September 1, 2015

Meet the Twins’ September call-ups

Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas Twins

September 1 roster expansion means an assortment of new and sort-of-new players added to the Twins' roster for the final month of the season. Top pitching prospect Jose Berrios remains in the minors, where he's started 26 games and thrown 161 innings this season while the Twins compete for a Wild Card spot with a shaky rotation. It's possible Berrios and others will be added later, but for now here's a look at the first wave of September call-ups:

Kennys Vargas, 24-year-old first baseman

Kennys Vargas was the Opening Day designated hitter on the strength of his 54-game rookie showing, but when he struggled the Twins demoted him to the minors. Twice, actually. First they dropped him to Triple-A and then to Double-A. He fared well at both levels, hitting .283/.414/.496 with 13 homers in 73 total games. That's actually better production than Vargas had at Double-A in 2014 when the Twins called him up the first time, but things have changed.

Miguel Sano is now the starting designated hitter and even if Sano shifts to third base in the future to open up the DH spot it's not clear the Twins view Vargas as the best candidate for the job. In the minors he's combined big-time power with good plate discipline, but Vargas swung at everything in the majors while compiling an ugly 111/19 K/BB ratio in 100 games. By comparison he drew 26 walks in just 38 games at Triple-A. Vargas can hit, but so can lots of DHs.

Danny Santana, 24-year-old shortstop

Danny Santana burst onto the scene with one of the best rookie seasons in Twins history, hitting .319/.353/.472 in 101 games while being thrust into center field as a career-long shortstop. Both his mediocre minor-league track record and underlying MLB numbers suggested it was largely a fluke performance, but Santana's regression was even steeper than expected. He was a disaster offensively and defensively, and the Twins finally demoted him to the minors for good on July 31.

Santana played well at Triple-A, hitting .322/.348/.500, but a 25/7 K/BB ratio in 35 games shows that he made little progress in controlling the strike zone after posting a ghastly 66/5 K/BB ratio in 74 games for the Twins. He has the potential to be a solid player and is still just 24 years old, but right now Santana lacks the plate discipline and defensive consistency to be a productive starting shortstop in the majors.

Michael Tonkin, 25-year-old right-hander

Michael Tonkin has spent most of the past three seasons in Rochester, consistently dominating Triple-A hitters with a 2.65 ERA and 128/25 K/BB ratio in 119 innings. During that time he's been called up by the Twins for a bunch of short stints--on several occasions 48 hours or less--and has held his own with a 4.07 ERA and 36/14 K/BB ratio in 42 innings while averaging 94 miles per hour with his fastball.

Tonkin is 25 years old with a strong minor-league track record, including three straight years of outstanding Triple-A performances. He stands 6-foot-7 and throws in the mid-90s with a sharp slider. He misses bats and throws strikes. Everything about Tonkin suggests he'd be a solid MLB reliever with late-inning upside, yet for whatever reason the Twins have refused to give him the same extended chance they've given plenty of shaky veterans during the past three seasons.

A.J. Achter, 26-year-old right-hander

A.J. Achter made his MLB debut as a September call-up last year and spent another two weeks with the Twins last month. He has a nice-looking 2.57 ERA in parts of three seasons at Triple-A, but it comes attached to a mediocre strikeout rate, sub par control, and a fastball that tops out in the low-90s. At age 26 he lacks upside, but if given an extended opportunity Achter is capable of finding some success as a middle reliever.

Eric Fryer, 29-year-old catcher

Eric Fryer spent six weeks as the Twins' backup catcher in July and August before they sent him back to Rochester in favor of Chris Herrmann. He returns now as a third catcher and had to be re-added to the 40-man roster to do so. Fryer has a good defensive reputation, but he's hit just .235/.316/.324 in 57 games as a big leaguer and .237/.328/.328 in 271 games at Triple-A. The bar for "decent backup catcher" is very low, but Fryer struggles to clear it.

(Players on the 40-man roster who have not received a September call-up yet: Max Kepler, Alex Meyer, Oswaldo Arcia, Josmil Pinto, Jorge Polanco, Aaron Thompson, Logan Darnell.)


Want a lot more about what September holds for the Twins and why they haven't called up Berrios, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

April 3, 2015

Season preview: Are the Twins ready to stop losing?

Paul Molitor

Nearly everyone involved with the Twins, from players and new manager Paul Molitor to general manager Terry Ryan and owner Jim Pohlad, seems convinced the team is poised to take a big step forward. Nearly everyone not involved with the Twins, from national writers and Las Vegas oddsmakers to numbers-driven projection systems and cranky local bloggers, seems convinced the team is headed for another last-place finish and possibly a fifth straight 90-loss season.

Sports Illustrated picks the Twins for last place and 67 wins. ESPN.com picks the Twins for last place and 68 wins. Baseball Prospectus projects the Twins for last place and 71 wins. Bovada sets the Twins' over/under win total at 72.5. FanGraphs projects the Twins for last place and 74 wins. Grantland picks the Twins for last place and "under 75 wins." CBS Sports picks the Twins for last place. Yahoo Sports picks the Twins for last place. You get the idea.

Last year the Twins were 72-90. Then they fired Ron Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager, handed out the largest free agent contract in team history to 32-year-old Ervin Santana at $55 million over four years, brought back Torii Hunter for a $10.5 million reunion at age 39, signed 33-year-old reliever Tim Stauffer for $2.2 million, and bypassed young talent in favor of veteran mediocrity for every roster spot up for grabs in spring training.

Those are all the moves of an organization that's sick of losing and also sick of their plummeting fan morale and season ticket sales. They spent big on veterans and further delayed the arrival of prospects, leading to an Opening Day roster with just four players who're 25 years old or younger in shortstop Danny Santana, left fielder Oswaldo Arcia, designated hitter Kennys Vargas, and Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham.

This is a rebuilding team in the sense that the Twins have been very bad and are still attempting to get back on track, but it's anything but a young team. Kyle Gibson is the youngest member of the starting rotation at 27. Graham is the only member of the seven-reliever bullpen under 30. Six of the nine starting position players are at least 28. In terms of their collective average ages, the rotation is 30, the bullpen is 31, and the lineup is 29.

When the reality of the Twins' organizational collapse finally sunk in around mid-2012 or so the idea was that they'd be back to contending by now, but injuries ruined those plans. Joe Mauer's concussion derailed his career and turned him from a Hall of Fame-caliber catcher to a mediocre first baseman. Instead of making their MLB debuts Miguel Sano missed all of last year following elbow surgery and Byron Buxton missed all but 31 games with a wrist injury and a concussion.

Buxton and Sano will begin this season as teammates at Double-A, the Twins sent 25-year-old pitching prospects Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and Michael Tonkin back to Triple-A rather than trust them with roster spots that went to Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey, and Blaine Boyer, and after back-to-back Opening Day starts in center field Aaron Hicks is back in Rochester too. Toss in Arcia's development stagnating a bit and it's easy to see where the rebuild sputtered.

The good news is Buxton and Sano remain superstar-caliber prospects, Meyer and May still have enough upside to project as impact pitchers in some role, and there's another wave of prospects coming soon led by Jose Berrios, Jorge Polanco, and Nick Burdi. The bad news is none of that figures to actually help the Twins win many games before the All-Star break. Sadly, being a Twins fan in 2015 is still more about waiting for help to arrive than watching it play at Target Field.

Brian Dozier; Danny Santana

There's a lot of optimism surrounding the Twins' offense after the lineup produced the fifth-most runs in the American League last season, but building on or even duplicating that performance is hardly a sure thing. For starters, Santana was the only hitter on the team to crack an .800 OPS last season, coming out of nowhere to hit .319/.353/.473 as a rookie after batting .273/.314/.388 in the minors while failing to top a .725 OPS at Single-A, Double-A, or Triple-A.

Santana is good enough, young enough, and skilled enough to buy into reevaluating his upside compared to what his minor-league track record suggested, but his rookie success was still driven by an unsustainable .405 batting average on balls in play and came despite an ugly 98/19 K/BB ratio. The combination of a so-so track record, poor plate discipline, and a high batting average on balls in play makes him a prime regression candidate.

Brian Dozier also needs to fight his track record to show his 2014 was for real, albeit to a lesser extent than Santana. He was the Twins' best all-around position player, hitting .245/.345/.416 with 23 homers, 21 steals, 89 walks, and solid defense to rank among the top half-dozen second basemen in MLB. Clearly the Twins buy into Dozier's age-27 breakout, but prior to 2014 he hit just .240/.297/.384 in the majors and .232/.286/.337 at Triple-A.

Kurt Suzuki was another source of unexpectedly strong offense, hitting .288/.345/.383 to make his first All-Star team at age 30. As with Dozier the Twins bought into his resurgence with a new contract, but Suzuki hit .253/.313/.362 in the second half to resemble his measly .237/.294/.357 line from 2010-2013. Jordan Schafer's track record strongly suggests he'll be unable to repeat his 41-game Twins showing and Hunter is fighting father time at age 39.

All of which isn't to say the lineup lacks the ability to improve in spots. Mauer getting back to his usual self would be huge and he hit .300 with a .400 on-base percentage in his final 55 games. Arcia should take a step forward at age 24 and is capable of breaking out with a better approach. But for the most part more hitters are likely to decline than improve, some by wide margins. Of course, Buxton and Sano showing up in May or June ready to thrive could change everything.

Then there's defense, which has played an overlooked part in the Twins' struggles as the focus tends to be on the "pitching" rather than the run prevention of pitching plus defense. Combined from 2011-2014 the Twins ranked 28th in Ultimate Zone Rating at 90 runs below average and 24th in Defensive Runs Saved at 115 runs below average. They've been horrendous, especially in the outfield, which is doubly bad combined with fly-ball, strikeout-phobic pitching staffs.

Infield defense may not be bad because Dozier is solid at second base, Santana has the skills to be a plus shortstop, Trevor Plouffe showed big improvement at third base, and Mauer is fine at first base. However, the outfield is guaranteed to be a major weakness again. Arcia and Hunter were two of MLB's worst defensive corner outfielders last year and it's asking a lot of Schafer (or Hicks) to cover up their mess when he's actually gotten below average marks in center field.

Phil Hughes Twins

Last offseason the Twins gave a four-year, $49 million deal to Ricky Nolasco and a three-year, $24 million contract to Phil Hughes, and this offseason they took the uncharacteristic pursuit of free agent pitching even further by signing Santana for $55 million. Hughes got three years and $42 million tacked on to his previous deal following a breakout 2014 season and the Twins have Pelfrey and Milone under contract for a combined $8.5 million in 2015.

That's a lot of resources devoted to veteran starters and there's also a hidden cost that comes with having pitchers with guaranteed salaries locked into rotation spots that might otherwise be handed over to prospects. Hughes is signed through 2019, Santana is signed through 2018, Nolasco is signed through 2017, and even though Pelfrey and Milone aren't signed beyond this season the Twins were still hesitant to push them aside.

Hughes was a tremendous find on what was a very reasonable free agent contract that the Twins turned into a much bigger commitment. He logged 210 innings and pitched even better than his solid 3.52 ERA, striking out 186 and walking 16 for the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the history of baseball. Asking for a repeat of that performance is wishful thinking, but Hughes seemed like a truly different pitcher last season and enters this year as a clear-cut No. 1 starter.

Santana was signed to take over the No. 2 spot and what he lacks in upside he makes up for in durability, although he's probably more of a No. 3 starter on a contending team. Nolasco looked like a No. 3 starter when the Twins gave him $49 million last offseason, but then pitched horribly for several months before revealing he was hurt and is now a question mark the Twins no doubt regret signing.

Gibson is the lone homegrown pitcher in the rotation and the former top prospect finally broke through last season to throw 179 innings in 31 starts. He was wildly inconsistent, but the end result was a 4.47 ERA in a league where the average starter was below 4.00. Inducing lots of ground balls helps Gibson make up for a lack of missed bats, but at age 27 and with just 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings his upside looks limited to the back of the rotation.

Milone beat out Pelfrey and May for the fifth spot and the soft-tossing left-hander will try to show that his awful post-trade performance for the Twins was due to a benign tumor in his neck that required surgery. Milone was a solid back-of-the-rotation starter for the A's, but Oakland's pitcher-friendly ballpark overstated his effectiveness and helped compensate for a mid-80s fastball. He has a 4.80 career ERA in non-Oakland ballparks.

If the goal was to put together a rotation less likely to be a disaster than the 2011-2014 versions the Twins absolutely accomplished that, but the price tags indicate they have much higher hopes and that may be pushing things. This is the worst rotation in the AL Central even if it's assumed Hughes will avoid turning back into a pumpkin and there isn't much upside unless Meyer and/or May hit the ground running soon. And compared to the bullpen the rotation is a strength.

Glen Perkins was one of the elite relievers in baseball for 3.5 seasons before melting down late last year while pitching through an injury. The bullpen desperately needs him to be his pre-injury self or things could get very ugly. Casey Fien is the primary setup man. Brian Duensing, who was a non-tender candidate, is the only lefty. Stauffer and Boyer have prominent roles and the Twins are hoping Pelfrey's one-pitch arsenal fits better in relief. It's an underwhelming group.


This should be the least-awful Twins team since 2010, but that's not saying much and confidence in even that mild statement dropped when they stacked the roster with Pelfrey, Milone, Duensing, Boyer, Schafer, Stauffer, Shane Robinson, Chris Herrmann, and Eduardo Nunez. That's a lot of self-imposed dreck for a team with better, younger options and there's a depressingly strong chance the same "are the Twins ready to stop losing?" question can be asked 365 days from now.

March 18, 2015

When should the Twins call up Buxton, Sano, and Berrios?

Sano and Buxton

Putting an early end to all the "will they make the Opening Day roster?" questions, the Twins sent top prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jose Berrios to the minor-league side of camp. All three players are expected to begin the season at Double-A, where they'll likely be joined by fellow top-15 prospects Jorge Polanco, Nick Burdi, and Max Kepler, so Chattanooga Lookouts fans should enjoy their first season as a Twins affiliate.

After years of hearing about their upside it's understandable that many fans are clamoring to see Buxton, Sano, and Berrios at Target Field as soon as possible, but a little more patience is needed. For one thing, none of them look ready for the majors. Buxton was limited to just 31 games last season due to significant injuries and didn't play very well when in the lineup. Sano missed the entire season following elbow surgery. Berrios has pitched all of 43 innings above Single-A.

There have certainly been instances in which the Twins have kept prospects in the minors too long and in fact 25-year-old Alex Meyer may be a current example, but Buxton, Sano, and Berrios don't fit the description. Buxton and Sano are 21 years old, Berrios turns 21 in May, and all three are on track to reach the majors at some point this season. Opening Day jobs would short-change their development and short-change the Twins' team control of three building block talents.

By waiting as little as a few weeks to promote a prospect to the majors the Twins gain an entire additional year of pre-free agency team control over that player. In other words, if Buxton were in the majors for Opening Day and stayed there for good he would become a free agent following the 2020 season. However, if the Twins waited to call up Buxton until May he would become a free agent following the 2021 season. For better or worse, service time is an important consideration.

Even if you think Buxton, Sano, and Berrios are ready to thrive in the majors--and there's little evidence that's the case--why would a team prefer one month of them at age 21 over an entire season of them at age 28? If the Chattanooga Lookouts are destroying the Southern League in June and the Twins still haven't moved their stud prospects up the ladder there will be plenty of reason to complain, but for now their patience is better for everyone involved.

In the meantime the Twins need to evaluate whether Trevor Plouffe is part of their future plans, either at third base if Sano is forced to shift down the defensive spectrum or at another position. And if he's not, then his first-half performance will help determine if he's able to fetch something via trade or looks more like an offseason non-tender candidate. Similarly, the Twins need to figure out whether Aaron Hicks is a lost cause and could let him keep center field warm for Buxton.

Berrios is somewhat different in that the pitcher keeping his rotation spot warm is likely Tommy Milone or Mike Pelfrey, neither of whom have any real upside, but Meyer is still likely ahead of Berrios on the call-up list by virtue of being four years older with 160 more Double-A and Triple-A innings. Plus, it's a mere 14-hour drive from Minneapolis to Chattanooga and after watching the Twins' future on one field you can stop by the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame.


This week's blog content is sponsored by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, which is hosting a Twins season ticket giveaway contest on their website, MNFarmTeam.com.

March 4, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

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

5. 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
2014     A-     19     19     2.59      87.0      75      4      62     24

Considered the top high school prospect in the 2013 draft, the Twins selected Texas right-hander Kohl Stewart fourth overall after college stars went 1-2-3. On draft day scouting director Deron Johnson described Stewart's ceiling as "unlimited" and he signed for $4.5 million, bypassing a chance to follow in Johnny Manziel's footstep as Texas A&M's quarterback. Stewart had a great pro debut with a 1.35 ERA and 24/4 K/BB ratio in 20 rookie-ball innings.

He moved up to low Single-A last season and on the surface Stewart had similar success, posting a 2.59 ERA in 19 starts and holding opponents to a .233 batting average. However, he managed just 62 strikeouts in 87 innings, struggled to maintain peak fastball velocity, and was shut down with shoulder problems. High school pitchers make risky top-10 picks for a reason and Stewart failed to crack Baseball America's annual top-100 prospects list after placing 52nd last year.

Along with the sub par strikeout rate he did induce plenty of ground balls and allow just 17 total extra-base hits in 360 plate appearances, so if the shoulder issues prove minor Stewart's first full season was hardly a disaster. If not for the hype attached with being a top-five pick simply holding his own against low Single-A hitters as an 19-year-old with 20 post-high school innings under his belt would be very encouraging.

4. 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
2014     AAA    27     27     3.52     130.1     116     10     153     64

Acquired from the Nationals in exchange for Denard Span two offseasons ago, Alex Meyer was the 23rd pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Kentucky and the 6-foot-9 right-hander with a mid-90s fastball has a 3.14 ERA with 420 strikeouts in 364 innings as a pro. Last year he made 27 starts at Triple-A and struck out 153 in 130 innings, leading the International League in strikeouts and strikeout rate. Yet he's already 25 years old and hasn't debuted in the majors.

Poor control and some nagging arm issues have certainly delayed Meyer's arrival to the majors, but when a last-place team has a top-50 prospect make 27 starts at Triple-A as a 24-year-old that rightfully raises eyebrows. For some context: In the majors last season 750 games were started by a pitcher younger than Meyer and he's less than six months older than Madison Bumgarner. Meyer is a very good prospect who's almost too old to be considered a very good prospect.

Meyer has an overpowering fastball that approaches triple-digits, his slider and knuckle-curveball receive praise, and his changeup is said to be improving. And coming from a 6-foot-9 frame adds a little extra to every pitch. If he can stay healthy and harness his dominant raw stuff Meyer has top-of-the-rotation potential, but shifting to the bullpen to unleash his fastball even further gives him a late-inning relief role to fall back on if needed.

3. 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
2014     A+     16     16     1.96      96.1      78      4     109     23
         AA      8      8     3.54      40.2      33      2      28     12

Jose Berrios was the Twins' "other" 2012 first-round pick, going 30 spots after Byron Buxton in the compensatory slot received for losing Michael Cuddyer via free agency. He's six-foot-nothing on a good day, but Berrios regularly works in the mid-90s with his fastball and complements it with a good curveball and changeup. Not yet 21 years old, he spent much of 2014 at Double-A, made a cameo at Triple-A, and was named the Twins' minor league pitcher of the year.

Berrios dominated high Single-A hitters to begin last season, starting 16 games with a 1.96 ERA and 109/23 K/BB ratio in 96 innings while holding opponents to a .218 batting average. He was one of just three 20-year-olds to make at least 15 starts in the Florida State League and then in July he moved up to Double-A, where he was the youngest pitcher in the Eastern League to throw more than 40 innings.

Even with a poor season-ending start at Triple-A included his overall numbers were brilliant for a 20-year-old, with a 2.77 ERA and 140/38 K/BB ratio in 140 innings. Berrios is often overshadowed within the Twins' system, but he'd be the No. 1 prospect for a lot of teams and could be knocking on the door to the majors in the second half. It's subjective, of course, but Berrios' mix of upside and polish makes him arguably the Twins' top pitching prospect since Matt Garza in 2007.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
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
2014

As a 20-year-old Miguel Sano destroyed Single-A and was one of the best hitters at Double-A in 2013, hitting .280/.382/.610 with 35 homers and 65 walks. Last spring he arrived in Fort Myers on the verge of the majors, but elbow problems that first popped up during winter ball worsened early in camp and Sano underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire season, losing a crucial year of development at age 21, and must now re-establish himself as an elite prospect.

Sano's chances of sticking at third base always seemed iffy given his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame and now his arm strength, which had been his main asset defensively, may be diminished by the elbow surgery. The good news is that Sano's upside offensively is high enough that even being forced to move from third base to right field or first base would leave plenty of room for stardom, although he certainly also has lots to prove at the plate following a lost year.

You won't find prospects with more power potential than Sano, but his .268 batting average and 286 strikeouts in 252 games above rookie-ball are possible red flags. Or at least reasons to pause dreams about Sano turning into the next Miguel Cabrera. There are only six active right-handed hitters with a batting average below .270 and an OPS above .800: Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, Carlos Quentin, and Mike Napoli.

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
2014     A+     134     .240     .313     .405      4     10     10     33

This time last year Byron Buxton was MLB's consensus No. 1 prospect after hitting .334 with 49 extra-base hits, 55 steals, and 76 walks between two levels of Single-A as a 19-year-old. Then a spring training wrist injury that was supposed to be minor knocked him out for most of the first half. He returned to Single-A for 30 games and hit just .240, at which point the Twins promoted him to Double-A and he suffered a concussion from a brutal outfield collision in his first game.

While not a totally lost season like Miguel Sano experienced, Buxton played poorly when not sidelined by two significant injuries and now faces the same post-concussion question marks that loomed over Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span. The good news is Buxton is still just 21 years old. He'll begin this season as one of the youngest players at Double-A or Triple-A and could be the first 21-year-old with 100 plate appearances for the Twins since Mauer in 2004.

Thanks to the rough 2014 he's no longer MLB's consensus No. 1 prospect, but Buxton still claims the top spot on several prominent lists and holds a top-three spot everywhere. Upsides simply do not get much higher than a Gold Glove center fielder with a middle-of-the-order bat and 50-steal speed, and before the injuries he showed more plate discipline and power than expected in the early stages of his development. He has franchise-lifting talent if he can just stay healthy.


For a lengthy discussion about what to expect from Miguel Sano following a lost season, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

September 24, 2014

Twins Notes: Hughes, Perkins, Vargas, Liriano, Worley, and Arcia

Phil Hughes Twins

• With one start remaining Phil Hughes has an incredible 181-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 202 innings. Not only is that by far the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball this season, it's the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball history among all pitchers with 150 or more innings:

                    YEAR     SO/BB
PHIL HUGHES         2014     11.31
Bret Saberhagen     1994     11.00
Cliff Lee           2010     10.28
Curt Schilling      2002      9.58
Pedro Martinez      2000      8.88
Greg Maddux         1997      8.85
Pedro Martinez      1999      8.46

That's a helluva list to sit atop.

Hughes is 15-10 with a 3.61 ERA in 31 starts. The rest of the Twins' rotation is 31-58 with a 5.60 ERA in 126 starts.

UPDATE: The good news is Hughes finished his final start with the all-time K/BB ratio record intact. The bad news is thanks to an ill-timed rain delay he might finish one out short of $500,000.

Glen Perkins tried to pitch through what was initially believed to be a minor neck injury, but after several bad outings in which he clearly wasn't right physically the Twins sent him for more testing. He was then shut down after being diagnosed with what they're calling a forearm strain and nerve irritation. It's unfortunate, because not only does Perkins head into the offseason as a question mark, his attempts to pitch through the injury ruined his strong season totals.

As of August 25 he had a 2.44 ERA and 64/9 K/BB ratio in 55 innings, but then Perkins allowed 10 runs in 6.1 innings to inflate his ERA to 3.65. During that span he gave up five home runs in eight games after giving up a total of seven home runs in his previous 116 games since the start of last year. Everyone acts like playing through injury is to be commended, but it usually goes badly for player and team. Perkins says he learned his lesson about "trying to be a tough guy."

Kennys Vargas and Jose Berrios were named the Twins' minor league player and pitcher of the year. Vargas hit .281/.360/.472 with 17 homers in 97 games at Double-A as a 23-year-old before being called up to the majors on August 1. Berrios split his age-20 season between high Single-A and Double-A--with a late cameo at Triple-A--posting a 2.76 ERA and 140/38 K/BB ratio in 140 total innings. Last season's winners were Byron Buxton and Andrew Albers.

• Vargas' early success for the Twins has been hugely fun to watch, although his horrific 58-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 48 games is a massive red flag and surprising considering his solid walk rates in the minors. Vargas was handed the cleanup spot after one week in the majors, which is very rare in Twins history. In fact, here's a list of Twins with the most starts in the cleanup spot through 48 career games:

KENNYS VARGAS     44
Kent Hrbek        20
David Ortiz       19
Justin Morneau    16
Todd Walker       14
Chris Parmelee    13
Tom Brunansky     12

Vargas also has nine homers through 48 games, which is tied with Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, and Josmil Pinto for the third-most behind Marty Cordova and Tom Brunansky with 10 apiece.

Francisco Liriano is in the midst of a 28-inning scoreless streak and now has a 3.32 ERA with 170 strikeouts in 157 innings for the Pirates after posting a 3.02 ERA with 163 strikeouts in 161 innings for the Pirates last season. His rotation-mate, Vance Worley, has a 2.93 ERA and 75/22 K/BB ratio in 104 innings. Add it all up and Pittsburgh has gotten 417 innings of a 3.15 ERA from Liriano and Worley for less than the Twins paid Mike Pelfrey.

Terry Ryan brushed off questions about Worley's turnaround in June, saying:

Give him a little time to see what he does over the course of starts. We'll talk about that in October. See how it goes.

Well, it's almost October. Also, just a reminder: Before selling Worley to the Pirates at the end of spring training the Twins sent him outright to Triple-A, which means they could have stashed him there all season without even taking up a 40-man roster spot. They gave him away for no reason other than they were convinced he had zero value. Worley, still just 26 years old, now has a 3.35 ERA in 382 career innings for non-Twins teams. And even Carlos Gomez is impressed.

Oswaldo Arcia has the seventh-highest Isolated Power in Twins history among all hitters with 750 or more plate appearances:

Harmon Killebrew     .258
Don Mincher          .239
Bob Allison          .225
Josh Willingham      .214
Jimmie Hall          .212
Justin Morneau       .207
OSWALDO ARCIA        .202
Tom Brunansky        .202
Kent Hrbek           .199
Torii Hunter         .198
David Ortiz          .195

Arcia has 33 homers, which is the fourth-most in Twins history through age 23 behind Brunansky (80), Hrbek (40), and Zoilo Versalles (34). He can't control the strike zone, can't hit lefties, and can't catch much in the outfield, but Arcia's power potential is special. And on the subject of his terrible defense, here's a fun little tidbit: Arcia played 77 games in center field as a minor leaguer, including some at Double-A. Think about that.

• Ultimate Zone Rating calculates the Twins' defense has been 85 runs below average since 2011, including -48 for the infield and -37 for the outfield. Obviously the Twins' pitching has been awful, but if you take awful, low-strikeout pitching and put awful defense behind it you have no chance.

• Post-trade performances: Josh Willingham has hit .243/.361/.400 in 23 games for the Royals to almost exactly match his .210/.345/.402 line in 68 games for the Twins. Sam Fuld came back down to earth, hitting .211/.270/.320 in 48 games for the A's. Kendrys Morales has continued to be terrible, hitting .206/.274/.335 in 53 games for the Mariners. Kevin Correia has continued to be Kevin Correia, posting an 8.03 ERA in 25 innings for the Dodgers.

And since the Twins decided not to trade him and gave him a two-year contract extension instead, Kurt Suzuki has hit .256/.291/.383 with a 15/3 K/BB ratio in 37 games.

Pedro Florimon, who began this season as the Opening Day shortstop, was claimed off waivers by the Nationals when the Twins took him off the 40-man roster. He's a good defensive shortstop, but Florimon hit .205/.266/.300 in 210 games for the Twins. The only players in the history of the Twins to log more appearances with a lower OPS than Florimon are Jerry Zimmerman and Jim Kaat. Kaat was a pitcher.

• Across baseball this season there have been more than 1,700 games started by pitchers younger than Kyle Gibson. He might be inexperienced and he might be inconsistent, but he's not young.

• By my calculations the Twins have as many as 19 players on the 40-man roster they could cut, although my guess is that they'll keep half of them.

• It's official now: If the Twins don't fire Ron Gardenhire he'll be just the third manager in the history of baseball to keep his job following four consecutive 90-loss seasons.

• Last time the Twins won 90 games in back-to-back seasons was 2003/2004. Since then they have a 789-828 record for a .488 winning percentage.

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