October 16, 2013

Twins Notes: Roster cuts, post-trade Morneau, attendance, and Big Papi

josh roenicke twins

• Three weeks ago I listed 16 players in danger of being removed from the 40-man roster and so far the Twins have dropped five of them: Josh Roenicke, Clete Thomas, Doug Bernier, Cole De Vries, Shairon Martis. I'd expect at least another 3-4 cuts by the end of the World Series, but in the meantime the Twins already re-signed Bernier to a minor-league contract that keeps the 33-year-old journeyman in the organization without a 40-man roster spot.

Roenicke being cut might have surprised some people simply because he spent the entire season in the Twins' bullpen and logged the same number of innings as Glen Perkins, but he posted a 4.35 ERA compared to the league average of 3.69 for relievers and his secondary numbers were actually even worse with a 45-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His stats for the Rockies last season were similarly underwhelming and at age 31 he was due for a raise via arbitration.

Thomas started 79 games for the Twins, including 48 in center field, but hit .214/.290/.307 with 92 strikeouts in 322 plate appearances to finish with the same exact .597 OPS as Aaron Hicks. He was a bit better defensively than I expected, but Thomas is hardly a great center fielder and doesn't hit enough to be more than a backup. That player type is always available on waivers or minor-league deals, and Alex Presley's arrival made Thomas especially superfluous.

Bernier, De Vries, and Martis are exactly who baseball analysts are talking about when they refer to "replacement-level players" being readily available. It's important to have them stockpiled at Triple-A heading into every season, but it's also important to bring in a fresh batch every winter without clogging up the 40-man roster and as the Twins have shown recently things get ugly in a hurry when more than a few of them are pressed into extended action.

• Making official what was reported at the time of the trade, the Twins acquired Duke Welker from the Pirates as the player to be named later in the Justin Morneau deal. I wrote quite a bit about Welker as part of my overall analysis of the trade on August 31, but the quick version is that he's a big right-handed reliever with a mid-90s fastball, good strikeout totals, and terrible control. Not a bad flier to get along with Presley, but Welker is already 27 years old.

Including the postseason Morneau ended up hitting .267 with zero homers and a .317 slugging percentage in 31 games for the Pirates. Overall this season between Minnesota and Pittsburgh he hit .260/.325/.413 in 158 games and combined for the past three seasons he hit .256/.329/.406 in 361 games. There are still local media members stumping for Morneau's return to the Twins as a 33-year-old free agent, but it's awfully hard to understand why.

David Ortiz's dramatic grand slam for the Red Sox led to all the usual grousing about why the Twins let him go back in 2003 and it's important to note that it wasn't for a lack of hitting. Ortiz has the fifth-highest OPS in Twins history among all hitters with at least 1,500 plate appearances through age 26, which is when he left. The only Twins with a higher OPS through 26?  Joe Mauer, Kent Hrbek, Morneau, and Lyman Bostock. Ortiz could always hit. And look at that punim.

Speaking of Ortiz's time in Minnesota, here's an interesting Associated Press story from 2001:

Minnesota Twins designated hitter David Ortiz was placed on the disabled list Saturday, a day after breaking his right wrist diving into home plate.

Ortiz was injured Friday night in the fourth inning of Minnesota's 6-2 victory over Kansas City. One inning later, he homered into the right-field bullpen, but rounding the bases he knew the pain was more than discomfort. He then went to a hospital for X-rays. Ortiz is expected to miss six to eight weeks. ...

Twins' trainers at first thought Ortiz hurt a thumb. "We asked David maybe 90 times or 100, I'm not sure, I lost track: Are you all right?" manager Tom Kelly said. "He said he was, so we let him hit. After he hit, the trainers said his wrist was starting to swell, so we got him out of there."

Kelly seemed to take the injury in stride. "We don't cry about injuries," he said. "We never have and we're not going to start now. I had a man go blind one day, a Hall of Fame player. We just move along. Injuries are part of the game."

Ortiz might be out of place in the Twins' lineup these days, but the injury stuff sounds familiar.

• Twins attendance fell by 3,688 fans per game this season, which was the fifth-largest drop in baseball. In their first two seasons at Target Field the Twins averaged 39,000 fans per game, but that dropped to 34,000 last year and 31,000 this year. And those are tickets sold figures rather than actual fans in the seats. In their final season at the Metrodome the Twins averaged 29,446 fans per game, which seems fairly likely to top next year's totals at Target Field.

• Over the years I've criticized Ron Gardenhire and the Twins for their unwillingness to platoon hitters, which is something Gardenhire and general manager Terry Ryan talked openly about last month in a series of somewhat maddening quotes. Jack Moore of Sports On Earth wrote a very interesting article about how the A's among the teams to take the opposite approach to platooning with lots of success.

• In addition to Bernier the Twins also re-signed Triple-A players James Beresford, Jermaine Mitchell, Lester Oliveros, and Virgil Vasquez to minor-league contracts. Beresford could get a look as a potential utility infielder next season and Oliveros was in the majors before missing this season following Tommy John elbow surgery.

Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors took a lengthy look at some of the key roster issues facing the Twins heading into the offseason.

• MLB Productions released some old video this week that involved a bit of Twins history.

• For more on Morneau's post-trade performance, plus Twins payroll projections and reviewing over/under picks, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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September 18, 2013

Who will the Twins purge from the 40-man roster this offseason?

parmelee hendriks duensing

At the beginning of each offseason every team goes through the ritual housecleaning of shedding players from the 40-man roster to prepare for a winter of adding new players and protecting new prospects. As one of baseball's worst teams for a third straight year the Twins have no shortage of dead weight on the 40-man roster, plus plenty of marginal talents clinging to spots, so here's my breakdown of the players most likely to be shed and where they stand (in alphabetical order):

Andrew Albers: Odds are Albers' early success after being called up is enough to keep him on the 40-man roster for next season, but as of about two months ago he was nowhere to be found in the Twins' plans and soft-tossing former independent leaguers tend to always be close to the chopping block. Extreme strike-throwing could allow Albers to survive as a fifth starter for a bit, but he's totally lacking in upside and has predictably struggled to miss bats.

Doug Bernier: Signed to a minor-league deal this offseason, Bernier had the best season of his dozen-year career by hitting .295/.370/.407 in 95 games as Rochester's starting shortstop. That earned him a call-up in July when the Twins demoted Eduardo Escobar from the utility infielder role and Bernier has played sparingly. As a 33-year-old career .249/.347/.341 hitter in 600 total games at Triple-A there's no reason to keep a marginal utility man on the roster.

Chris Colabello: He crushed Triple-A pitching to be named MVP of the International League, but Colabello has hit just .196 with a 51-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 47 games for the Twins and 29-year-old rookies signed out of independent leagues often don't get second chances. He's shown some pop and based on his Triple-A destruction Colabello seems capable of being at least a useful platoon first baseman against lefties, but it's hard to imagine his roster spot being secure.

Cole De Vries: As a local guy and undrafted free agent De Vries making his big-league debut last year at age 27 was a great story, but he was never particularly deserving of the call-up in the first place based on his track record and this year he was injured and ineffective at Triple-A. De Vries is exactly the type of pitcher who will be available on minor-league deals every offseason and there's zero reason for the Twins to keep him on the 40-man roster like they have since mid-2012.

Brian Duensing: After a miserable first half that saw him demoted from setup man to mop-up man Duensing has quietly turned things around in the second half. His overall numbers are solid, including a 53-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just three homers allowed in 56 innings, but he'll never be trustworthy versus right-handed hitters and with a raise to at least $2 million coming up via arbitration he's a non-tender candidate.

Eric Fryer: Added to the 40-man roster and called up two weeks ago because the Twins simply needed another warm body behind the plate after Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit suffered brain injuries, Fryer got the nod despite a .215/.339/.365 line in 65 games at Triple-A. His track record is similarly poor and at age 27 there's no upside to be had, so it seems safe to assume that Fryer will be dropped from the 40-man roster as soon as the season is over.

Liam Hendriks: Being rushed to the majors slightly ahead of schedule in 2012 hasn't helped and giving up on Hendriks at age 24 would be a drastic move. On the other hand underwhelming raw stuff and mediocre strikeout rates always made him a second-tier prospect, his results for the Twins so far have been brutally bad, and this year his Triple-A performance also ceased being encouraging. It all depends on how long the Twins want to wait for a potential fourth starter.

B.J. Hermsen: Terrible strikeout rates and poor fastball velocity stopped Hermsen from being a quality prospect despite nice-looking ERAs in the low minors. He was named Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2012, but ranked just 29th in my prospect rankings coming into the season and then got knocked around at Double-A for a 4.81 ERA and .328 opponents' batting average with just 35 strikeouts in 86 innings. He's still only 24 years old, but has very little upside.

Pedro Hernandez: Acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade, Hernandez is a soft-tossing left-hander who likely struggles too much against right-handed hitters to succeed as a starter. Righties have hit .331/.400/.587 off him through 57 innings in the majors and also did a lot of damage off him in the minors. Hernandez fares well enough versus lefties to possibly carve out a bullpen niche, but that's true of most southpaw pitchers and his value is pretty limited.

Shairon Martis: Much like Fryer on the position player side, adding Martis to the 40-man roster and calling him up earlier this month would have warranted a lot more criticism if it didn't seem so obvious that the Twins will cut him loose as soon as the season ends. Martis is 26 years old with a 5.24 ERA in the majors and a 4.40 ERA at Triple-A, which includes a mediocre performance after shifting to the bullpen in Rochester this year. He has no business in the big leagues.

Darin Mastroianni: It's tough to evaluate Mastroianni's season because he got hurt during spring training and initially tried to play through the injury before undergoing ankle surgery that cost him four months. However, even before the lost season he was a marginal major leaguer ticketed for a bench role and he can't afford to lose any speed considering it's his primary skill. If healthy he's a useful backup outfielder, but he's a fairly fungible player type.

Chris Parmelee: There have been a few brief flashes of big-time production, both for the Twins and at Triple-A, but Parmelee simply hasn't hit enough. He's at .225/.299/.371 in 152 games for the Twins since an impressive September debut in 2011 and hit just .231/.318/.380 in 45 games at Triple-A this year. Going back further he hit just .282/.355/.416 at Double-A and will be 26 years old before spring training, so at the very least the clock is winding down on Parmelee.

Mike Pelfrey: Signed to a one-year, $4 million contract coming off Tommy John elbow surgery, Pelfrey was terrible early, decent in the middle, and terrible again recently. Add it all up and you get 28 starts of a 5.34 ERA with just 96 strikeouts in 147 innings and a .300 opponents' batting average. His fastball velocity doesn't help much without a usable off-speed pitch and a slow pace on the mound makes watching him torture. Free agency will take him off the 40-man roster.

Wilkin Ramirez: The latest example of the Twins overreacting to a strong spring training by a mediocre player, Ramirez won an Opening Day job despite a decade-long track record of terrible plate discipline and poor overall production in the minors. He's a career .255/.310/.430 hitter at Triple-A and hit .272/.302/.370 with an ugly 23-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the Twins before multiple injuries wrecked his season. He's also not a true center fielder defensively.

Josh Roenicke: Claimed off waivers from the Rockies last fall, Roenicke has done about what should have been expected by eating some low-leverage relief innings with too many walks and not enough strikeouts. He's basically a replacement-level middle reliever and at age 30 with a raise via arbitration eligibility ahead Roenicke wouldn't be missed in what looks to be a relatively deep right-handed bullpen mix for 2014.

Clete Thomas: Aaron Hicks' struggles and Mastroianni's injury led to Thomas getting a second shot with the Twins after struggling mightily last year in a brief look. He stuck around much longer this time, logging more than 300 plate appearances, but Thomas has hit just .219/.291/.314 with a ton of strikeouts and is simply overmatched as a regular. Decent range in center field is enough to make Thomas a usable backup outfielder, but the Twins should be able to do better.

For a lengthy discussion about what the Twins' roster will look like next season, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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July 18, 2013

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Pitchers

glen perkins and joe mauer

Last year Twins starters ranked dead last in the league with a 5.40 ERA, but after big talk of fixing the rotation the actual additions were inexpensive and uninspired. This year Twins starters have a 5.23 ERA that ranks dead last in either league and even with surprisingly good work from a largely makeshift bullpen the pitching staff has the league's worst ERA and fewest strikeouts. Before the second half gets underway here's a pitcher-by-pitcher look at the individual performances ...

Kevin Correia: .296/.336/.472 in 472 plate appearances

Signed to a two-year, $10 million contract that didn't make much sense this offseason, Kevin Correia posted a 2.23 ERA in April that had people coming up with all sorts of theories about why he'd turned a corner at age 32. Since the calendar flipped to May he's made 15 starts with a 5.21 ERA, allowing opponents to hit .321 with 15 homers in 74 innings. Since completing at least seven innings in each of his five April starts Correia has done so just once in his last 15 outings.

Overall he has a 4.23 ERA compared to the AL average of 4.08 and across baseball Correia ranks 85th among 89 qualified starters in both strikeout rate and swinging strike percentage, which is some serious pitching to contact. He's been slightly less ineffective than expected thanks to the fast start, but Correia has shown why the multi-year commitment was misguided and if the Twins can trade him before the ERA rises any further they should.

Scott Diamond: .313/.355/.514 in 394 plate appearances

Scott Diamond's miniscule strikeout rate suggested that last year's success would be short-lived and sure enough he unraveled in the first half. His strikeout rate fell even further to 4.2 per nine innings, which is the worst in baseball, and his walk and ground-ball rates declined from excellent to merely good. Toss in a 30-point uptick in Diamond's batting average on balls in play and you end up with an ERA that jumps from 3.54 to 5.32.

Diamond wasn't as good as he looked last season and isn't as bad as he's looked this season, but overall he's a whole lot closer to a left-handed Nick Blackburn than a long-term building block. In fact, through three seasons the comparison between Diamond and Blackburn is eerily close. Diamond has a 4.27 ERA and rates of 4.5 strikeouts, 2.1 walks, and 1.0 homers per nine innings. Blackburn had a 4.14 ERA and rates of 4.4 strikeouts, 1.8 walks, and 1.1 homers per nine innings.

Mike Pelfrey: .313/.359/.478 in 363 plate appearances

All the offseason and early spring training talk of Mike Pelfrey being vastly ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery gave way to his actually having to pitch and it was ugly. Pelfrey had a 6.66 ERA through 11 starts, including a .332 opponents' batting average and 26-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51 innings. He then likely saved his rotation spot with a decent five-start stretch to finish the first half, with a two-week disabled list stint mixed in.

Pelfrey wasn't particularly effective before the surgery, serving mostly as an innings-eater for the Mets, and going under the knife didn't fix his inability to miss bats. He relies almost exclusively on a low-90s fastball, which is why Pelfrey is averaging fewer than 6.0 strikeouts per nine innings for the eighth time in eight seasons. That pitch used to at least generate lots of ground balls, but his current rate of 43.8 percent is a career-low and actually qualifies Pelfrey as a fly-ball pitcher.

Samuel Deduno: .262/.327/.371 in 264 plate appearances

Last season Samuel Deduno was relatively successful with a 4.44 ERA in 15 starts despite nearly as many walks (57) as strikeouts (53) in 79 innings. Even that modest success won't work long term with those secondary numbers and somewhere along the way pitching coach Rick Anderson appears to have hammered that point home to Deduno. Prior to this year Deduno had walk rates of 6.1 per nine innings in the majors and 5.0 per nine innings at Triple-A. This year he's at 2.9.

It's a sample size of 10 starts, but Deduno has three or fewer walks in all 10 of them after doing so just half the time last year. His strikeout rate has actually fallen to 4.5 per nine innings, which is among MLB's worst, but he's made up for the lack of missed bats by nibbling less and letting the movement of his pitches induce an AL-high 61 percent ground balls. Or, put another way: Pitching to contact actually works for Deduno. There's more reason to believe in him now than last year.

Anthony Swarzak: .281/.314/.412 in 237 plate appearances

After three sub par years split between the rotation and bullpen Anthony Swarzak has taken a step forward as full-time long reliever. Compared to his first three seasons Swarzak has upped his strikeouts by 28 percent, reduced his walks by 26 percent, and become less fly-ball prone. He's been one of the most effective pitchers on the entire staff, although that's admittedly not saying much and because most of his work comes in long-relief spots his impact has been minimal.

In fact, the Twins are 6-21 when Swarzak pitches. That should be blamed on his role rather than his performance, which includes a 3.55 ERA and 41-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 58 innings. So far they've resisted the urge to put Swarzak back into the rotation and they've also yet to really move him up the bullpen hierarchy. Considering the overall state of the pitching staff if Swarzak keeps pitching this well in the second half he'd warrant some kind of higher-leverage gig.

Vance Worley: .381/.427/.577 in 234 plate appearances

When the Twins acquired 25-year-old Vance Worley from the Phillies in the Ben Revere trade he was supposed to step in as a long-term mid-rotation starter. Worley had thrown 278 innings with a 3.50 ERA for the Phillies and while there were questions about his many called strikeouts being sustainable there was little reason to expect a collapse. And then he went from Opening Day starter to Triple-A in less than two months, allowing 43 runs in 49 innings.

He generated just 15 strikeouts in 10 starts, got a swinging strike on an abysmal 4.5 percent of his pitches, and allowed a .381 opponents' batting average. Worley has been much better since the demotion to Rochester, but it's hard to be very encouraged by a 3.88 ERA at Triple-A when it comes with 34 strikeouts in 58 innings. He'll be back with the Twins at some point, but Worley hasn't been right since last year's elbow issues and was never a high-upside arm to begin with.

Ryan Pressly: .255/.321/.345 in 185 plate appearances

As far as Rule 5 picks go Ryan Pressly has been a big success. Used mostly for mopping up and long relief, he threw 44 innings with a 3.09 ERA and averaged 93 miles per hour with his fastball. Far less impressive than the shiny ERA is a 30-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio and Pressly is unlikely to be as stingy with homers going forward considering his high fly-ball rate, but he's been a useful member of the bullpen and has definitely shown some long-term upside.

Jared Burton: .247/.333/.377 in 184 plate appearances

Jared Burton picked up right where he left off following a fantastic 2012 season with a 2.10 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 26 innings through the end of May. Then he went through a rough patch while dealing with a groin injury, allowing 12 runs in 10 appearances as his ERA ballooned to 4.29 and he was removed from setup duties. Burton recovered to end the first half with six shutout outings in a row, although his usual swing-and-miss stuff still wasn't there.

Last year's .220 batting average on balls in play was always unsustainable and his overall stats remain decent with a 3.67 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 42 innings, but Burton has already walked more batters than all of last year and both his velocity and swinging strike rate are down slightly. Hopefully it's just a blip on the radar, because a healthy Burton can be light outs and he's signed through 2015 at salaries that make him a reasonably priced setup man or good trade bait.

P.J. Walters: .311/.383/.494 in 183 plate appearances

For the second time in two seasons the Twins called up P.J. Walters when their rotation was a mess, got a handful of decent outings from him before things fell apart, and then passed him through waivers unclaimed to keep the 28-year-old right-hander in the organization as Triple-A depth. Meanwhile, he has a 5.79 ERA in 20 starts for the Twins after posting a 4.60 ERA in 133 starts at Triple-A, making Walters the epitome of a replacement-level starter.

Pedro Hernandez: .311/.373/.517 in 169 plate appearances

Acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade, Pedro Hernandez is a soft-tossing, strike-throwing lefty who struggled against right-handed hitters in the minors and not surprisingly big-league righties have crushed him to the tune of .353/.423/.639 with eight homers in 137 plate appearances. He had two first-half stints with the Twins as a rotation fill-in, posting a 6.17 ERA in seven starts, and it's tough to see Hernandez having long-term success as a starter.

Josh Roenicke: .238/.331/.420 in 167 plate appearances

When the Twins claimed Josh Roenicke off waivers in November the story of his career was a big fastball and not much else, including a modest strikeout rate and poor control. His average fastball dipped to 91.2 miles per hour in the first half, but the rest of the story stayed the same with an awful 25-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 innings. And after some initial success he gave up 14 runs in his final 24 innings with as many walks (15) as strikeouts (15).

Brian Duensing: .300/.373/.393 in 159 plate appearances

Brian Duensing flopped as a starter, but has yet to rediscover his previous success as a reliever. Slated to be the primary left-handed setup man, Duensing struggled against lefties and righties while posting a 4.67 ERA and 30-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 innings and spent the final month or so of the first half working mostly in a mop-up role. His inability to handle righties will forever limit Duensing, but the good news is that his trouble with lefties looks like a fluke.

Lefties hit .307 off Duensing in the first half, but that was due to a ridiculously high .408 batting average on balls in play. Delving a little deeper, he posted a great 20-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio versus lefties and held them to just one homer in 82 plate appearances. Despite the rough first half not much has really changed with Duensing, but unfortunately that just means he's still a decent middle reliever who's a bad bet facing righties and a good bet facing lefties.

Casey Fien: .179/.217/.284 in 146 plate appearances

Burton and Duensing struggling as the main setup men pushed Casey Fien into a more prominent late-inning role and he responded by continuing to thrive. Not only did he have a 3.03 ERA and 42-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 first-half innings, dating back to his debut with the Twins last season Fien has a 2.57 ERA and 74-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 74 frames. Not bad for a guy who joined the Twins as a minor-league free agent last offseason at age 28.

He's probably due to come back down to earth at least a little bit and if that does happen it'll likely stem from serving up too many homers, as Fien was an extreme fly-ball pitcher in the minors and has one of the 10 lowest ground-ball rates in the majors since last season. However, his overall track record in the minors showed someone capable of being a quality middle reliever and so far he's allowed just seven homers in 287 plate appearances.

Glen Perkins: .172/.221/.262 in 131 plate appearances

Glen Perkins' first full season as the Twins' closer has been an overwhelming success except for the part about the team failing to find him consistent work. Perkins converted 21 of 23 saves with a 1.82 ERA and 47-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34.2 innings, holding opponents to a .172 batting average. That's about as dominant as a pitcher can be and Perkins was rewarded with his first All-Star selection, yet the Twins used their All-Star closer for just 131 batters in 92 games.

Some of that stems from their lack of late leads, but Ron Gardenhire's refusal to use Perkins in non-save situations is the real culprit. Not only have 100 different relievers thrown more innings than Perkins, six Twins relievers have worked more. It's gotten so bad that Perkins requested more action, but Gardenhire continues to manage the bullpen around the save statistic while calling on lesser relievers in game-changing spots. Perkins is great, but his usage is terrible.

Kyle Gibson: .315/.392/.393 in 102 plate appearances

In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery Kyle Gibson entered spring training in the mix for a rotation spot, but pitched his way out of the immediate plans and then the Twins decided to keep him at Triple-A for three months. He was one of the International League's best pitchers, posting a 3.01 ERA with tons of ground balls and a 79-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 innings, and after going through eight other starters the Twins finally called him up three weeks ago.

Gibson had a very nice debut followed by three mostly poor outings, but looking beyond the ugly 6.45 ERA he induced 51 percent ground balls, generated a decent number of swinging strikes, and averaged 92.3 miles per hour with his fastball. Ultimately the key for Gibson is whether he can get enough strikeouts to be more than a mid-rotation starter who throws strikes and kills worms. At this point the jury is still very much out and his second-half workload may be limited.

Caleb Thielbar: .103/.205/.221 in 78 plate appearances

Twenty straight scoreless innings is an amazing start to anyone's career, let alone a 26-year-old rookie signed out of independent ball in 2011. Caleb Thielbar turned what looked likely to be a short-term call-up into a two-month gig, and while his secondary numbers and inherited runners allowed paint a much less impressive picture than his sparkling ERA he's shown more than enough to stick around with 21 strikeouts in 21 innings and 11 percent swinging strikes.

Note: For a similar first-half review of the Twins' hitters, click here.


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

March 28, 2013

Twins Notes: Setting the Opening Day roster

ron gardenhire spring training

• Barring any changes between now and Monday here's what the Twins' roster looks like:

   LINEUP:                    ROTATION:
C  Joe Mauer               RH Vance Worley
1B Justin Morneau          RH Kevin Correia
2B Brian Dozier            RH Mike Pelfrey
SS Pedro Florimon          RH Liam Hendriks
3B Trevor Plouffe          RH Cole De Vries
LF Josh Willingham
CF Aaron Hicks                BULLPEN:
RF Chris Parmelee          LH Glen Perkins
DH Ryan Doumit             RH Jared Burton
                           LH Brian Duensing
   BENCH:                  RH Casey Fien
IF Jamey Carroll           RH Josh Roenicke
IF Eduardo Escobar         RH Ryan Pressly
OF Darin Mastroianni       LH Tyler Robertson
OF Wilkin Ramirez

If the above 25-man roster sticks there will be a total of 11 holdovers from last season's Opening Day roster: Joe Mauer, Justin MorneauJosh WillinghamRyan Doumit, Chris Parmelee, Trevor Plouffe, and Jamey Carroll among position players and Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Brian Duensing, and Liam Hendriks among pitchers.

Scott Diamond's elbow problems opened the door for Samuel Deduno to get back into the rotation, but a groin injury suffered during the World Baseball Classic shut that door. Deduno, who was dropped from the 40-man roster and passed through waivers unclaimed four months ago, will head to Triple-A. Cole De Vries, who unlike Deduno is on the 40-man roster, is set to join Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and Hendriks in the season-opening rotation.

De Vries held his own in 14 starts as a 27-year-old rookie last season, but he was an emergency call-up when the rotation was wrecked by injuries and has a 4.39 ERA with just 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 156 innings at Triple-A. De Vries throws strikes and as an Eden Prairie native who went undrafted out of the University of Minnesota he's a good story, but he's likely to serve up a ton of homers and turning to him already is a bad sign.

Alex Burnett stuck around in the majors far longer than his performance warranted, spending nearly three full seasons in the Twins' bullpen despite a 4.61 ERA, sub par control, and just 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings. On the surface his 3.52 ERA last season may have looked like a big step forward, but it came with a horrible 36-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 72 innings and the Twins smartly didn't let his experience keep them from sending Burnett to Triple-A.

Barring late additions Burnett's demotion to Rochester means that the four bullpen spots after Perkins as closer and Burton and Duensing as his primary setup men will go to Casey Fien, Josh Roenicke, Ryan Pressly, and Tyler Robertson. Pressly is the biggest surprise after the Twins opted not to keep Rule 5 picks in the majors in both 2011 and 2012, but he throws hard and they clearly like how he's looked since shifting from starter to reliever late last season.

I'm glad Fien is getting another shot after looking good in 35 innings last season. He has a solid enough track record in the minors to think he can be a useful middle man. Roenicke was claimed off waivers from the Rockies in November and has shown the durability to soak up innings, but poor control and sub par strikeout rates aren't an encouraging combo. Rafael Perez not being ready yet following shoulder surgery made it pretty easy for Robertson to be the third left-hander.

Perkins and Burton put the Twins in good shape for the eighth and ninth innings, but beyond that duo Fien, Roenicke, and Pressly from the right side and Duensing and Robertson from the left side isn't particularly promising. Anthony Swarzak, who likely would have made the team as a long reliever, and Tim Wood, who was in the mix for one of the final bullpen spots, will both begin the season on the disabled list.

• Last offseason the Twins signed outfielder Wilkin Ramirez to a minor-league deal and sent him to the minors without any fanfare after he hit .214 in 10 spring training games. He played most of the season at Triple-A and did little to distinguish himself, hitting .276/.316/.451 with 15 homers and an ugly 97-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 98 games. He became a free agent and re-signed with the Twins on another minor-league deal. And now Ramirez is on the Opening Day roster.

What changed between then and now to make a 27-year-old journeyman with an underwhelming decade-long track record and awful plate discipline worth a roster spot in the majors? Ramirez has had a good spring, hitting .444 with nine doubles in 16 games. And that's basically it. Last year at this time no one gave him much thought and his play in Rochester didn't warrant a call-up, but 45 good at-bats convinced the Twins he's the man for the job.

It doesn't matter much, because backups on last-place teams aren't exactly of vital importance and the Twins failed to bring in many superior options, but trusting 50 plate appearances in spring training over 4,000 plate appearances in the minors generally isn't a sound approach to decision-making and Ramirez is an odd pick to replace Drew Butera following Ron Gardenhire's call to "beef up" the bench. He's a career .255/.310/.430 hitter at Triple-A.

Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press crunched the numbers and calculates the Twins' payroll at $81 million, which is the lowest since it was $65 million during the final season at the Metrodome in 2009. In their first season at Target Field the Twins spent $98 million and in Year 2 that rose to $113 million, but the payroll dropped to $94 million in Year 3 and now it's well below MLB average. Not quite the pattern fans were hoping for throughout the new ballpark push.

• Friend of AG.com Dan Szymborski predicted the American League standings for ESPN.com based on his excellent ZiPS projection system and not surprisingly the Twins are bringing up the rear in the AL Central at 66-96. Only the Astros have a worse projected record in the AL.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode featured a whole bunch of Aaron Hicks talk.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Territory Train, which takes the heavy lifting out of planning and executing Twins road trips. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

November 7, 2012

Waiver wire wrap-up: Casilla, Deduno, Roenicke, and Field

Alexi Casilla made $1.375 million this year and was in line for at least $1.5 million in 2013 via his final season of arbitration eligibility, so my assumption was that the Twins would non-tender him by the end of the month. Instead they shopped him around for a trade, predictably found no takers, and placed Casilla on waivers where he was claimed by the Orioles. And so ends one of the more unproductive, frustrating tenures in recent Twins history.

During his first stint as Twins general manager Terry Ryan gained a reputation for plucking unheralded prospects from the low minors of other farm systems in trades and watching them develop into quality big leaguers. Casilla is an oft-cited example, as Ryan acquired him from the Angels in December of 2005 for setup man J.C. Romero, who'd worn out his welcome by struggling to throw strikes and being ineffective versus right-handed hitters.

At the time Casilla was 20 years old and no one's idea of a top prospect, but was coming off a season spent mostly at Single-A hitting .325 with 47 steals in 78 games and--because some things never change--the Twins were short on middle infield talent. I wrote a positive review of the trade on December 12, 2005, crediting Ryan for getting something of value in return for Romero and his undesirable contract while saying the following about Casilla:

Casilla is a switch-hitting middle infielder who has almost zero power, controls the strike zone, gets on base, and has a ton of speed. ... If Casilla develops well, he could step in at second base and the top of the order when [Luis] Castillo's contract is up in two years. If his development stalls a bit, he could turn into a solid utility man.

Well, sort of. Sure enough Casilla ended up replacing Luis Castillo at second base in mid-2007 and during the next six seasons he was given 1,764 plate appearances to show that he could be that speedy top-of-the-order asset. There were occasional flashes of that player, most notably in 2008, but more often than not Casilla was terrible while his age and experience were frequently overlooked by people focusing on his supposed potential.

For the most part Casilla's contact skills carried over from the minors, as he struck out in just 12 percent of his plate appearances, but despite being a ground-ball hitter with excellent speed his batting average on balls in play was a measly .282. He never developed any power and the good plate discipline he showed in the minors vanished, as he drew an average of just 37 walks per 550 trips to the plate.

Casilla's speed was as advertised and he became an extremely efficient basestealer with a career success rate of 89 percent. Unfortunately for whatever reason he never fully put that elite skill to proper use, attempting a grand total of 80 steals in 515 games. Defense proved to be his biggest strength, particularly at second base, and Casilla's glove is good enough that he doesn't have to hit much to be valuable.

Sadly even "doesn't have to hit much" was too high a standard for Casilla, as he cracked a .700 OPS twice in six seasons and hit .250/.305/.344 overall. Among the 320 major leaguers with at least 1,500 plate appearances from 2006-2012 he ranked 295th in on-base percentage, 311th in slugging percentage, and 313th in OPS. And in all of Twins history only Al Newman and Danny Thompson had a lower OPS in more plate appearances than Casilla.

• Two weeks ago I identified 11 "marginal players" on the 40-man roster who could painlessly be dropped to clear space for the offseason and less than 24 hours later the Twins dropped seven of them. They've now dropped an eighth player from that list, passing Samuel Deduno through waivers unclaimed and sending him outright to Triple-A. Deduno had the ability to leave the organization as a free agent, but decided to re-sign on a minor-league deal.

I spent most of Deduno's time with the Twins trying to explain why a poor track record, terrible control, and an awful strikeout-to-walk ratio made his initial success unsustainable. People looking for a reason to believe in Deduno came up with all sorts of theories on why he was different, but in the end he threw 79 innings with a 4.44 ERA that was both worse than the league average and right in line with a 4.73 xFIP based on his terrible 57/53 K/BB ratio.

For a team in desperate need of pitching there was an argument to be made for hanging onto Deduno for a while and that's perhaps why he wasn't among the initial 40-man cuts. On the other hand if the Twins are in position to need meaningful innings from Deduno again that means their attempt to fix the rotation was a flop. They deserve credit for seeing through his smoke-and-mirrors act and for realizing the other 29 teams probably weren't fooled either.

• Along with passing Deduno through waivers unclaimed the Twins also filled two of those 40-man roster spots by claiming Josh Roenicke and Tommy Field off waivers from the Rockies. At first glance Roenicke looks like an excellent pickup. He's a hard-throwing right-handed reliever with a 3.25 ERA in 89 innings this year, which is made more impressive by the fact that he called hitter-friendly Coors Field home.

However, scratch beneath the surface and you'll discover that, not unlike Deduno, his secondary numbers were anything but impressive thanks to a horrible 54-to-43 strikeout-to-walk ratio and nine homers allowed. None of which is to say that Roenicke can't be a useful player. His fastball averaged 93 miles per hour, which by itself would stand out on the Twins' pitching staff, and Roenicke's slider/cutter has been a plus pitch throughout his career.

Combining good fastball velocity and a quality second pitch is often enough to succeed in a role that requires 20 pitches per appearance and 60-80 innings per season. Of course, that truism about relievers doesn't just apply to Roenicke and at age 30 there isn't a lot in his track record to suggest he's particularly promising. His hard throwing has produced 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings, including 5.5 per nine innings this year, which is below average for a reliever.

Roenicke also has abysmal control, throwing just 45 percent of his pitches in the strike zone on the way to 4.6 walks per nine innings. And as his mediocre strikeout rate would suggest it's not as if his wildness has caused batters to chase pitches. In fact, Roenicke has induced a below-average number of swings on pitches outside the strike zone and an average number of swinging strikes, period. He throws hard, but is very wild and not especially tough to hit.

• Field was a 24th-round draft pick out of Texas State University in 2008, has had a couple brief stints with the Rockies, and spent this year as their starting shortstop at Triple-A. He hit just .246/.315/.400 with eight homers in 121 games, which is bad for any 25-year-old at Triple-A and really bad for someone in hitter-friendly Colorado Springs, which as a team hit .291 with a .784 OPS and had a 5.07 ERA.

Field did show some offensive potential in the lower minors, but his numbers were never anything special and he was old for each level. He'll be 26 years old before spring training and has hit a combined .256/.337/.413 in 278 games above Single-A. Reviews of his defense are positive and he has experience at both shortstop and second base, so Field profiles as a utility man and gives the Twins some middle infield depth right after parting ways with Casilla.