September 10, 2014

Twins Notes: Santana, Escobar, St. Peter, Thorpe, Mauer, and May

Danny Santana Twins

Danny Santana picked a bad season to be a .320-hitting rookie center fielder, because White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu is hitting .317/.378/.590 with 33 homers and will run away with the Rookie of the Year award. However, assuming that he doesn't go into a prolonged slump down the stretch Santana's performance would be enough to make him a deserving Rookie of the Year winner in quite a few previous seasons. Last season, for instance.

Last season's winner, Wil Myers of the Rays, hit .293/.354/.478 in 88 games as a right fielder. Santana has hit .320/.358/.475 in 84 games as a center fielder/shortstop. They've been nearly identical as hitters and Santana has large edges in base-running, defense, and positional value. Looking at Twins history, Marty Cordova won the award in 1995 while hitting .277/.352/.486 in 137 games as a left fielder in a much higher era for offense.

Here's where Santana currently ranks among Twins rookies in Wins Above Replacement during the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014:

                    YEAR     WAR
Francisco Liriano   2006     4.5
Lew Ford            2004     4.5
Denard Span         2008     4.3
Bobby Kielty        2002     2.7
DANNNY SANTANA      2014     2.7

Longtime readers of this blog will probably remember that I thought Bobby Kielty was destined for stardom. He was not.

• Santana was thrust into center field without ever playing there regularly before and has done reasonably well, but assistant general manager Rob Antony recently said: "I think he's going to be our shortstop of the future. Any opportunity we get to play him at shortstop is a good thing." Which is fine, except with Aaron Hicks back in the majors the Twins are still going out of their way not to play Santana at shortstop, even using Eduardo Nunez there instead of him.

• On a related note: Since a strong start Eduardo Escobar has hit just .247/.292/.365 in his last 85 games. He's now a career .253/.299/.363 hitter in 761 plate appearances as a big leaguer.

• For most of the past four years the Twins' bullpen has been a strength amid the team's overall struggles, but now the relievers are struggling too. In the first half the bullpen had a 3.21 ERA with a 13-10 record. In the second half they have a 4.92 ERA with a 6-10 record, including a 5.81 ERA during the past month. Their season totals now include ranking 22nd in ERA, 29th in xFIP, and dead last in strikeout rate. Of course, the rotation has still been worse.

• Twins president Dave St. Peter apparently didn't mind Keith Olbermann ripping the team to shreds on ESPN, but he predictably did mind me saying their brand survey was "tone deaf." On a related note, we spent a large portion of this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode discussing the Twins' increasing assurances of "we get it" in the face of mounting evidence that they don't.

• Pitching prospect Lewis Thorpe, an 18-year-old left-hander from Australia with 144 strikeouts in 116 career innings and one of the highest-upside arms in the Twins' farm system, has been diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. For now the Twins are insisting he'll be fine, but UCL injuries are what lead to Tommy John surgery.

Jose Berrios had one of the 10 best starts by any pitching prospect this season, according to Baseball America.

Joe Mauer has a .405 on-base percentage with more walks than strikeouts in 28 games since returning from the disabled list. During that time he's got an .848 OPS. His career OPS is .861.

Kurt Suzuki has hit .235/.279/.337 in 27 games since his two-year, $12 million extension. He hit .237/.294/.357 in 477 games from 2010-2013.

Tommy Milone allowed 21 runs in 21 innings for the Twins after coming over from the A's in exchange for Sam Fuld and now he's hurt. (Fuld has hit just .218/.269/.307 in 35 games since the trade.)

• Since his disastrous MLB debut Trevor May has a 24/12 K/BB ratio and three homers allowed in 27 innings. It'll take a while for his ERA to not be hideous, but he'll be just fine.

• After nine seasons as the Twins' minor-league hitting coordinator and 14 total seasons in the organization Bill Springman has been let go.

• At one point this season the Twins were 23-21. Since then they are 39-61.


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July 30, 2014

Twins Notes: Morales, Pryor, Guerrier, Pressly, Worley, and Buxton

kendrys morales twins

• The money meant nothing to a team $20 million under budget, but signing Kendrys Morales carried more downside for the Twins than commonly believed because his performance was tough to predict after sitting out the first two months of the season and the move meant stalling Josmil Pinto's development in favor of a potentially inferior player. With that said, no one could have expected things to go as badly as it did.

While batting almost exclusively fourth or fifth in the lineup Morales hit .234/.259/.325 with one homer and a 27/6 K/BB ratio in 39 games, posting a lower OPS in a Twins uniform than, among others: Tony Batista, David McCarty, Nick Punto, Mike Lamb, Clete Thomas, Juan Castro, Adam Everett, Rondell White, Terry Tiffee, Denny Hocking, Tommy Herr, Henry Blanco, Matt Tolbert, Luis Rivas, and Aaron Hicks.

To the Twins' (partial) credit they cut bait instead of stubbornly sticking with Morales for the rest of the season and to my surprise they actually got another team to assume the remainder of his contract and give up a potentially useful player in return. By trading Morales to the Mariners the Twins save about $4 million of his $7.4 million contract, but their lack of spending means the money probably won't be re-invested in the team anyway.

Where they could get value is from Stephen Pryor, a 25-year-old reliever whose average fastball clocked in at 96 miles per hour before shoulder surgery. So far Pryor has struggled since coming back, with a big drop in velocity and poor Triple-A numbers, but there's still some potential there. They basically paid $3 million for 39 terrible games from Morales, the motivation to demote Pinto to Triple-A, and a post-surgery version of a once-promising reliever.

Matt Guerrier's decent-looking 3.86 ERA masked a terrible 12/10 K/BB ratio in 28 innings and similarly underwhelming raw stuff. Guerrier is one of the most underrated pitchers in Twins history thanks to a six-year run as a durable, reliable setup man during his first go-around in Minnesota, but the reunion worked out only slightly better than this year's other reunions with Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett.

Ryan Pressly replaces Guerrier in a middle relief role after posting a 2.98 ERA and 63/21 K/BB ratio in 60 innings at Triple-A. Pressly spent all of last season on the Twins' roster as a Rule 5 pick and held his own as a 24-year-old, but his control is shaky and his strikeout rate hasn't matched his fastball velocity. He has a whole lot more upside than Guerrier, however, so the switch makes plenty of sense even if it pained the Twins.

• Here's a list of the starting pitchers the Twins have used this season while refusing to call up 24-year-old prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May from Triple-A:

Phil Hughes
Kevin Correia
Kyle Gibson
Ricky Nolasco
Sam Deduno
Yohan Pino
Mike Pelfrey
Kris Johnson
Anthony Swarzak
Logan Darnell

This season the Twins have used a pitcher younger than 25 years old for a grand total of 12.1 innings, all by reliever Michael Tonkin. Meanwhile, across MLB there have been 447 games started by pitchers younger than Meyer and 504 games started by pitchers younger than May.

Vance Worley, whom the Twins gave away for nothing this spring without needing to for any real reason, tossed a complete-game shutout Monday and is now 4-1 with a 2.54 ERA and 30/8 K/BB ratio in 50 innings for the Pirates. When the Twins acquired Worley from the Phillies as part of the Ben Revere trade he looked like a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter and now at age 26 he looks like that again in Pittsburgh.

• Old friends Danny Valencia and Liam Hendriks were traded for one another Monday, as the Royals and Blue Jays swapped role players. Valencia proved stretched offensively and defensively as an everyday third baseman for the Twins, but has settled into a part-time role mostly facing left-handed pitching. Hendriks continues to thrive at Triple-A and struggle in the majors while frequently finding himself on the waiver wire since the Twins gave up on him in December.

• Because no Twins prospect is ever safe, both Kohl Stewart and Jose Berrios have been shut down with shoulder injuries. That means four of the top five prospects in my preseason rankings have been sidelined by an injury.

Byron Buxton is healthy again after missing nearly half the season with a wrist injury and has hit .378 with a .472 on-base percentage and .622 slugging percentage in his last 10 games at high Single-A.

Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (with the help of Glen Perkins) did a nice job laying out the disconnect between Kurt Suzuki's defensive reputation and defensive numbers.

Oswaldo Arcia smashed his bat over his knee, Bo Jackson-style, after a recent strikeout, but with 183 strikeouts in 151 career games perhaps he shouldn't be blaming the equipment.

• Since signing him last season the Twins have a .346 winning percentage when Correia starts and a .443 winning percentage when anyone else starts.

Brian Dozier is hitting .178 with 29 strikeouts and four walks in 28 games since June 25.

• FOX Sports North showed a great scouting report on Darnell before his first MLB start.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we talked about realistic options at the trade deadline and wondered how thin the ice is getting under Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

June 25, 2014

Twins Notes: Berrios, Vargas, Dozier, Hughes, Hicks, Pino, and Perkins

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox

• Right-hander Jose Berrios and first baseman Kennys Vargas will represent the Twins in the Futures Game, which is MLB's annual prospect showcase as part of the All-Star festivities. Berrios was the Twins' supplemental first-round pick in 2012, going 30 spots after they snagged Byron Buxton. Last season a mediocre ERA hid what was a strong overall performance for a 19-year-old at low Single-A and this season his ERA and secondary numbers are on the same page.

Berrios is one of just two 20-year-olds in the entire Florida State League with at least 50 innings, posting a 2.05 ERA and 98/21 K/BB ratio in 83 innings. His strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings ranks second in the league behind only a 23-year-old and he's held opponents to a .219 batting average with just three homers. Berrios ranked fifth on my list of Twins prospects coming into the season and has upped his stock even further since then.

Vargas placed 23rd in that same ranking, but has also upped his stock considerably by hitting .318/.395/.531 in 70 games at Double-A. At age 23 he's not particularly young for the Eastern League and massive first basemen who'll probably wind up as designated hitters generally aren't a great prospect group on which to bet long term, but the switch-hitter has huge power potential and has made big strides with his strike-zone control.

UPDATE: Triple-A right-hander Trevor May has also been added to the Futures Game roster.

Brian Dozier hasn't slowed down following his surprisingly powerful start to the season and in fact June has been by far his best month with a .310/.449/.549 line that includes four homers and more walks (16) than strikeouts (13) in 21 games. Going back even further, in the past calendar year Dozier ranks as the third-best second baseman in all of baseball according to Wins Above Replacement, behind only Matt Carpenter and Robinson Cano.

During that 365-day span Dozier has hit .252/.340/.444 with 26 homers and 23 steals in 160 games, which along with very good defense adds up to an all-around performance that tops big names like Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, and Chase Utley. Not only does Dozier rank among the league leaders in walks after showing strong strike-zone control in the minors, his power has come out of nowhere after he hit a grand total of 16 homers in 365 games as a minor leaguer.

Ricky Nolasco has been disappointing, but the Twins' other free agent pitching pickup has outperformed expectations in a big way. Phil Hughes has a 3.40 ERA and 82/9 K/BB ratio in 95 innings after posting a 5.19 ERA for the Yankees last season and a 4.53 ERA in seven seasons for New York overall. He's issued zero walks in nine of 15 starts (60 percent) this season. Prior to this season Hughes had zero walks in 24 of 132 starts (18 percent).

Aaron Hicks giving up switch-hitting to exclusively bat right-handed seemed like a reasonable decision given his struggles from the left side of the plate, but after all of one month and very few at-bats thanks to a shoulder injury he's already gone back to switch-hitting. Hicks is technically in the minors on a rehab assignment, but it's hard to see what's gained by keeping him in the majors at this point. Let him try to thrive versus Triple-A pitching for a while.

UPDATE: Hicks has been activated from the disabled list and demoted to Double-A.

Yohan Pino had the seventh-best "Game Score" by any Twins pitcher in his MLB debut behind Andrew Albers, Bert Blyleven, Anthony Swarzak, Allan Anderson, Eddie Bane, and Brad Havens. Take from that group what you will.

Kendrys Morales has hit .222/.271/.333 in 14 games for the Twins. Josmil Pinto has hit .282/.417/.513 in 12 games at Triple-A since his demotion. And his career OPS in the majors remains higher than Morales' mark since 2012.

• On a related note, Glen Perkins had some pretty damning things to say about Pinto's pitch-framing skills, which puts a dent into his already slim chances of being a catcher long term.

• Perkins' record as a reliever is 13-5, including 8-1 since 2012 and 5-0 since 2013, and the Twins have won five of his last six blown saves. Among all MLB relievers with 30 or more innings this season Perkins ranks fifth in K/BB ratio, seventh in strikeout rate, and ninth in xFIP.

• In the same presented-without-comment vein as the previous versions:

Tony Gwynn: .338 AVG, .388 OBP, .459 SLG, .847 OPS, 132 OPS+
Joe Mauer: .320 AVG, .401 OBP, .461 SLG, .863 OPS, 133 OPS+

• Random thing I noticed while looking up some other stuff: Denard Span had a .390 on-base percentage in his first two seasons. Since then he has a .329 on-base percentage in five seasons, never topping .342 in any year.

Johan Santana was on the verge of completing his multi-year comeback from multiple shoulder surgeries by joining the Orioles' rotation, but now he's done for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon. Just in case anyone forgot:

Clayton Kershaw, 2009-2014: 1,145 innings, 9.4 K/9, 3.4 K/BB, 155 ERA+
Johan Santana, 2002-2008: 1,413 innings, 9.5 K/9, 4.2 K/BB, 156 ERA+

• Since the beginning of last season the Twins are 16-10 (.615) against the White Sox and 86-125 (.408) against everyone else.

• For way more on Hicks, Vargas, Morales, and Pino, plus lots of talk about Oswaldo Arcia and Kyle Gibson, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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March 28, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Also in this series: 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

5. Jose Berrios | Starter | DOB: 5/94 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK-     8      1     1.08      16.2       7      0      27      3
         RK+     3      3     1.29      14.0       8      1      22      1
2013     A-     19     19     3.99     103.2     105      6     100     40

Selected out of a Puerto Rico high school 30 picks after Byron Buxton in the 2012 draft, Jose Berrios had a great rookie-ball debut and then made the jump to full-season competition last year at low Single-A. While his 3.99 ERA and .265 opponents' batting average were unimpressive, Berrios struck out 100 batters in 104 innings and allowed just six homers while being one of only eight teenagers in the Midwest League to log at least 100 innings.

Obviously it would be ideal to see Berrios overpowering hitters in the low minors, but missing plenty of bats and holding his own overall as a teenager is a very good sign. Berrios throws hard and receives praise for his off-speed stuff, but like most 19-year-olds his control needs work and one potential red flag is that he's been a fly-ball pitcher. That tendency usually gets more extreme further up the organizational ladder, so it'll be something to keep an eye on.

Berrios is a slight 6-foot-1 and so far the Twins have been cautious with his workload by limiting his starts in-season and convincing him to skip winter ball, but he'll likely be given a longer leash this year at high Single-A. He tends to get lost in the shuffle of what has become a stacked deck of Twins prospects, but in some recent years Berrios would have been the team's top pitching prospect and his long-term upside is substantial.

4. Kohl Stewart | Starter | DOB: 10/94 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-     6      3     1.69      16.0      12      0      16      3
         RK+     1      1     0.00       4.0       1      0       8      1

From 2005-2012 the Twins used a top-50 draft pick on seven college pitchers compared to just one high school pitcher, but they bucked that trend in a big way last year by picking 18-year-old Texas right-hander Kohl Stewart fourth overall. Considered the top high school talent in the draft class that saw college stars go 1-2-3, Stewart dominated rookie-ball hitters in his pro debut with a 1.35 ERA and 24/4 K/BB ratio in 20 innings.

Not only did Stewart have video game-like numbers as a senior with a 0.18 ERA in eight starts, he was a two-sport star and ESPN ranked him as the sixth-best prep quarterback in the country. He committed to play football at Texas A&M, but Stewart signed for $4.5 million instead of trying to replace Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. He throws a mid-90s fastball, but both ESPN and Baseball America peg Stewart's slider as his best pitch.

Across baseball during the past decade using top-five picks on high school pitchers has proven to be a terrible investment, but the Twins taking such an uncharacteristic gamble suggests they truly believe Stewart is a special prospect. On draft day scouting director Deron Johnson described Stewart's ceiling as "unlimited" and given their recent inability to develop front-line starters the high-risk, high-reward approach makes sense.

3. Alex Meyer | Starter | DOB: 1/90 | Throws: Right | Trade: Nationals

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     18     18     3.10      90.0      68      4     107     34
         A+      7      7     2.31      39.0      29      2      32     11
2013     AA     13     13     3.21      70.0      60      3      84     29

Despite being 23 years old Alex Meyer had yet to pitch above Single-A when the Twins acquired him from the Nationals for Denard Span last offseason, but he made the jump to Double-A last season and posted a 3.21 ERA with 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a .227 opponents' batting average. Unfortunately a shoulder injury limited Meyer to 13 starts and 70 innings, but he was healthy enough to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and threw 28 strong innings.

Meyer was the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Kentucky and the right-hander has the raw stuff to match his 6-foot-9 frame, throwing in the mid-90s with his fastball and complementing it with a hard curveball and useful changeup. Last season among all Eastern League pitchers with at least a dozen starts Meyer ranked second in strikeout rate and sixth in ERA while actually faring better versus lefties than righties.

He induces a ton of ground balls and has allowed a grand total of just nine homers in 207 innings, but not surprisingly for a huge pitcher who throws extremely hard Meyer's control is pretty shaky. If things go well for Meyer this season he could be in Minnesota by the All-Star break and he has the potential to be the first top-of-the-rotation starter the Twins have had since Johan Santana, but first he'll need to stay healthy and shut down Triple-A hitters.

2. Miguel Sano | Third Base | DOB: 5/93 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    293     .292     .352     .637     20     45     23     77
2012     A-     553     .258     .373     .521     28     60     80    144
2013     A+     243     .330     .424     .655     16     33     29     61
         AA     276     .236     .344     .571     19     37     36     81

Miguel Sano crushed high Single-A pitching to begin last season, hitting .330/.424/.655 with 16 homers in 56 games to earn a promotion to Double-A, where he continued to show huge power with 19 homers in 67 games but saw his batting average drop nearly 100 points. And yet even while hitting just .236 there only seven Eastern League hitters had a higher OPS than Sano and he was one of only four 20-and-under position players in the entire league.

Overall he hit .280/.382/.610 with 35 homers, 70 total extra-base hits, and 65 walks. He even swiped 11 bases to show that he's got some wheels at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. And then just as Sano was on the verge of the majors, perhaps even having a slight chance to win an Opening Day job, he had elbow problems while playing winter ball. Rest and rehab worked, but only briefly, and after a setback early in spring training he underwent Tommy John elbow surgery.

Even before the elbow injury Sano was questionable to stick at third base long term, but the vast majority of his value will come from his bat no matter where he is defensively. Missing a year of development at age 21 is unfortunate, especially since Sano's high strikeout rate is an area that could use improvement, but he may get some late-season at-bats as a designated hitter. His timetable has been delayed and his picture is a little blurrier, but Sano remains a stud.

1. Byron Buxton | Center Field | DOB: 12/93 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK-    102     .216     .324     .466      4     11     11     26
         RK+     87     .286     .368     .429      1      8      8     15
2013     A-     321     .341     .431     .559      8     33     44     56
         A+     253     .326     .415     .472      4     16     32     49

Considered the highest-upside prospect in the 2012 draft class, Byron Buxton fell to the Twins with the No. 2 pick when the Astros chose high school shortstop Carlos Correa instead. At the time there were questions about whether Buxton was ready to thrive as a pro after facing sub par competition as a Georgia high schooler, but he made those disappear almost immediately and two years later he's the consensus No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.

Buxton hit .341 in 68 games at low Single-A and batted .326 in 57 games following a promotion to high Single-A, where he was the only teenage hitter in the entire Florida State League. Overall as a 19-year-old in his first full season he batted .334/.424/.520 with 49 extra-base hits, 55 steals, and 76 walks in 125 games, which would be incredible for, say, a plodding first baseman. Buxton is a potential Gold Glove-caliber center fielder with truly elite speed and athleticism. He's a freak.

His high walk rate and reasonable strikeout rate were particularly encouraging to see, because it's tough to predict how well raw high school hitters will control the strike zone. Single-A is still just Single-A and he needs to prove himself against advanced competition, but Buxton's combination of age, tools, skill set, and production is nearly flawless to this point. As long as a spring training wrist injury proves relatively minor he has a shot to debut for the Twins before his 21st birthday.

June 13, 2012

Byron Buxton gets $6 million as Twins sign 10 of their first 11 draft picks

One of the nice things about the draft-related changes to the collective bargaining agreement is that MLB moved the signing deadline from mid-August to mid-July, encouraging players to sign quickly and get their pro careers started in the minors. Kyle Gibson and Levi Michael are recent Twins first-round picks who signed too late to debut the year they were drafted, but this year the Twins have already signed 10 of their first 11 picks within two weeks of the draft.

That includes No. 2 overall pick Byron Buxton, who arrived in Minnesota yesterday to undergo his pre-signing physical exam and also took batting practice at Target Field in the same hitting group as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Jim Callis of Baseball America reports that Buxton agreed to a $6 million signing bonus, which is slightly below the $6.2 million slot figure and substantially more than the $4.8 million Carlos Correa got from the Astros as the No. 1 pick.

Not every dollar figure is public yet, but Baseball America reports that No. 32 pick Jose Berrios agreed to a deal for the exact slot amount of $1.55 million and No. 63 pick Mason Melotakis accepted $750,000 compared to the slot amount of $818,500. And among the 11 players the Twins took within the draft's first 250 overall selections Georgia Tech right-hander and No. 42 pick Luke Bard is the only one yet to sign.

All of which is a major change from past years and particularly encouraging for Buxton, who can now get an early start on his development and potentially play a full rookie-ball season at age 18. Buxton will likely be assigned to the Gulf Coast League, which is the lower level of rookie-ball, and if things go well there early on Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that the Twins could move him up one level of rookie-ball to the Appalachian League by season's end.

Even the best-case scenario for Buxton's development probably won't get him to Minnesota before 2015 and not arriving until 2016 or 2017 wouldn't be surprising, but to get him signed, get him working with Twins coaches, and get him in the lineup against professional pitchers just weeks after being drafted is a nice first step down the long road to the big leagues. I'm already looking forward to checking those rookie-ball box scores.

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