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.

This week's blog content is sponsored by R.F. Moeller Jeweler's repair department, which is recognized as the premier jewelry repair facility in the Twin Cities. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

April 30, 2014

Twins Notes: Meyer, Pelfrey, Fuld, Mastroianni, Wilson, Pinto, and Morneau

alex meyer twins

Alex Meyer was already the Twins' top pitching prospect and one of the top dozen or so pitching prospects in all of baseball, but now there's some reason to think his upside might be capable of rising a little further. Meyer has abandoned his old changeup grip for a new grip taught to him by Triple-A teammate Deolis Guerra, who was once a top prospect acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade and has always received tons of praise for his changeup.

Meyer got off to a slow start this year, but he's racked up double-digit strikeouts in back-to-back games while throwing 12.2 innings of shutout ball. He's now made 21 total starts as a member of the Twins organization, posting a 2.97 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 103 innings. His control could still use plenty of work, but Meyer is 24 years old and seemingly very close to being MLB ready, assuming the Twins are willing to dump a veteran from their rotation at some point.

• On a related note, dropping Mike Pelfrey from the rotation would be an easy call except for the fact that the Twins re-signed him to a two-year, $11 million contract four months ago. It made little sense then and looks even worse now that Pelfrey has a 7.32 ERA with nearly twice as many walks (15) as strikeouts (8) through four starts. He's now 5-15 with a 5.43 ERA in 33 total starts for the Twins, who got a long look at him in 2013 and decided they needed to see a lot more.

• They had to play short-handed without a true backup center fielder for a while after losing Alex Presley for nothing to the Astros on waivers, but the Twins essentially replaced him by claiming Sam Fuld off waivers from the A's. Presley is a better hitter than Fuld and he's also four years younger, but Fuld is a better defender even if his range has slipped a bit at age 32. Aaron Hicks should be playing just about every day, but it won't be surprising if Fuld steals some starts.

• In adding Fuld to the roster the Twins designated for assignment Darin Mastroianni, who was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays. And then in adding Mastroianni to their roster the Blue Jays designated for assignment Kenny Wilson, who was claimed off waivers by the Twins. Oh, and here's the kicker: Back in 2012 the Twins originally acquired Mastroianni by claiming him off waivers from the Blue Jays.

Mastroianni had a solid 2012 in a part-time role, but injuries wrecked his 2013 and because he's not really an up-the-middle defender despite elite speed his weak bat makes him a marginal bench option. Wilson has an even weaker bat and in fact might be one of the worst hitters on any team's 40-man roster, but he does have 50-steal speed and is a much better center field option than Mastroianni in addition to being four years younger.

Josmil Pinto through 40 career games: .292/.401/.533 with nine homers and 23 walks. Those are basically the same numbers he posted at Double-A and Triple-A, but with more power. It took injuries to Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia for Ron Gardenhire to play Pinto regularly, but hopefully his spot in the lineup is now secure. It might be time to get very excited about what the Twins have in Pinto, whether or not he can be passable enough defensively to catch regularly.

• Twins starting pitchers have a combined 6.04 ERA, which is the worst in the league by more than a full run. They also have a combined strikeout rate of 5.1 per nine innings and no other team in baseball has averaged fewer than 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

Justin Morneau hit .256/.319/.406 in 355 games from 2011-2013, so naturally now he's hitting .357/.381/.643 in 26 games for the Rockies. And so far at least it's not all Coors Field-driven.

David Cameron of Fan Graphs wrote a very interesting analysis of how the Twins are scoring tons of runs by not swinging the bat.

• For a lot more about the Twins' no-swing approach and what they should do about the starting rotation, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

April 16, 2014

Twins Notes: Dozier, Plouffe, Buxton, Mauer, Burton, Nunez, and Hughes

brian dozier and trevor plouffe

It doesn't make a lot of sense to attempt any meaningful analysis after just two weeks, but here are some random observations I've had while watching the Twins start 6-7 ...

• Last year Brian Dozier set the Twins' record for homers by a second baseman with 18, which came as a surprise after he totaled just 16 homers in 365 games as a minor leaguer. There was evidence that Dozier changed his approach at the plate to pull the ball more, and he's already gone deep four times in 13 games this year. I'm still not convinced he's a top-of-the-order bat, but 15-20 homers along with a solid glove would make him a long-term solution.

• It took 13 games for Trevor Plouffe to homer, but that might not be a bad thing because he looks like a much different hitter. He came into this season with a lifetime .240 batting average and 289/89 K/BB ratio, but so far he's hit .314 with an 8/8 K/BB ratio. His batting average will obviously go down soon enough, but Plouffe has been much more willing to push pitches to the opposite field and assuming at least some of the power remains that's a positive change.

• I'm not a big Alex Presley fan because he's stretched defensively in center field and stretched offensively in a corner spot, but as backup outfielders go he's a decent one. Losing him on waivers for nothing left the Twins lacking in outfield depth and injuries to Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia quickly made that a problem. When it's still early April and you're starting replacement-level talent like Chris Herrmann in an outfield corner something went wrong in the offseason planning.

• With that said, given their current options the Twins might as well continue to trade defense for offense by using Jason Kubel and Chris Colabello in the outfield corners. For one thing their intended corner duo of Willingham and Arcia is brutal defensively anyway. Beyond that by using Kubel and Colabello somewhere other than designated hitter it also allows Josmil Pinto to get into the lineup and his long-term development could be one of the biggest keys of the season.

• Back when Miguel Sano underwent Tommy John elbow surgery I wrote about how so many of the best Twins prospects of my lifetime have suffered major injuries early in their careers, ruining the chance to see what they were fully capable of becoming without any road blocks along the way. On a sadly related note, Byron Buxton hasn't played since injuring his wrist diving for a ball on March 16 and the Twins announced that he won't see game action until at least May 1.

• I'm curious to see if Joe Mauer is more vocal arguing balls and strikes with umpires as a hitter now that he no longer has to help pitchers get calls from them as a catcher. That certainly seems to be the case so far, although being on the wrong end of a couple incredibly obvious terrible calls could be skewing the small sample size. Thanks in large part to Mauer's patience at the plate, the Twins lead the league in walks.

Jared Burton has had back-to-back brutal appearances despite nearly a week off between outings. Tuesday night he walked three consecutive hitters with two outs and then served up a grand slam, which really should have its own name along the same lines as a "golden sombrero" for hitters. Burton also struggled down the stretch last season, so it might be time to let him get some low-leverage work with plenty of days off mixed in.

Ron Gardenhire and assistant general manager Rob Anthony had some odd quotes about Eduardo Nunez after acquiring him from the Yankees, saying stuff like "we know he can swing the bat" and calling him an "offensive-oriented player." Meanwhile, he's 26 years old and has hit .267/.313/.379 in 270 games as a major leaguer after hitting .272/.315/.366 in 712 games as a minor leaguer.

Phil Hughes' results haven't been very good so far, but he's managed to keep the ball in the ballpark in two of his three starts and a 17/5 K/BB ratio in 15 innings will definitely work over the long haul. On the other hand even with Hughes racking up plenty of strikeouts the Twins' rotation as a whole ranks dead last among MLB teams with 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings. By comparison, four rotations are averaging more than 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

• For anyone going to Target Field: I highly recommend the Butcher and The Boar rib tips. They're new this season in right field around Section 140 and one of the best things I've ever eaten at a baseball game. Plus for $5.50 you can get a shot of Knob Creek bourbon with them.

• For a lot more about Mauer, Nunez, Willingham, Arcia, Dozier, Plouffe, and Buxton--plus the sad story of how I tore my ACL--check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Fan HQ at Ridgedale Mall, which will be hosting an autograph and meet-and-greet session with former Twins closer Joe Nathan on April 26. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

March 27, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6

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

10. Ryan Eades | Starter | DOB: 12/91 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+    10      0     4.60      15.2      13      0      13     12

As a college starter with three seasons of major conference experience LSU right-hander Ryan Eades was a prototypical Twins target in the second round of June's draft and he's the eighth college pitcher they've selected with a top-50 pick since 2005. Eades missed his senior season of high school following shoulder surgery, but was injury free at LSU and led the team in starts last season.

However, fading down the stretch in 2012 and 2013 put his durability in some question and Eades struggled in his pro debut with 12 walks in 16 innings at rookie-ball. Even after a late-season fade Eades finished with a 2.81 ERA for one of the country's best college teams, but a .269 opponents' batting average and 77 strikeouts in 96 innings were underwhelming. And that modest strikeout rate is actually an improvement over 2012, when Eades struck out just 63 in 94 innings.

Combined during his final two years Eades averaged 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which paled in comparison to LSU's aces Kevin Gausman and Aaron Nola. Eades obviously isn't on the same level as Gausman and Nola or he wouldn't have been available at No. 43, but the point is that his raw stuff has yet to turn into strikeouts. With that said, it's good raw stuff. Baseball America rated him 37th in the draft class, noting that Eades "looks the part of a frontline starter."

9. Trevor May | Starter | DOB: 9/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Phillies

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     A+     27     27     3.63     151.1     121      8     208     67
2012     AA     28     28     4.87     149.2     139     22     151     78
2013     AA     27     27     4.51     151.2     149     14     159     67

Acquired from the Phillies last winter in the Ben Revere trade, Trevor May repeated Double-A as a 23-year-old and showed little improvement across the board. He posted a 4.51 ERA compared to the Eastern League average of 4.01, cut his walk rate only marginally to a still-awful 4.0 per nine innings, and induced fewer ground balls than his first go-around to signal that a dip in home runs allowed may not be as encouraging as it first appears.

The good news is that the 6-foot-5 right-hander still throws very hard and still misses plenty of bats, striking out 9.4 per nine innings after whiffing 9.1 per nine innings in 2012. Those strikeout rates are good rather than great and can't compare to May's eye-popping strikeout totals in the low minors, but clearly the former fourth-round pick still has some upside. However, he's no longer considered a high-end prospect after cracking Baseball America's top-100 list for 2012.

At the time of the trade there were rumblings about May being destined for relief work long term and the lack of progress he's made, particularly with his control, have raised the volume on those concerns. He likely needs to show considerable progress at Triple-A this year or risk being shifted to the bullpen, although certainly May could eventually still make a big impact as a late-inning reliever with a mid-90s fastball.

8. Jorge Polanco | Second Base | DOB: 7/93 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK-    193     .250     .319     .349      1     12     15     24
2012     RK+    204     .318     .388     .514      5     22     20     26
2013     A-     523     .308     .362     .452      5     47     42     59

Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $775,000 as a 16-year-old the same year the Twins added Miguel Sano and Max Kepler as big-dollar international prospects, Jorge Polanco has likely outgrown shortstop and become a good defensive second baseman with a potentially very strong bat for the position. Polanco showed a ton of improvement at rookie-ball in 2012 and then transitioned to full-season competition last year by thriving at low Single-A as a 19-year-old.

Polanco hit .308 with just 59 strikeouts in 523 plate appearances, drew a decent number of walks, and smacked 47 extra-base hits, all while being one of only nine teenagers in the entire Midwest League to play at least 100 games. As a switch-hitter he fared equally well versus righties and lefties while posting an OPS above .765 in all five months of the season and managers voted him the best defensive second baseman in the league.

He'll likely play most and perhaps all of this season as a 20-year-old at high Single-A. To put that in some context, consider that no one under 21 logged 500 plate appearances in the Florida State League last season and only three logged more than 400. Simply holding his own in the FSL would be an accomplishment and if Polanco produces in 2014 like he did in 2013 he'll be near the top of this list next spring.

7. Josmil Pinto | Catcher | DOB: 3/89 | Bats: Right | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     A+     236     .262     .305     .389      5     17     12     36
2012     A+     393     .295     .361     .473     12     36     39     63
         AA      52     .298     .365     .553      2      7      4     10
2013     AA     453     .308     .411     .482     14     38     64     71
        AAA      75     .314     .333     .486      1     10      2     12
        MLB      83     .342     .398     .566      4      9      6     22

Well, we know Josmil Pinto can hit. Last season he followed up a strong 2012 between high Single-A and Double-A by hitting .308/.411/.482 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts in 107 games at Double-A, batting .314 with 10 extra-base hits in a 19-game Triple-A stint, and making his Twins debut by hitting .342/.398/.566 in 21 games as a September call-up. Add it all up and Pinto batted .314 with 19 homers, 37 doubles, and 72 walks in 147 games as a 24-year-old.

And yet there are questions about how he fits into the long-term plans because his defense behind the plate has always received mixed reviews and the Twins thought so little of his ability to catch in the majors this season that they signed Kurt Suzuki to be the starter despite his not cracking a .700 OPS since 2009. As a poor but passable catcher Pinto has enough bat to be an impact player, but as a designated hitter his bat would be nothing special unless he adds more power.

Last season MLB catchers hit .245/.310/.388 for a .688 OPS that was the second-worst from any position behind only shortstop. By comparison DHs posted a .725 OPS that was either ahead or within 10 points of every position except first base and right field. Beyond that, on the Twins his long-term path would be relatively clear at catcher, whereas there are always plenty of DH options and specifically Miguel Sano or Oswaldo Arcia may wind up as preferred choices there.

6. Eddie Rosario | Second Base | DOB: 9/91 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-4

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    298     .337     .397     .670     21     39     27     60
2012     A-     429     .296     .345     .490     12     48     31     69
2013     A+     231     .329     .377     .527      6     24     17     29
         AA     313     .284     .330     .412      4     26     21     67

Eddie Rosario had a very nice 2013, beginning the year by crushing high Single-A pitching and finishing it by holding his own at Double-A as a 21-year-old, but then he began 2014 by receiving a 50-game suspension for a "drug of abuse." Under the terms of the minor league drug agreement that means he previously tested positive without getting a suspension and then continued to use the drug, which is perhaps more troubling behavior than the drug use itself.

On the field Rosario did what he's done since the Twins made him their fourth-round draft pick out of Puerto Rico in 2010, hitting for a high batting average with gap power and poor plate discipline. He also spent the entire season at second base after beginning the transition from outfielder to infielder in 2012, but there are questions about his ability to be a serviceable defender there in the majors and his offensive skill set would look somewhat marginal for a corner outfielder.

Rosario is a career .307 hitter, including at least .290 in all four seasons, but he's totaled just 22 homers in 217 games above rookie-ball while walking just 69 times compared to 165 strikeouts. That includes a 67/21 K/BB ratio in 70 games at Double-A, although in fairness he was one of only nine 21-and-under hitters in the Eastern League. Still, it doesn't look like he'll produce a ton of homers or walks, which is a profile that typically doesn't equal a big impact in an outfield corner.

January 29, 2014

Twins Notes: Nolasco vs. Garza, Suzuki vs. Pinto, Buxton vs. The World

matt garza twins

• In moving quickly to sign Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes early in the offseason the Twins seemingly signaled two things: One is that they really liked Nolasco and Hughes, believing they both represented good value within the context of this offseason's free agent starters. Beyond that, it also suggested that they felt the consensus top-tier starters from the class weren't worth parting with a draft pick to sign or would end up being out of their price range. Or both.

And yet two months after signing Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million contract the Twins watched as Matt Garza--considered by most people to be a more desirable free agent target--signed with the Brewers for a nearly identical four-year, $50 million deal. Garza, like Nolasco, didn't require forfeiting a draft pick to sign and at age 30 he's a year younger. But who's actually the better pitcher? Here are their numbers from the past three seasons:

           GS     IP     ERA    SO/9    BB/9    OAVG     GB%    xFIP     MPH
Garza      73    457    3.62     8.4     2.7    .245    43.8    3.46    93.5
Nolasco    97    596    4.29     6.6     2.1    .279    44.9    3.76    90.1

Garza missed some time with arm problems in 2012 and 2013, so Nolasco has a large innings edge from 2011-2013, but in terms of actually preventing runs Garza was much better. During that three-year span Garza posted a 3.62 ERA, compared to 4.29 for Nolasco, and within that he struck out 27 percent more batters while holding opponents to a batting average 34 points lower in less pitcher-friendly environments. His fastball velocity was also 3.4 miles per hour higher.

However, a lot of Nolasco's somewhat bloated ERA during that time stems from a .314 batting average on balls in play, which was the second-highest among all 84 pitchers to throw at least 400 innings from 2011-2013. By comparison Garza had a .293 batting average on balls in play during that same time, which was right in the middle of the pack. If you assume that the defense behind Nolasco was mostly to blame for all those extra hits falling in the two pitchers look much closer.

Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) attempts to remove luck from the mix by focusing on the factors a pitcher can control and Garza had a 3.46 xFIP from 2011-2013, compared to 3.76 for Nolasco. In other words Garza was still clearly better than Nolasco during the past three years, but it wasn't as large of a gap as their ERAs suggested and the gap shrinks even further once you account for durability. With that said, for the same price tag I'd rather have Garza than Nolasco.

• When the Twins signed Kurt Suzuki to a one-year, $2.75 million deal I noted that the biggest worry was Ron Gardenhire falling in love with the veteran and choosing to play him far more often than his performance warrants. Turns out it may not even take Gardenhire falling in love with Suzuki for that to happen, as Terry Ryan has already gone from hinting that Suzuki rather than Josmil Pinto will be the starting catcher to basically saying Suzuki has the job locked up.

Pinto may prove incapable of being a decent defensive catcher, but his offensive upside is sizable and at age 25 there's a chance that he could develop into a good all-around catcher. Meanwhile, in the past three seasons Suzuki hit .235/.290/.353 while throwing out just 25 percent of stolen base attempts and rating very poorly in pitch-framing analysis. Suzuki hasn't been a starting-caliber catcher since 2009 and the Twins are likely to be mediocre at best, so why not let Pinto play?

• This week MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, and ESPN.com all published their annual top 100 prospect rankings and Byron Buxton holds the top spot on each list. Buxton will also soon be named the No. 1 prospect by Baseball America when their list comes out. My annual series ranking and profiling the Twins' top 40 prospects kicks off next week, covering five prospects each day in countdown form.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode was recorded live in front of a 300-person crowd at Twins Daily's inaugural "Winter Meltdown" event, with special guests Twins president Dave St. Peter, former Cy Young runner-up Scott Erickson, and Miguel Sano documentary filmmaker Jon Paley. Come for St. Peter getting laughs at my expense and stay for Erickson telling dirty stories.

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