second-best hitter for the past 18 games the Twins now lead the league in batting average, rank second in on-base percentage, and are two runs from trailing only the Yankees and Red Sox in scoring.

Danny Valencia went 0-for-3 with a walk yesterday to snap an amazing hot streak that saw him go 14-for-19 (.737) during a four-game stretch. Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com looked it up and since 1993 the only players to rack up more than 14 hits in four games are Johnny Damon (2000), Mike Benjamin (1995), and Brett Butler (1995). Valencia is now hitting .387/.441/.495 in 30 games overall after batting just .292/.347/.387 in 49 games at Triple-A before his call-up.

Obviously he'll be coming back down to earth soon enough and if you look beyond the flukishly high batting average he hasn't shown much pop with one homer and a .108 Isolated Power in 93 at-bats, but his 12-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio is a positive sign after Valencia struck out 71 times versus 22 walks at Triple-A and his defense has been far better than I expected based on the not-so-positive reviews the Twins put out there last season and this spring.

• As noted previously in this space, I've heard rumblings for much of the season regarding Joe Mauer being more hurt (and with a wider variety of injuries) than he's let on publicly, so it was interesting to read one of my favorite writers, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, tackle the topic in a column yesterday. Passan predictably wasn't able to get Mauer or anyone else to definitively comment on specific injuries, but it's pretty clear that he's very banged up physically.

Despite that Mauer went 9-for-13 (.692) with a home run and four doubles in the three-game sweep of the Royals, including 5-for-5 with seven RBIs in Monday's slaughtering. He passed up a chance for a sixth hit in the eighth inning, amusingly telling Ron Gardenhire "no, I'm good." It was the fourth five-hit game of his career, which ties Victor Martinez for the second-most of all time by a catcher. Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi holds the record with six five-hit games.

Mauer is now 21-for-52 (.404) with two homers, nine doubles, and 17 RBIs in a dozen games to begin the second half. He's nowhere near last year's MVP-winning numbers, but duplicating that historic performance was never likely anyway and his current .310/.377/.465 line is more or less identical to his pre-2009 career mark of .317/.399/.457. In fact, it may be slightly better if you factor in the move to pitcher-friendly Target Field and scoring being down across MLB.

• Delmon Young is crushing the ball and Matt Garza tossed a no-hitter Monday night against the Tigers, so the 2007 trade that sent Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan to Tampa Bay for Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie is suddenly a very popular topic again. Twins fans who're rightfully excited about Young's breakout won't want to hear it, but the Rays are still clearly in the lead based on Wins Above Replacement since the November 28, 2007 deal:

TWINS                WAR          RAYS                 WAR
Delmon Young        +0.6          Matt Garza          +7.6
Brendan Harris      +0.2          Jason Bartlett      +7.0
Jason Pridie        -0.3          Eduardo Morlan       0.0
TOTAL               +0.5          TOTAL              +14.6

To put those numbers into some context, Mauer as been worth 5.8 WAR per 150 games. So in terms of production and value received from the trade, the Rays have an edge of basically 2.5 seasons from Mauer. At the moment the trade looks far less horrible for the Twins than it did in 2008 and 2009, but Young playing well for four months doesn't wipe away his playing terribly for the previous two years or Garza and Bartlett both being huge contributors for the Rays.

Since the trade Garza has 516 innings with a 3.89 ERA, which is better than any Twins starter in that time, and Bartlett has a .761 OPS that's close to the .780 OPS from Young even without factoring in the huge defense/position gap. I'm thrilled that Young has figured things out and the deal is starting to lean in the Twins' favor, but let's not get crazy with the hyperbole. Can't we recognize his emergence without re-writing history and going completely over the top?

• Speaking of Harris, he's hit just .238/.273/.386 with a hideous 23-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 games at Rochester since being dropped off the 40-man roster, passed through waivers unclaimed, and demoted to Triple-A. He's making $1.45 million this year and is still owed $1.75 million for 2011, so a return to Minnesota remains very possible at some point, but he's looking more and more like a washed-up sunk cost. I'll never understand why he got a multi-year deal.

• Earlier this week I wrote about the negative impact outfield defense has had on the Twins' pitching staff and Adam Peterson of Twinkie Town did some serious numbers-crunching to find that my analysis "appears to be correct." He goes into a whole lot more depth than that, so if you're into learning about the pitching-defense relationship his work is worth checking out. Of course, if Jason Repko continues to start regularly in right field that changes things quite a bit.

• There is sure to be all kinds of Twins-related trade speculation between now and Saturday's deadline. I've never really filled AG.com with rumor-collecting and don't plan to start now, but I will be tracking the pre-deadline rumors for the Twins and every other team at Hardball Talk, where I've been writing an average of 15 posts per day. And, of course, if the Twins actually make a move before Saturday afternoon I'll have a full write-up here.