September 4, 2013

Twins Notes: Pinto, Mauer, Carew, Dozier, Willingham, Colabello, and Sano

josmil pinto twins

Josmil Pinto fell off the prospect radar after failing to crack a .700 OPS in 2010 or 2011, but re-established himself as someone to watch with a strong 2012 and built on that this season. He started the year at Double-A, hitting .308/.411/.482 with 14 homers and nearly as many walks (64) as strikeouts (71) in 107 games to earn a late-season promotion to Triple-A. Pinto hit well in 19 games for Rochester and now he's getting his first taste of the majors.

By somewhat surprisingly adding Pinto to the 40-man roster last offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft the Twins showed that they believe his right-handed bat has a chance to be special, because reviews of his defense behind the plate have always been mixed at best. He's thrown out 34 percent of stolen base attempts during the past two seasons, which is a solid rate, but Pinto has also spent close to half of his time at designated hitter (in part because of a shoulder injury).

Pinto doesn't have huge power, totaling 17 homers and 36 doubles in 138 games at Double-A and Triple-A, but he certainly has some pop and hit .308 with 70 walks in 580 plate appearances while striking out just 93 times. He'll be 25 years old before Opening Day next season, so Pinto should be pretty close to MLB-ready and is an intriguing prospect in that his bat may prove good enough to be an asset at designated hitter even if his defense isn't good enough to be a regular catcher.

Joe Mauer going 5-for-7 with a homer in a crazy loss to the Indians a few weeks ago got me wondering about similar performances throughout Twins history. My first thought was to look at five-hit games, but because focusing on hits tends to overrate free-swingers and short-change batters who draw a lot of walks here are the Twins' all-time leaders in getting on base four, five, and six times within a game:

4+ TIMES ON BASE         5+ TIMES ON BASE         6+ TIMES ON BASE
Rod Carew        117     Rod Carew         23     Kirby Puckett      2
Kirby Puckett     94     Harmon Killebrew  14     Justin Morneau     2
Harmon Killebrew  92     Kent Hrbek        13     Rod Carew          1
Joe Mauer         89     Joe Mauer         12     Joe Mauer          1
Chuck Knoblauch   76     Kirby Puckett     11     15 Others          1

Mauer ranks pretty impressively on those lists, but here's the thing: He's only 30 years old. Here are those same Twins' all-time leaders in getting on base four, five, and six times within a game, except through age 30:

4+ TIMES ON BASE         5+ TIMES ON BASE         6+ TIMES ON BASE
Joe Mauer         89     Rod Carew         16     Justin Morneau     2
Rod Carew         84     Joe Mauer         12     Kirby Puckett      1
Chuck Knoblauch   76     Chuck Knoblauch    9     Rod Carew          1
Kirby Puckett     59     Harmon Killebrew   9     Joe Mauer          1
Kent Hrbek        59     Kent Hrbek         5     13 Others          1

Mauer and Rod Carew make for a very interesting comparison both for their overall production as high-average/low-power up-the-middle defenders and for their perceived value as Twins. Here are their respective numbers through age 30:

             G     AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS    OPS+
Mauer     1178    .323    .405    .468    .873    135
Carew     1328    .328    .384    .434    .818    132

Pretty damn close, especially once you go beyond the raw numbers and look at adjusted OPS+ to account for the different eras. They both hit for huge batting averages and minimal homer power. Mauer drew more walks and had a bit more pop, while Carew's great speed added to his value at the plate. And then Carew had the best season of his Hall of Fame career at age 31, winning the MVP by hitting .388/.449/.570. Mauer better have big plans for 2014 if he wants to keep pace.

Brian Dozier's homer Saturday set a new Twins record for second basemen ... with 15 (he's since added two more, continuing an impressive three-month power binge):

BRIAN DOZIER      2013     17
Tim Teufel        1984     14
Rod Carew         1975     14
Chuck Knoblauch   1996     13
Todd Walker       1998     12
Bernie Allen      1962     12

It's remarkable that a team could be around since 1961 and not have a second baseman hit 15 homers until 2013. During that time there were 232 instances of a non-Twins second baseman hitting at least 15 homers, including 12 seasons by Jeff Kent and 10 seasons by Craig Biggio. And the Twins had no shortage of excellence at second base in Carew and Chuck Knoblauch, but those two combined to reach double-digit homers just four times in 19 seasons in Minnesota.

Justin Morneau passing through waivers unclaimed let the Twins to shop him around before settling on the Pirates, but Josh Willingham was claimed off revocable waivers by the Orioles. That meant Baltimore was the only place he could be traded, but beat writer Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com reported that the Orioles felt the Twins were "asking way too much" and the window closed without a deal.

So instead the Orioles added a different right-handed bat with good power and terrible outfield defense in Michael Morse of the Mariners and the Twins held onto Willingham, who's hit .164 with 33 strikeouts in 25 games since returning from knee surgery. Willingham is under contract for $7 million next season, which makes his situation much different than Morneau, but the way he's struggled all season it's tough to see any teams trading much for him this winter.

Chris Colabello was named MVP of the International League after hitting .352/.427/.639 with 24 homers in 89 games for Rochester. It's worth noting that the International League's previous seven MVPs were Mauro Gomez, Russ Canzler, Dan Johnson, Shelley Duncan, Jeff Bailey, Mike Hessman, and Kevin Witt. Not a prospect among them and Colabello certainly fits in that group, but I still think he can be useful if given an extended chance.

Miguel Sano finished tied for the eighth-most homers in the Eastern League despite his not being promoted to Double-A until mid-June. He hit 19 homers in 67 games there and the league leader is a 28-year-old with 23 homers in 139 games. Sano also finished tied for the eighth-most homers in the Florida State League despite not playing there since June 9. He totaled 35 homers overall for the most by any Twins minor leaguer in 25 years.

Wilkin Ramirez is done for the year after fracturing his left tibia with a foul ball. He previously spent three months on the disabled list with a concussion, so it's been a very rough season for the 27-year-old journeyman who won a bench spot with a strong spring training performance despite a thoroughly mediocre track record. He hit .272/.302/.370 with a 23-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 87 plate appearances and seems likely to be dropped from the 40-man roster this offseason.

Samuel Deduno, who complained of shoulder problems three weeks ago, left Thursday's start after three innings with shoulder soreness and has been placed on the disabled list. Deduno has started 33 games for the Twins, which is one full season's worth, and he's thrown 187 innings with a 124-to-94 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 4.08 ERA, which is exactly league average.

• Last year's second-round pick, Rice University right-hander J.T. Chargois, needs Tommy John elbow surgery after not pitching at all this season in an attempt to rehab the injury. As a dominant college reliever he was supposed to move through the farm system quickly, but Chargois will likely miss the entirety of back-to-back seasons.

• This year's Twins prospects heading to the Arizona Fall League are Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer, Eddie Rosario, Trevor May, Max Kepler, Zach Jones, A.J. Achter. That's as strong a group as I can remember the Twins sending to the AFL and it's hard to imagine too many other teams ever sending a better contingent.

• As expected the August 11 deal sending Jamey Carroll to the Royals for a player to be named later or cash considerations was essentially a give-away, as the Twins got an undisclosed sum of money to complete the trade. Carroll is 1-for-25 since joining the Royals, starting six games.

• Old friend Jason Kubel is back in the AL Central after being designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks and traded to the Indians. Since signing a two-year, $16 million deal with Arizona as a free agent last offseason Kubel has hit .242/.315/.447 in 230 games.

Joe Benson, who was designated for assignment by the Twins and claimed off waivers by the Rangers in mid-May, has now been designated for assignment by the Rangers. In between he hit just .205/.293/.394 in 37 games at Double-A, continuing a remarkably steep decline.

• Mauer rates extremely well in Matt Klaassen's comprehensive catcher defensive rankings this season, which further complicates the question of a potential position switch. Ryan Doumit again rates horribly, which is an annual occurrence.

• Mauer has hit .324 in 508 plate appearances. All other Twins have hit .232 in 4,713 plate appearances and no one else with 100-plus plate appearances is above .260.

• Buxton in August: .410/.533/.506 with 20 walks and 16 steals in 25 games. As a 19-year-old at high Single-A in his first full professional season.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included a ton of talk about the Morneau trade.


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August 28, 2013

Does a concussion mean it’s time to move Joe Mauer away from catcher?

joe mauer first base

Talk of moving Joe Mauer from catcher to another position has been common since 2004 when his rookie season was ruined by knee surgery and got loudest when he spent half of 2011 on the disabled list, but recently he's been so healthy and productive that it's become little more than a whisper. Unfortunately the volume is rising again because Mauer is on the DL and out indefinitely after suffering a concussion while catching last week. It's a very complicated question.

Since coming back from his injury wrecked 2011 season Mauer has hit .321 with a .410 on-base percentage and .460 slugging percentage in 1,149 plate appearances. Among all catchers with at least 600 plate appearances during that two-year span Mauer leads MLB in on-base percentage, ranks second in batting average a few points behind Yadier Molina, and is tied with Molina for second in adjusted OPS+ behind Buster Posey.

However you slice it Mauer has been one of the three best-hitting catchers in baseball over the past two years and his combined .321/.410/.460 mark during that time is nearly identical to his .323/.405/.468 career line. And looking at his career totals paints Mauer in an even better light, because he's maintained his level of excellence for a decade. Here are the hitting leaders among active catchers with at least 1,000 career plate appearances:

BATTING AVERAGE            ON-BASE PERCENTAGE         SLUGGING PERCENTAGE
JOE MAUER         .323     JOE MAUER         .405     Buster Posey      .497
Buster Posey      .312     Buster Posey      .379     Brian McCann      .477
Yadier Molina     .285     Carlos Santana    .365     JOE MAUER         .468
A.J. Pierzynski   .284     John Jaso         .364     Carlos Santana    .446
Jonathan Lucroy   .281     Ryan Hanigan      .364     David Ross        .442

Mauer has the best batting average by 11 points over Posey and at least 38 points over everyone else. Mauer has the best on-base percentage by 26 points over Posey and at least 40 points over everyone else. And he ranks third in slugging percentage behind Posey and Brian McCann. Add it all up and here are the active catching leaders in overall offensive production according to OPS, adjusted OPS+, and weighted on-base average:

OPS                        ADJUSTED OPS+              WEIGHTED ON-BASE
Buster Posey      .876     Buster Posey       146     JOE MAUER         .377
JOE MAUER         .873     JOE MAUER          135     Buster Posey      .376
Brian McCann      .827     Carlos Santana     128     Brian McCann      .355
Carlos Santana    .811     Brian McCann       118     Carlos Santana    .353
Miguel Montero    .780     John Jaso          114     Miguel Montero    .340

In terms of career-long production Mauer and Posey are the players with an argument for being the best-hitting catcher in baseball and Molina enters the mix if the most recent two seasons are given more weight. Mauer has also been an asset defensively, throwing out 43 percent of steal attempts this season and 33 percent for his career compared to the MLB average of 25 percent. And for whatever value you choose to place in Gold Glove awards Mauer has three of them.

Whether you focus on recent performances or career-long track records Mauer stands out as one of the two or three best catchers in all of baseball and certainly has a strong argument for being the best catcher considering he's maintained elite status for much longer than Posey or Molina. However, if you take his 2012/2013 numbers and make those same comparisons to first basemen (and designated hitters) instead of catchers Mauer slides down the rankings a bit:

BATTING AVERAGE            ON-BASE PERCENTAGE         SLUGGING PERCENTAGE
Joey Votto        .324     Joey Votto        .451     David Ortiz       .589
JOE MAUER         .321     JOE MAUER         .410     Chris Davis       .585
David Ortiz       .318     David Ortiz       .406     Edwin Encarnacion .546
Allen Craig       .310     Prince Fielder    .383     Joey Votto        .533
Billy Butler      .303     Paul Goldschmidt  .378     Paul Goldschmidt  .518
                                                      ...
                                                      JOE MAUER         .460

If you compare Mauer to first basemen rather than catchers he falls behind Joey Votto as his position's king of batting average and on-base percentage, although Mauer still ranks second in both categories for 2012/2013. However, the big change is that while slugging .460 gets Mauer ranked among the top half-dozen catchers for 2012/2013 it would place just 20th among first basemen and designated hitters during that same time. Here's a look at overall production:

OPS                        ADJUSTED OPS+              WEIGHTED ON-BASE
David Ortiz       .995     David Ortiz        166     Joey Votto        .419
Joey Votto        .985     Joey Votto         163     David Ortiz       .415
Chris Davis       .941     Chris Davis        151     Chris Davis       .396
Edwin Encarnacion .922     Edwin Encarnacion  148     Edwin Encarnacion .391
Paul Goldschmidt  .896     Paul Goldschmidt   141     Paul Goldschmidt  .382
...                        ...                        ...
JOE MAUER         .870     JOE MAUER          140     JOE MAUER         .379

Mauer narrowly misses cracking the top-five first basemen in OPS, adjusted OPS+, and weighted on-base average for 2012/2013, ranking sixth in all three categories. Beyond focusing on where he'd stand relative to the truly elite players at each position, his place relative to the average at each position would also fall. Mauer has an .870 OPS for 2012/2013, which is 22 percent above average for a catcher versus 12 percent above average for a first baseman.

As a catcher Mauer is arguably the best at his position and no worse than the top three, producing 20-25 percent more offense than an average player. As a first baseman he'd have zero claim to being the best at his position and realistically slot somewhere in the 5-10 range, producing 10-15 percent more offense than an average player. Or, put another way: By moving from catcher to first base he'd go from elite to merely very good and All-Star spots might be hard to come by.

Of course, it's not as simple as looking at where his production would rank at a new position. By moving away from catcher and avoiding the daily physical toll Mauer should in theory be able to stay healthier, play more games, and increase his offensive output. So perhaps instead of being a top-three catcher for 135 games he'd be a top-eight first baseman for 155 games. And maybe he'd go from a top-eight first baseman to a top-five first baseman by not wearing down as much.

None of that is set in stone, however. For one thing simply playing first base or even designated hitter doesn't make someone immune to injuries and wearing down, as Justin Morneau has sadly demonstrated. There's also no guarantee that moving out from behind the plate will automatically increase Mauer's output at the plate. Mauer's odds of staying healthy and upping his production should be better at a position other than catcher, but it's impossible to know for certain.

Having a great-hitting catcher impacts a lineup a few ways, because in addition to being a strong bat his presence also keeps the team from having to use a weak-hitting catcher and leaves a spot open for another strong bat who doesn't have to be much of a defender at first base, an outfield corner, or designated hitter. If the Twins move Mauer they'd have to find a new catcher who'd be a sizable downgrade offensively and they'd have one less spot for a defensively challenged bat.

In terms of in-house options to replace Mauer at catcher Ryan Doumit is under contract for 2014, Chris Herrmann is holding his own as a rookie, and Josmil Pinto is a step away from the majors at Triple-A. Of course, Doumit catches like a designated hitter, Pinto might end up at designated hitter, and Herrmann is a 25-year-old with a .372 career slugging percentage in the minors. It's not a terrible set of options, but that mostly just speaks to the overall weakness of the position.

Another potential issue with a position switch is that assuming Mauer's production declines as he gets deeper into his thirties like the standard aging curve he'd remain an above-average catcher for much longer because the bar is so low at the position. First base is a much different story, as a decline-phase Mauer hitting, say, .285 with 10 homers and a .750 OPS, would drop to the bottom of the positional pile pretty quickly. He's signed through age 35, in 2018.

Ultimately, though, here's why the speculation about Mauer changing positions has started up again after being dormant for a while: Catching puts players at much higher risk for concussions and none of the above numbers will mean anything if Mauer's career is derailed by brain injuries like Morneau and Corey Koskie before him. Mauer is a great catcher and might "only" be a good first baseman, but a good first baseman is more valuable than a catcher disabled by brain trauma.

This is an impossible question to answer definitively, because brain injuries are so unpredictable that even MLB organizations with $100 million payrolls and doctors with high levels of expertise and decades of experience struggle to effectively diagnosis and treat concussions. In general the amount of Mauer's value that comes from being a catcher and in turn his all-around value are often undersold, but the "should Mauer change positions?" question is no longer just about value.

For a lengthy discussion about a potential Mauer position switch, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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August 14, 2013

The future is now with Oswaldo Arcia

oswaldo arcia homer

Oswaldo Arcia would have entered this year as the No. 1 prospect in most other farm systems and would have been the Twins' top prospect in most of the past 10 years, but instead he's largely been overshadowed by Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton (and for a while at least, Aaron Hicks too). None of which is to say that Arcia is on the same level as Sano or Buxton, but rather that perception and context often play big roles in the amount of hype attached to prospects.

Arcia climbed the minor-league ladder very quickly, particularly in the typically slow-paced Twins system, and now he's showing a ton of promise in the majors as a 22-year-old rookie. There have been plenty of bumps along the way, including strikeout-filled slumps and multiple demotions back to Triple-A, but for a 22-year-old to show this kind of power potential and overall hitting ability is incredibly encouraging.

This year at Triple-A he hit .313/.426/.594 with 10 homers and 22 walks in 38 games and dating back to the beginning of last year Arcia has played exactly 162 games in the minors while hitting .318/.396/.551 with 27 homers, 77 total extra-base hits, and 73 walks. And while posting those monster numbers Arcia was very young for every level of competition and never stuck around in one place for more than a couple months. He was young, he moved quickly, and he crushed.

His numbers in the majors aren't as jaw-dropping, but within the context of being a 22-year-old rookie they're every bit as impressive. Arcia has hit .264/.321/.452 with 10 homers and 25 total extra-base hits in 70 games, which makes him solidly above average in a year when MLB as a whole has hit .254/.317/.398. Here's how he ranks in slugging percentage, OPS, and adjusted OPS+ compared to the other 22-year-olds in Twins history with at least 250 plate appearances:

SLUGGING %                 OPS                        ADJUSTED OPS+
Kent Hrbek       .485      Kent Hrbek       .848      Kent Hrbek       128
OSWALDO ARCIA    .452      David Ortiz      .817      David Ortiz      111
David Ortiz      .446      Joe Mauer        .783      OSWALDO ARCIA    110
Tom Brunansky    .445      OSWALDO ARCIA    .773      Joe Mauer        107
Joe Mauer        .411      Tom Brunansky    .753      Tom Brunansky    103

In the entire history of the Twins only four 22-year-olds have been above-average hitters in 250 or more plate appearances. Arcia is on pace to become the fifth, which would mean joining Kent Hrbek, David Ortiz, Joe Mauer, and Tom Brunansky in some pretty nice company. Breaking his production down even further, Arcia's current Isolated Power of .188 would be second among all 22-year-old Twins, sandwiched between Brunansky at .218 and Hrbek at .184.

Looking to all of MLB, if Arcia maintains his current production he'd join this list of 22-year-olds from 2005-2012 to reach a 110 adjusted OPS+ and a .180 Isolated Power: Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Grady Sizemore, Prince Fielder, Hanley Ramirez, Brian McCann, Chris Davis, Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, Pablo Sandoval, Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, Freddie Freeman, Giancarlo Stanton. Guys who hit like Arcia at 22 turn out pretty well.

There are still plenty of rough edges to be smoothed out too. Arcia has struck out 81 times in 70 games, which is the equivalent of 179 strikeouts prorated to 600 plate appearances. Studies have shown that high strikeout totals can actually be a positive thing for very young hitters because it often foreshadows significant power development down the road, but it's nearly impossible to post high batting averages whiffing in 30 percent of your trips to the plate.

Arcia whiffed a lot in the minors too, including 99 strikeouts in 454 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. He managed to hit .323 in the high minors despite striking out nearly once per game, but that was due to a .380 batting average on balls in play that simply isn't sustainable in the majors. To put that in some context, no active big leaguer has a career batting average on balls in play above .365 and a .335 mark is in the top 30.

So despite his lofty batting averages in the minors it's hard to see Arcia challenging for batting titles in the majors barring a change in approach. Of course, with his power even a .285 batting average could be enough to make him one of the league's best hitters. More worrisome than the high strikeout total is Arcia's ugly strikeout-to-walk ratio, which stands at 81-to-18 through 70 games. Plenty of excellent hitters strike out a lot, but very few have strike-zone control that bad.

The good news is that walk rate and strike-zone control are weaknesses for many young hitters and also tend to improve with age and experience. And in this specific case Arcia drew a decent number of walks in the minors, especially factoring in his age and rapid promotions. He's certainly a free-swinger right now and Arcia seems unlikely to ever become a truly patient hitter, but if he can draw walks somewhere around a league-average rate he'll be just fine.

Arcia's long-term ceiling is very high, but in trying to be at least somewhat realistic projecting his future performance based on his current strengths and flaws a .285 hitter with 30-homer power and mediocre plate discipline seems reasonable. Jason Kubel spent five seasons as a regular for the Twins and hit .273 with an average of 22 homers, 55 walks, and 113 strikeouts per 600 plate appearances, so a rich man's Kubel might not be a bad target for now.

Kubel's upside became limited by his inability to do damage versus left-handed pitching, against whom he's hit just .244/.316/.420 for his career. That may also end up limiting Arcia, who has a 30-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio versus left-handers in the majors so far. Small sample size caveats apply, but Arcia showed extreme splits in the minors too. Over the past two years in the minors Arcia had a .961 OPS against righties and a .742 OPS against lefties.

Also like Kubel he figures to be a below-average defensive corner outfielder. His early defensive numbers are awful, with a collection of awkward plays to match, and even in a best-case scenario he seems destined to be a minus in the field. None of that will impact his ability to develop into a middle-of-the-order slugger offensively, but defense will certainly play a big part in Arcia's overall value and raises the bar for his offense on any potential path to all-around stardom.

Dreaming about the arrivals of Sano and Buxton is exciting, but in the meantime Arcia is already in Minnesota and already a quality middle-of-the-order bat having more success at age 22 than anyone in Twins history but Hrbek, Ortiz, and Mauer. He's the best Twins position player prospect to reach the majors since Mauer in 2005 and the best young power hitter the Twins have called up since Justin Morneau in 2003.

For a lot more about Arcia's rookie-year production and long-term potential, 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.


This week's blog content is sponsored by the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl/Twins game, where you can join Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson, and Seth Stohs for a day of bar-hopping and baseball on September 14. Space is limited, so book your spot.

June 19, 2013

Who are the best young hitters in Twins history?

best young hitters

Oswaldo Arcia has thrived as a 22-year-old rookie, Aaron Hicks has struggled as a 23-year-old rookie, and Twins fans are counting down the days until stud prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton arrive in Minnesota. All of which got me thinking about the best young hitters in Twins history, so I looked up the most productive seasons for each age based on OPS. No teenage hitter has even gotten regular playing time for the Twins, so let's start with 20-year-olds ...


AGE 20              YEAR      PA      OPS
Butch Wynegar       1976     622     .719

Butch Wynegar is the only hitter in Twins history to see regular action at age 20 and he logged 622 plate appearances, started 133 games at catcher, threw out 35 percent of steal attempts, and made the All-Star team while hitting .260/.356/.363 with more walks (79) than strikeouts (63) in a pitcher-friendly era. Adjusting for the time it was a Joe Mauer-esque year, which is why he was such a phenom and why, despite a solid 13-year career, he was ultimately a disappointment.

Bert Blyleven actually has the second-most plate appearances by a 20-year-old in Twins history with 100, because he was an amazing young pitcher who debuted before the designated hitter. In fact, he also has the most plate appearances by a 19-year-old in Twins history with 58. Through age 20 he hit .135 in 158 trips to the plate ... and tossed 442 innings with a 2.95 ERA. Blyleven ended up with 514 career plate appearances and hit .131 with a 193-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Among position players Luis Rivas has the second-most plate appearances by a 20-year-old in Twins history with 64. In the early days of this blog the Twins rushing Rivas to the majors and repeatedly handing him a starting job based almost solely on his age was a frequent source of frustration. He debuted at 20 and got the sixth-most plate appearances in team history through age 24--Wynegar got the most by a wide margin--but Rivas basically never improved.


AGE 21              YEAR      PA      OPS
Tom Brunansky       1982     545     .848
Rod Carew           1967     561     .750
Butch Wynegar       1977     617     .715
Zoilo Versalles     1961     542     .704
Luis Rivas          2001     619     .682
Cristian Guzman     1999     456     .543

Those are the only six 21-year-olds in Twins history to log at least 300 plate appearances. Tom Brunansky actually began that 1982 season at Triple-A in the Angels organization and was hitting just .205/.317/.330 in 25 games there when they traded him to the Twins in mid-May along with Mike Walters for Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong. He was immediately handed a starting job and hit .272/.377/.471 with 20 homers, 30 doubles, and 71 walks in 127 games.

Rod Carew was also no slouch at 21, hitting .292/.341/.409 in one of the lowest-scoring eras in baseball history. Seriously, in 1967 the American League as a whole hit .236 with a .303 on-base percentage and .351 slugging percentage. If you adjust Carew's raw numbers to today's offensive environment he hit around .315/.360/.475, which is amazing from a 21-year-old second baseman and explains how he missed being the unanimous Rookie of the Year winner by one vote.

Wynegar cracks the list again and Rivas shows up too, along with shortstops Zoilo Versalles and Cristian Guzman. In six decades of Twins history only two regulars have been above-average hitters at 21, which is something to remember when Sano and Buxton show up. Mauer doesn't make the age-21 list because a knee injury cut short his rookie season, but he hit .308/.369/.570 in 122 plate appearances for what would be the top OPS by a wide margin.


AGE 22              YEAR      PA      OPS
Kent Hrbek          1982     591     .848
David Ortiz         1998     326     .817
Joe Mauer           2005     554     .783
Oswaldo Arcia       2013     133     .759
Tom Brunansky       1983     611     .753

I've included Arcia on the age-22 list despite his not having enough plate appearances to qualify yet because he's actually what got me thinking about this topic in the first place. Arcia has fared well enough in the early going that I wondered how his production compares to other 22-year-old Twins, discovering that he's in some pretty nice company with Kent Hrbek, David Ortiz, Mauer, and Brunansky.

In all a total of 12 different Twins have gotten at least 300 plate appearances at age 22 and Hrbek leads the way by hitting .301/.363/.485 with 23 homers in 140 games as a rookie in 1981. The worst OPS in the group of 22-year-olds belongs to Wynegar, who fell to .229/.307/.308 in his third season after being an All-Star at 20 and 21. Rivas, Guzman, Versalles, Carew, and Carlos Gomez also posted a sub-.700 OPS at 22.


AGE 23              YEAR      PA      OPS
Joe Mauer           2006     608     .936
Justin Morneau      2004     312     .875
Kent Hrbek          1983     582     .855
Rod Carew           1969     504     .853
Cristian Guzman     2001     527     .811

Four of the truly elite hitters in Twins history ... and Guzman. He'd been terrible in his first two seasons with the Twins, but in 2001 he hit .308/.346/.507 with seven homers, 22 doubles, and an incredible 13 triples in the first half to make the All-Star team. And then just as everyone was getting excited about a switch-hitting 23-year-old shortstop emerging as a star Guzman hurt his shoulder, missed much of the second half, and resumed being a terrible hitter.

Mauer hit .347/.429/.507 in 140 games at age 23, becoming the first catcher in AL history to win a batting title. He likely should have finished either first or second in the MVP voting, but instead placed sixth while teammate Justin Morneau won the award based largely on racking up RBIs with Mauer on base in front of him. Two years earlier Morneau posted the second-best OPS by a 23-year-old in Twins history, hitting .271/.340/.536 in 74 games after a midseason call-up.

Carew, like Mauer, won his first batting title at age 23, hitting .332/.386/.467 in 1969 to boost his OPS by 200 points compared to 1968, which happened to be one of the lowest-scoring seasons in baseball history and the final season before MLB lowered the pitching mound. In all 28 different Twins have gotten at least 300 plate appearances at age 23 and 13 failed to crack a .700 OPS, including Torii Hunter and Roy Smalley.

Hicks hasn't reached 300 plate appearances yet, but his current .575 OPS at age 23 would rank third-worst ahead of only David McCarty (.542) and Danny Thompson (.482). Greg Gagne (.596) and Rich Becker (.599) also aren't very far ahead of Hicks and two guys who preceded him in center field, Gomez and Ben Revere, posted an OPS under .625 at 23. Next season Arcia will try to become the sixth Twins hitter to crack an .800 OPS at 23.


AGE 24              YEAR      PA      OPS
Kent Hrbek          1984     635     .906
Delmon Young        2010     613     .826
Denard Span         2008     411     .819
David Ortiz         2000     478     .810
Joe Mauer           2007     471     .808

Hrbek has the best OPS for 22-year-olds, the third-best OPS for 23-year-olds, and the best OPS for 24-year-olds. In his age-24 season listed above he hit .311/.383/.522 with 27 homers in 149 games, finishing runner-up in the MVP voting behind Tigers reliever Willie Hernandez despite not even making the All-Star team. Hrbek never finished in the top 15 in MVP voting before or after that season, although he had plenty of other productive years.

Delmon Young appeared to have a breakout season in 2010, hitting .298/.333/.493 with 21 homers and 46 doubles in 153 games at age 24 to convince a lot of people he was finally living up to the hype he received as a prospect. He finished 10th in the MVP balloting because some voters overlooked his terrible defense and focused on his high RBI total, but in three seasons since then he's hit just .263/.297/.404.

Ortiz has the second-best OPS for 22-year-olds and the fourth-best OPS for 24-year-olds, so while no one could have predicted that he'd become one of the elite hitters in baseball after leaving the Twins there was certainly plenty of promise shown at a young age. In all Ortiz hit .266/.348/.461 in 455 games for the Twins through age 25. In team history only Mauer, Hrbek, Morneau, and Rich Rollins had more plate appearances and a higher OPS than Ortiz through age 25.

By age 24 plenty of hitters are regulars in the majors and a total of 38 different Twins hitters got at least 300 plate appearances as 24-year-olds. Kirby Puckett ranks 34th out of 38 with a .655 OPS, hitting .296/.320/.336 with zero homers in 128 games as a rookie. Carew would hold the top spot among 24-year-olds with a .930 OPS in 1970, but a knee injury ended his season after 51 games with a .366 batting average.


AGE 25              YEAR      PA      OPS
Harmon Killebrew    1961     656    1.012
Justin Morneau      2006     661     .934
Tony Oliva          1964     719     .916
Bobby Kielty        2002     348     .890
Joe Mauer           2008     633     .864

Harmon Killebrew couldn't crack any of these lists before age 25 because the team didn't move to Minnesota until then. In his first Twins season Killebrew hit .288/.405/.606 with 46 homers and 107 walks. Five decades later he's still the only Twins hitter to top a .950 OPS by age 25. Tony Oliva also cracks these lists for the first time at 25 because it was his rookie season. He led the AL in batting average, runs, doubles, and total bases, winning Rookie of the Year.

Morneau's aforementioned MVP-winning 2006 season came at age 25, as he hit .321/.375/.556 with 34 homers and 37 doubles in 159 games. Morneau has the second-best OPS for 23-year-olds and 25-year-olds, but hit just .239/.304/.437 in between as a 24-year-old. Mauer cracks the top five in OPS for ages 22, 23, 24, and 25. And he likely would've had the top OPS for 21-year-olds too if not for the knee injury.

Bobby Kielty is the odd man out on the age-25 list, which reminds me that I've never been more wrong about a player. He was a switch-hitting outfielder with power and plate discipline, and as you can see Kielty put up big numbers at an early age. When the Twins traded Kielty to the Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart in 2006 he was a 26-year-old .269/.375/.444 hitter. I thought they'd made a terrible mistake. And then Kielty hit .246/.333/.389 after the trade, flaming out at 30.


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