June 12, 2013

Twins Notes: Sano, Buxton, Hicks, Arcia, Rosario, and Richardson

miguel sano fort myers

• Last year the Twins kept Miguel Sano at low Single-A for the entire season despite his having the second-highest OPS in the Midwest League. He moved up to high Single-A to begin this year and was even better, so this time around the Twins decided that a promotion was in order after two months of Florida State League destruction. Sano fittingly homered twice in his final game for Fort Myers, including a monstrous blast in his last at-bat.

Overall he hit .330/.424/.655 with 16 homers in 56 games, leading the FSL in homers, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage despite being the league's youngest hitter. It just doesn't get much better for a 20-year-old stud prospect and in fact no FSL hitter of any age has topped his OPS since 27-year-old Morgan Burkhart in 1999. Sano even stole nine bases at an 82 percent clip and reviews of his defense at third base have been a little more positive than last year.

And now he moves up to Double-A, where the average pitcher is five years older than Sano and both the off-speed pitches and command are much sharper than Single-A. It's a huge test for a truly elite hitting prospect, so even holding his own there at age 20 would be more evidence that Sano is very special and thriving there would put him on the verge of the majors. Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia arrived in Minnesota having played a combined nine games at Triple-A.

• Presumably the Twins considered promoting Byron Buxton in tandem with Sano to give Fort Myers a new stud prospect after losing the FSL's best hitter. For now at least Buxton remains at low Single-A, where he's batting .350/.444/.578 with 29 extra-base hits, 26 steals, and nearly as many walks (39) as strikeouts (44) in 58 games as a 19-year-old. Toss in standout defense in center field and Buxton's performance has been every bit as impressive as Sano's.

FOX Sports North broadcast Monday afternoon's Cedar Rapids game and Buxton put on a show, going 3-for-4 with a bases-loaded double off the left-center field wall, a legged-out triple on a ball that didn't even get to the right-center field wall, and a spectacular sprawling catch. No doubt the Twins wanted to avoid promoting Buxton until after FSN's special broadcast, but the kid is leading the Midwest League in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

Eddie Rosario and Angel Morales are joining Sano in getting the promotion from Fort Myers to New Britain. Rosario ranked No. 7 on my annual Twins prospect list coming into the season and has improved his stock since then, batting .329/.377/.527 with 24 extra-base hits in 52 games at high Single-A as a 21-year-old and reportedly getting more comfortable defensively in his ongoing transition from center fielder to second baseman.

Morales once ranked among the Twins' top prospects, but injuries and poor performances have sent the 2007 third-round pick's stock plummeting in recent years. He turned things around in a big way at Fort Myers, batting .297/.364/.525 with 28 extra-base hits and 20 walks in 55 games as the everyday center fielder, but it's worth noting that Morales is 23 years old and had already played there for part of 2011 and all of 2012.

• Hicks' hamstring injury puts on hold the rookie's slow climb to respectability following a brutal 2-for-48 start to his career. Hicks has hit .225/.275/.423 in 42 games since then, which is at least more in line with standard rookie struggles. Oddly enough when Hicks couldn't buy a hit he drew walks in bunches, but he's walked just 10 times versus 36 strikeouts in those 42 games. His less patient approach resulted in plenty of pop, with six homers and a .198 Isolated Power.

To replace Hicks on the roster the Twins recalled Arcia from Triple-A just two weeks after sending him back there in part due to a lack of consistent playing time. Arcia clearly has no business in center field, the corner outfield logjam hasn't lessened any in the meantime, and he hit just .218 in 15 games at Triple-A between call-ups, so it's not exactly an ideal situation. Also far from ideal: Clete Thomas will presumably be the everyday center fielder with Hicks out.

• Thomas was playing well in Rochester, but he's a .250/.326/.423 hitter in 400 career Triple-A games and at 29 years old is the epitome of a replacement-level outfielder. Darin Mastroianni's ankle injury left the Twins short on center field depth and that's what replacement-level talent is there for, but if they were turning to a Triple-A journeyman as a stop gap Antoan Richardson would have been a more interesting call-up.

Richardson is the same age as Thomas and has only a brief cup of coffee with the Braves in 2011, but he's hit .314 with a .451 on-base percentage between Double-A and Triple-A this season and has a .404 OBP for his career. Thomas has much more power and perhaps the Twins don't trust Richardson's defense, but the switch-hitter has topped a .400 OBP in three straight seasons while averaging 40 steals per 150 games. Why not give him a shot in the unproductive leadoff spot?

• For the second time in two weeks the Twins lost a former top prospect in order to clear 40-man roster space. Joe Benson was claimed off waivers by the Rangers and now Tyler Robertson was claimed off waivers by the Nationals. At this point Benson and Robertson are long shots to become valuable big leaguers, but they at least have some upside remaining and the same can't be said of 40-man roster holdovers like Drew Butera and Cole De Vries.

When discussing the Twins' haul in last week's draft it's worth noting that Benson and Robertson were their second- and third-round picks in 2006. They both developed well enough to emerge as good prospects, with Benson even cracking Baseball America's top 100 in back-to-back seasons, only to be lost for nothing. Neither loss is hugely troubling in a vacuum, but considering how much the Twins preach patience with prospects it's frustrating to lose talent when it could be avoided.

Alex Meyer, the 6-foot-9 right-hander who was acquired from the Nationals for Denard Span and ranks as the Twins' best pitching prospect, is on the Double-A disabled list with shoulder soreness. Hopefully it proves to be a minor injury, because Meyer was off to a very good start with a 3.69 ERA and 73-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 innings while holding opponents to a .226 batting average and just three homers.

• It took seven seasons, but Carlos Gomez is finally living up to his potential by becoming one of the best all-around players in baseball. Unfortunately it's coming far too late to help the Twins and Gomez's recent comments about how he's changed as a hitter sound a lot like David Ortiz's old comments when he started thriving with the Red Sox:

Before, Carlos Gomez tried to put the ball in play, hit the ball on the ground, because that's what people wanted. That takes my ability out. That's not me. I'm a free swinger. I like to swing hard, whether I have one or two strikes. When I step to the plate, I try to hit a home run.

I may hit a ball to right field, but I'm not trying to. I’m letting my instincts and my ability do the job. I'm looking for my pitch, a pitch I can hit out of the ballpark. If they throw me a different pitch, I can make the change and hit the ball the other way. If I try to hit the ball the other way, I get in trouble, because I slow down my swing. That’s not me.

Obviously the Brewers deserve credit for Gomez's development, but he joins Ortiz and some other less prominent players in suggesting that the Twins stifled power potential by forcing hitters to fit their preferred mold.

Scott Diamond allowed double-digit hits Sunday for the sixth time in 45 starts and opponents are now batting .293 off him for his career. That ranks as the fifth-highest batting average against in Twins history among all pitchers with 250 or more innings:

Travis Miller      .304
Nick Blackburn     .303
Carlos Silva       .303
Bob Tewksbury      .294
Scott Diamond      .293

If you can't strike anyone out you're going to give up a ton of hits and the above list is basically a mediocre middle reliever and four of the biggest pitch-to-contact starters you'll ever find.

• In the American League there are 66 pitchers with at least 50 innings and only three of them have a strikeout rate below 4.5 per nine innings: Diamond, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey.

• Last year the Twins drafted Connecticut second baseman L.J. Mazzilli in the ninth round and he ended up being their highest pick not to sign, returning to school for his senior season. Mazzilli hit .354/.408/.515 with 29 steals in 63 games and was drafted by the Mets in the fourth round, so Lee Mazzilli's son probably earned himself an extra $250,000.

• Current third base coach and former hitting coach Joe Vavra's son, Valparaiso infielder Tanner Vavra, was drafted by the Twins in the 30th round. Nepotism aside Vavra has an incredible story, overcoming being blinded in his right eye by two serious childhood injuries to hit .332 as a junior and .330 as a senior. He's very much a legitimate late-round pick.

• General managers usually get the credit or blame for draft picks, but Terry Ryan talked to Parker Hageman of Twins Daily about why that's misleading.

• Since taking over for Matt Capps last season Glen "Proven Closer" Perkins has converted 30-of-34 save chances with a 2.31 ERA and 77-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 66 innings.

Delmon Young in 225 games since leaving the Twins: .263/.296/.424 with 171 strikeouts, 33 walks, and 31 double plays. Toss in defense and he's been worth -1.5 Wins Above Replacement.

Francisco Liriano has a 1.75 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 36 innings for the Pirates.

• For a lot more about Sano's promotion and the Twins' draft, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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January 4, 2013

Link-O-Rama

• Here's the job posting for the St. Paul Pioneer Press' new Twins beat reporter. Apply today!

• In their most controversial decision since naming Nick Blackburn the Twins' top prospect, Baseball America named me one of the "top 50 baseball-related Twitter accounts."

• I'm not much of a soccer fan, but Mark Willis' soccer-style MLB jersey designs are fantastic.

Jeff Piascik of College Baseball Daily wrote a nice article about Twins coach Joe Vavra's son, Tanner Vavra, who plays Division I baseball at Valparaiso University despite being blind in his right eye. Remarkable story. He hit .332 with a .425 on-base percentage as a junior.

• Minnesota is close enough to Iowa that she probably should have stopped by to say hello.

• I wrote about turning 30 years old, being a weirdo, doing something for a really long time, and pondering life changes.

• I'm kind of sad that no one got me Anthony Mason for my birthday this year.

• Presumably to celebrate my birthday Netflix instant has added two of my favorite dozen or so movies in "Blue Valentine" and "Blue Chips." I own "Blue Chips" on VHS and have seen it at least 20 times, and I watched "Blue Valentine" four times in one weekend a while ago. I recommend viewing them back-to-back and then having a good cry. The order isn't important.

• Easily the sexiest dress I've ever seen.

Nick Nelson subbed for a vacationing John Bonnes on this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode and we discussed our decreasing expectations for the Twins in 2013 and which pitchers they should have signed as free agents.

• Vita.mn named "Gleeman and The Geek" one of the best podcasts of 2012.

• I saw "Django Unchained," which is nowhere close to Quentin Tarantino's best movies but right up there with his most enjoyable movies. If that makes any sense. In terms of overall quality, I'd rank them: "Pulp Fiction," "Reservoir Dogs," "Jackie Brown," "Inglourious Basterds," "Django Unchained," "Kill Bill," "Grindhouse."

• Speaking of Tarantino, this video of every pop culture reference in his movies is pretty great:

"That is Marilyn Monroe. That is Mamie Van Doren. And I don't see Jayne Mansfield, so she must have the night off or something."

Bobby Womack, whose song "Across 110th Street" is one of my all-time favorites, may be suffering from Alzheimer's at age 68.

Ryan Freel's family is donating his brain to science to find out if the former major leaguer's numerous concussions led to his suicide at age 36.

• One of my favorite podcasters/people, Julie Klausner, was profiled in the New York Times.

• Rotoworld surpassed one billion (yes, billion) page views in 2012, which makes a man feel extra good about dropping out of college for a full-time job there in 2005.

• I've soured on Adam Carolla over the years, but my fellow old school "Loveline" fans should definitely check out his new weekly podcast with Dr. Drew Pinsky.

• Former big leaguer Fernando Tatis replied to a random tweet of mine from two years ago.

Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus wrote a great article about those absurd "scouting reports" television broadcasts show for starting pitchers.

Torii Hunter used religion as an excuse for intolerance and then showed off his backpedaling skills, which we've seen before.

• My attempt to put Joe Mauer's season in context, which is something few people in Minnesota seem interested in doing.

Chipper Jones is keeping himself busy in retirement.

Andruw Jones was arrested on Christmas for allegedly abusing his wife after she "asked him to help her assemble a computer table." And then she filed for divorce.

• A few people wondered if this was me, as if I'd ever leave the house to go to St. Cloud.

• I really liked "Gosford Park" on Netflix instant, so I also watched another Robert Altman movie, "The Long Goodbye," and was amused to see former major leaguer and "Ball Four" author Jim Bouton in a sizable supporting role. Toss in Elliott Gould and his chest hair in the leading role and the whole thing really made me wish I lived in the 1970s.

• "Stop Podcasting Yourself" is my favorite podcast and Alicia Tobin is my favorite guest, so this made me happy.

Jessica St. Clair's appearance on "Who Charted?" with Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack was very funny.

• This e-mail from Pandora sums me up well.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Marney Gellner hot"
- "Lori Loughlin twins"
- "Dave Attell twins"
- "Julie Klausner nude"
- "Mitchell Kowitz arrested"
- "Jerome Felton girlfriend"
- "16-year-olds on Chopped"
- "Lindsay Guentzel model"
- "Clarence Clemons and Robin Quivers"
- "Phil Ivey girlfriend"
- "Linda Cardellini martial arts"

• Finally, in honor of hearing this song for the first time in "Blue Chips" as an 11-year-old and immediately becoming hooked on Van Morrison this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Baby Please Don't Go":

This week's blog content is sponsored by Paul "Fantasy Camper" Bennett, who'll be blogging and tweeting about his annual experience at Twins fantasy camp in Fort Myers the week of January 6. Please support him for supporting AG.com.

October 24, 2012

Twins Notes: Coaching changes, Rantz retires, and Gibson impresses

• It turns out the coaching shakeup wasn't as extreme as first believed, as the reconfigured staff includes Joe Vavra and Scott Ullger sticking around in new roles. Vavra goes from hitting coach to third base coach and Ullger goes from bench coach to first base coach. Ullger is running out of jobs he can be moved to, going from hitting coach to third base coach to bench coach to first base coach, which is the role he filled upon joining Tom Kelly's staff in 1994.

Vavra and Ullger remaining on Ron Gardenhire's staff and Rick Anderson keeping his job as pitching coach means the shakeup led to just three new coaches: Tom Brunansky replaces Vavra as hitting coach, Bobby Cuellar replaces Rick Stelmaszek as bullpen coach, and Terry Steinbach replaces Ullger as bench coach. Brunansky and Cuellar were the Triple-A hitting and pitching coaches, while Steinbach has been an assistant coach for Wayzata high school.

Cuellar is an intriguing addition because he has a lengthy track record in the minors that includes being credited with teaching Johan Santana his incredible changeup and also gives the Twins a much-needed Spanish-speaking coach. Brunansky was promoted from Double-A to Triple-A this year and has drawn some rave reviews for his work with young hitters, so it will be interesting to see how his approach differs from Vavra's, especially with Vavra still around.

Cuellar and Brunansky were expected additions, but Steinbach seemingly came out of nowhere after the Twins decided against taking Paul Molitor up on his offer to join the staff. Steinbach is a Minnesota native who starred for the Gophers and spent the last three seasons of his 14-year career with the Twins, but he's never coached professionally beyond being a spring training instructor. In addition to bench coach duties he'll work specifically with catchers.

It's not often that you see both a hitting coach and a bench coach demoted to base coaches, but it fits with the Twins' overall reluctance to make sweeping changes. Even when they shake things up they still can't quite say goodbye to longtime staffers and in the end Stelmaszek, first base coach Jerry White, third base coach Steve Liddle are the only members of the 2012 staff who won't be on the 2013 staff.

• There was a major change in the front office, as Jim Rantz announced his retirement after an astounding 52 years in the organization as a player, scout, and executive. Rantz was born in St. Paul, pitched for the Gophers, and actually predates the team's move to Minnesota, signing with the Washington Senators in 1960. He never made the majors, but pitched five years in the minors and went on to become one of the most important people in Twins history.

For the past 27 years Rantz has been the Twins' minor league director, overseeing the draft and development of prospects that has consistently played such a key role in any success the organization has found during that time. He's specifically credited with picking Kirby Puckett third overall in the 1982 draft and repeatedly received awards from his peers in the scouting community. Rantz's right-hand man, Brad Steil, has been named the interim replacement.

Kyle Gibson is turning heads with his performance in the Arizona Fall League, combining great results with better velocity than he showed prior to Tommy John elbow surgery last year. So far we're only talking about a total of 13 innings, so the sample size is barely worth mentioning, but Gibson has a 0.69 ERA and 19-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio while inducing nearly three ground balls for every fly ball. Keith Law of ESPN.com filed this scouting report:

Gibson was very impressive Tuesday in his second start of the fall, working from 92-94, driving the ball down in the zone, and showing a plus slider at 83-86 that he would throw in any count, in or out of the zone, and would even back-foot to a left-handed hitter when the guy might be looking for a changeup away. He did show a true changeup, but was mostly fastball-slider and looked like a big leaguer, and one with a higher ceiling than he showed as an amateur when he had a pretty-but-slow curveball as his primary breaking ball.

Gibson wouldn't be the first pitcher to come back from Tommy John surgery throwing harder than before, but that certainly hasn't been the norm for Twins pitchers over the years and too often the opposite has been true. He still has a long way to go, but so far so good.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we did a tutorial on transaction, roster, and service time issues and one of them was the circumstances in which "Super Two" players get an extra year of arbitration eligibility. Based on MLB Trade Rumors' calculations Twins reliever Alex Burnett missed qualifying for "Super Two" status by four days, so he'll make the minimum salary in 2013 rather than potentially doubling that amount via the arbitration process.

• In preparation for the offseason teams are clearing 40-man roster space by waiving players and because of their high waiver wire priority the Twins may be able to snag someone useful. Their own housecleaning should come soon and marginal players on the 40-man roster include Luis Perdomo, Esmerling Vasquez, Matt Carson, Jeff Manship, P.J. Walters, Deolis Guerra, Cole DeVries, Samuel Deduno, Carlos Gutierrez, Kyle Waldrop, and Drew Butera.

• Just a reminder in the wake of his ALCS MVP: Delmon Young has hit .268/.296/.422 in 191 regular season games for the Tigers, was moved to designated hitter on a team that has Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the field, hit .240/.270/.320 in "high leverage" situations this year to rank dead last among 143 qualified hitters in Win Probability Added, ranked 139 out of 143 in Wins Above Replacement, and hit .235/.278/.235 in the ALDS. Shit happens.

• I wrote the foreword for the "2013 Offseason Handbook" published by Twins Daily, which includes an incredible amount of good, unique content written by John Bonnes, Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, and Parker Hageman, plus a lengthy interview with Terry Ryan. I'm not part of the Twins Daily crew, so my recommendation is based purely on merit: For just $6.95 you can get a great product and support writers who provide tons of free Twins content year-round.

• There's no real correlation between playing ability and coaching ability, but I ranked Brunansky as the 28th-best player in Twins history.

• I'll start breaking down potential free agent options, trade targets, and other offseason topics once the World Series is over, but in the meantime this week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" includes a lengthy preview of the Twins' payroll situation and winter plans along with a position-by-position look at free agency.

October 5, 2012

The End

66-96.

Last year 99 losses and the AL's worst record motivated the Twins to fire general manager Bill Smith a month after the season ended. This year 96 losses and the AL's worst record led to immediate and sweeping changes to the coaching staff, as the Twins announced yesterday that everyone on Ron Gardenhire's staff except for pitching coach Rick Anderson has been let go or reassigned to a lesser role within the organization.

During the first 11 seasons with Gardenhire as manager the Twins fired a grand total of one coach, Al Newman. Yesterday alone they fired first base coach Jerry White, third base coach Steve Liddle, and bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek while reassigning hitting coach Joe Vavra and bench coach Scott Ullger to roles described as infield and outfield instructors. Head trainer Rick McWane was also let go.

I'd love to offer some meaningful analysis, but beyond stating the obvious about the need for change after 195 losses in two years it's difficult to say if specific firings were justified or what the shakeup's impact will be. Good or bad, evaluating coaches is a lot of guesswork. What's easier to see is that with a new coaching staff and Gardenhire's contract up after 2013 the writing is seemingly on the wall for what another 90 losses would lead to this time next year.


Being a Twins fan hasn't been much fun lately, so now more than ever I want to thank you for stopping by AG.com this season. My hope is that you'll stick around all offseason, because I'll be analyzing moves, breaking down potential free agent targets, parsing trade rumors, rolling out my annual ranking of Twins prospects, and writing every bit as often as during the season. And of course we'll continue to have new "Gleeman and The Geek" episodes every week.

Thank you for reading this blog, thank you for listening to my podcast and radio appearances, thank you for following me on Twitter, thank you for supporting my work at NBCSports.com and MinnPost, and thank you for all the kind words and even the not-so-kind ones. If you'll keep reading and listening I'll keep writing and talking, and maybe this time next year we'll be looking over playoff matchups. And if not, at least baseball will still be baseball.

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June 21, 2010

The new and improved Delmon Young

I come to praise Delmon, not bury him.

- William Shakespeare (if he was a Twins fan)

In the fall of 2007 the Twins acquired Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie from the Rays for Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan. I wasn't a fan of the trade, in part because I felt Young was an overrated prospect and in part because I felt the Twins were selling unnecessarily low on Garza and Bartlett. Three years later I still believe those things to be true, and for the first two years the trade looked worse and worse for the Twins.

Young batted just .288/.325/.413 with an ugly 197-to-47 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 260 games through his first two seasons in Minnesota, which along with horrible defense made him one of the worst regulars in baseball. While he was being disappointing on nearly every level, Garza logged 388 innings with a 3.87 ERA and Bartlett hit .306/.361/.429 in 265 games as the Rays had the first two winning seasons in franchise history and advanced to the World Series.

In terms of value gained from the trade it was a blowout in the Rays' favor after two seasons and the scale may never swing all the way back to the Twins' side, but this season for the first time the gap isn't widening. And it's not because Garza has turned into a bum (his ERA is 4.16) or the Twins are getting value from the other two guys in the deal (Harris is hitting .157, Pridie is at Triple-A for the Mets). No, it's because for the first time Delmon Young is playing well.

After starting slowly for the third straight year Young has been on fire for the past month and is now hitting .307/.345/.502 in 61 games for the sixth-best OPS among AL corner outfielders. He's still not walking much, but after two frustrating seasons of flailing away at breaking balls and grounding out weakly to second base or blooping singles into right field on fastballs Young is finally making the solid, damage-creating contact that was supposed to be his calling card.

Even better, after losing 30 pounds during the offseason Young's defense in left field has gone from horrible to merely poor, with the occasional flashes of good mixed in with the still-present penchant for cringe-inducing awkwardness. He certainly hasn't turned into the second coming of Frank Robinson or Albert Belle that so many comparisons at the time of the deal laughably suggested, but he has turned into the guy the Twins thought they were getting in 2007.

How has he done it? Well, first let's look at some of the basic components of his performance:

              BB%      SO%     K/BB      GB%      FB%      LD%     ISOP
2008-2009     4.5     19.0     4.19     53.0     30.2     16.7     .125
This Year     6.2     11.2     1.64     45.7     37.2     17.0     .195

Not only is Young walking 38 percent more and striking out 41 percent less compared to those disappointing first two years in Minnesota, he's hitting the ball on the ground 14 percent less. In other words, his approach at the plate has improved dramatically and the type of balls he's putting in play have gotten much better as well. He's putting together much better at-bats and giving himself a chance to actually for hit for power by getting the ball in the air.

Young has eight homers in 61 games, which puts him on pace to shatter his career-high of 13, but the actual percentage of his fly balls that have gone over the fence hasn't really changed. Last season 11.4 percent of his fly balls were homers and this year 11.4 percent of his fly balls have been homers. The big difference isn't that he's suddenly crushing longer fly balls, it's that he's simply hitting more of them. Young's fly-ball rate is up 23 percent compared to 2008/2009.

When the Twins traded for Young the widely held assumption was that he'd hit for big power because he's a big guy and that's what the glowing scouting reports from his high school and Single-A days said, but grounders never turn into homers and guys who're among the league leaders in ground balls never turn into power hitters. Young still isn't putting the ball in the air nearly as much as the game's best sluggers, but he's now doing it enough to inflict damage.

How is he walking more, whiffing less, and hitting the ball in the air? Here are his swing stats:

              ZONE     SWNG     CONT     Z-SW     Z-CN     O-SW     O-CN
2008-2009     50.2     59.6     75.8     80.3     85.4     38.7     55.6
This Year     47.9     57.8     83.6     78.7     90.3     38.7     71.0

Based on the improved strikeout and walk rates you'd think he's been swinging at fewer balls outside the strike zone, but that's not actually the case. He's swinging at essentially the same number of pitches as 2008/2009, including nearly identical rates on pitches inside and outside the strike zone, but the difference is that he's making contact significantly more often on both types of offerings.

The biggest change is that Young has made contact 28 percent more often swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. He's still hacking at more pitches than anyone in the league except Vladimir Guerrero and still chases non-strikes as much as before, but this year he's actually hitting those pitches. I'm not sure whether that can be chalked up to randomness or a change in approach--or whether it's a sustainable improvement either way--but the difference is huge.

Breaking the pitches and swings down even further, here are his results by pitch type:

               FB%     FB100      CH%     CH100      SL%     SL100
2008-2009     53.6     -0.36     10.3     +0.25     19.8     -1.35
This Year     56.4     +0.23     10.6     +4.02     17.0     +1.07

Young has never been a great fastball hitter, but he's been better against the pitch this year, generating 0.23 runs above average per 100 fastballs (FB100) after previously being sub par. He's also gone from decent to amazing versus changeups (CH100) and from awful to strong on sliders (SL100). Not shown above is that he continues to struggle against curveballs, which makes drawing any strong conclusions from the pitch-type data even more difficult than usual.

Observationally, the biggest change on a pitch-type basis has been his ability to lay off sliders outside the strike zone late in counts, which is something that really dragged him down in the past. For the most part the numbers back that up with his non-strike contact rate and overall success on sliders. Of course, that he's still hacking at just as many non-strikes muddies those waters, although perhaps Young keeps swinging early but now has more late-count discipline.

Interestingly, while Young has improved across the board his batting average on balls in play is a career-low .308 after he had a .338 mark in 2008/2009. That may very well be due more to randomness than anything else, but it could also be due to the same change in approach that has led to more fly balls and fewer ground balls. In fact, that has almost certainly played a part because in general ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls.

Basically, he's been less effective getting bloopers to drop in and choppers to get through the infield, which is certainly a tradeoff worth taking for more pop. It may also suggest that Young has actually been somewhat unlucky this season--particularly since after losing 30 pounds and getting noticeably faster it should be easier to leg out infield singles--in which case even if his high contact rate on non-strikes declines a bit his overall performance may not suffer a ton.

The top five items on my wish-list for Young likely would've been fewer strikeouts and ground balls, more walks and fly balls, and better range on defense. He's improved all five areas and the result is a far better player who has gone from liability to strength. He deserves credit for getting into shape and hitting coach Joe Vavra deserves credit for altering his approach and stance. Now hopefully he can keep it going and, at age 24, perhaps even build on those gains.

I come to praise Delmon, not bury him.

- William Shakespeare, if he was a Twins fan.