September 25, 2013

Twins Notes: Mauer shut down, rotation spending, and no platooning

joe mauer catching mask

Joe Mauer continues to have post-concussion symptoms more than a month after suffering a brain injury, so Monday the Twins shut him down for the final week of the season. Mauer hasn't played since taking a foul ball off the mask on August 19 and experienced setbacks when he tried to ramp up workouts during the past few weeks, with Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writing that he "still feels sensitivity to light and noises, and has trouble outside confined spaces."

Shutting him down is absolutely the correct decision and by the time spring training rolls around Mauer will be six months removed from the concussion, but sadly as the Twins and so many other teams have learned in recent years there are no guarantees with brain injuries. And now, much like with Justin Morneau and Denard Span, the only thing the Twins can really do is wait and hold their breath hoping that time and rest do the trick.

In making Monday's announcement both Mauer and general manager Terry Ryan stressed that they expect him to remain at catcher next season, but whereas that seemed like a questionable stance at the time of the concussion last month it now seems borderline crazy to me. I've spent a decade writing about how much of Mauer's value comes from catching and have always argued against a position switch, but the question has changed and the old answers cease to apply.

There's no way to stop a catcher from taking foul balls off the mask on a regular basis, along with all the other physical dangers that come with the position, and if he were to suffer another brain injury it might be too late to avoid major long-term consequences on and off the field. As a first baseman Mauer's odds of remaining an elite player into his mid-30s are much lower, but he'd still provide plenty of value there and Josmil Pinto is a potential replacement with upside.

(Note: I went into a lot more depth analyzing the Mauer position switch decision last month.)

• There seems to be considerable disagreement within the organization about how much focus to put on acquiring pitching via free agency. Nick Nelson of Twins Daily wrote a breakdown of the situation, with the short version being that Ron Gardenhire is basically begging for rotation help and owner Jim Pohlad says he's willing to spend big for reinforcements, all while Ryan downplays free agency much like he did last winter before settling for Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey.

Every team would love to build a rotation full of young, cheap pitchers and for many years the Twins did that well enough to avoid having to swim into the deep end of the free agency pool. And generally speaking free agent pitching is typically overpriced and requires making risky long-term commitments to players on the wrong side of 30. However, their current lack of MLB-ready arms with more than back-of-the-rotation upside makes Ryan's usual approach a tough one to pull off.

Despite his rookie struggles Kyle Gibson still has a chance to develop into more than a fourth or fifth starter and Alex Meyer remains a potential top-of-the-rotation starter if he can stay healthy, but neither can be counted on to make a huge 2014 impact and even if they do surrounding them with the likes of Correia, Scott Diamond, Vance Worley, and Samuel Deduno is going to leave the rotation well short of decent.

Last season Twins starters had the second-worst ERA in baseball at 5.40 and this season Twins starters have the worst ERA in baseball at 5.26. Based on those numbers and the in-house options who can realistically be rotation members in 2014 there's little chance of building even an average rotation without bringing in outside help. Ryan would surely prefer trades to free agency, but my fear is that his real plan involves a third straight season with a terrible rotation on the cheap.

• One of my frequent complaints about Gardenhire is his unwillingness to platoon hitters, which he's basically never done. Most prominently Jacque Jones and Jason Kubel played no matter the pitcher, but versus lefties Jones hit .231/.286/.355 and Kubel hit .239/.313/.365. For a more recent example on the other side of the plate, Trevor Plouffe plays no matter the pitcher despite hitting .223/.280/.381 off righties. And there are no shortage of maddening day-to-day examples.

Many of the best managers in baseball history regularly employed platoons and current examples in Gardenhire's own league include former Manager of the Year winners Joe Maddon of the Rays, Bob Melvin of the A's, and Buck Showalter of the Orioles. It's hardly a new-school approach and it's hardly a complicated thing to make sense of, yet Gardenhire has never budged and said the following when asked about it by Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

I don't recall ever having a platoon. I'm not against it. I'll tell you that. I wouldn't have a problem having a platoon if it fits. If it makes sense numbers-wise and it works, then you go with it.

"I don't recall ever having a platoon" and "I'm not against it" are statements that don't fit together coming from a manager in his 12th season on the job. Gardenhire may not be against it in theory, but his actions over nearly 2,000 games have certainly shown that he's very much against it in practice despite having plenty of opportunities to improve the lineup via platooning. And for his part, Ryan told Berardino that he's fine with the manager's lack of platooning:

I don't think he likes to platoon players at all. I don't either. Put guys out there that are everyday players, then you don't have to platoon. You're always looking for players that can play 162 games, right? That's what I'm looking for. I don't go out looking for platoon players.

Obviously every team would love to find nine everyday players and trot them out there 162 times, but that's an impossible goal and instead leads to so-called "everyday players" like Jones, Kubel, and Plouffe flailing away against same-sided pitchers they have no business facing. Over the past three seasons the Twins have scored the fewest runs in the league, making "I don't go out looking for platoon players" sound awfully tone deaf coming from the GM. It's nothing new, though.

• Mauer hasn't played since August 19, but according to Win Above Replacement and Fan Graphs' valuation system he's still been worth more than his salary this season.

• This year the Twins have been out-scored by 158 runs, which is the second-worst run differential in baseball. The worst run differential in Twins history belongs to the 1995 team at -186.

• Since taking over for Matt Capps as Twins closer Glen Perkins has converted 90 percent of his save chances (52-for-58) with a 2.31 ERA.

LaTroy Hawkins left the Twins for a two-year, $8 million deal with the Cubs as a 31-year-old free agent and a decade later he's still rolling along.

Francisco Liriano is lined up to start the Wild Card playoff game for the Pirates.

• For a lot more about Mauer's future and the Twins' roster options for next season check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


Interested in sponsoring a week of AG.com and advertising your product, service, local business, or website directly to thousands of readers each day? Click here for details.

September 4, 2013

Twins Notes: Pinto, Mauer, Carew, Dozier, Willingham, Colabello, and Sano

josmil pinto twins

Josmil Pinto fell off the prospect radar after failing to crack a .700 OPS in 2010 or 2011, but re-established himself as someone to watch with a strong 2012 and built on that this season. He started the year at Double-A, hitting .308/.411/.482 with 14 homers and nearly as many walks (64) as strikeouts (71) in 107 games to earn a late-season promotion to Triple-A. Pinto hit well in 19 games for Rochester and now he's getting his first taste of the majors.

By somewhat surprisingly adding Pinto to the 40-man roster last offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft the Twins showed that they believe his right-handed bat has a chance to be special, because reviews of his defense behind the plate have always been mixed at best. He's thrown out 34 percent of stolen base attempts during the past two seasons, which is a solid rate, but Pinto has also spent close to half of his time at designated hitter (in part because of a shoulder injury).

Pinto doesn't have huge power, totaling 17 homers and 36 doubles in 138 games at Double-A and Triple-A, but he certainly has some pop and hit .308 with 70 walks in 580 plate appearances while striking out just 93 times. He'll be 25 years old before Opening Day next season, so Pinto should be pretty close to MLB-ready and is an intriguing prospect in that his bat may prove good enough to be an asset at designated hitter even if his defense isn't good enough to be a regular catcher.

Joe Mauer going 5-for-7 with a homer in a crazy loss to the Indians a few weeks ago got me wondering about similar performances throughout Twins history. My first thought was to look at five-hit games, but because focusing on hits tends to overrate free-swingers and short-change batters who draw a lot of walks here are the Twins' all-time leaders in getting on base four, five, and six times within a game:

4+ TIMES ON BASE         5+ TIMES ON BASE         6+ TIMES ON BASE
Rod Carew        117     Rod Carew         23     Kirby Puckett      2
Kirby Puckett     94     Harmon Killebrew  14     Justin Morneau     2
Harmon Killebrew  92     Kent Hrbek        13     Rod Carew          1
Joe Mauer         89     Joe Mauer         12     Joe Mauer          1
Chuck Knoblauch   76     Kirby Puckett     11     15 Others          1

Mauer ranks pretty impressively on those lists, but here's the thing: He's only 30 years old. Here are those same Twins' all-time leaders in getting on base four, five, and six times within a game, except through age 30:

4+ TIMES ON BASE         5+ TIMES ON BASE         6+ TIMES ON BASE
Joe Mauer         89     Rod Carew         16     Justin Morneau     2
Rod Carew         84     Joe Mauer         12     Kirby Puckett      1
Chuck Knoblauch   76     Chuck Knoblauch    9     Rod Carew          1
Kirby Puckett     59     Harmon Killebrew   9     Joe Mauer          1
Kent Hrbek        59     Kent Hrbek         5     13 Others          1

Mauer and Rod Carew make for a very interesting comparison both for their overall production as high-average/low-power up-the-middle defenders and for their perceived value as Twins. Here are their respective numbers through age 30:

             G     AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS    OPS+
Mauer     1178    .323    .405    .468    .873    135
Carew     1328    .328    .384    .434    .818    132

Pretty damn close, especially once you go beyond the raw numbers and look at adjusted OPS+ to account for the different eras. They both hit for huge batting averages and minimal homer power. Mauer drew more walks and had a bit more pop, while Carew's great speed added to his value at the plate. And then Carew had the best season of his Hall of Fame career at age 31, winning the MVP by hitting .388/.449/.570. Mauer better have big plans for 2014 if he wants to keep pace.

Brian Dozier's homer Saturday set a new Twins record for second basemen ... with 15 (he's since added two more, continuing an impressive three-month power binge):

BRIAN DOZIER      2013     17
Tim Teufel        1984     14
Rod Carew         1975     14
Chuck Knoblauch   1996     13
Todd Walker       1998     12
Bernie Allen      1962     12

It's remarkable that a team could be around since 1961 and not have a second baseman hit 15 homers until 2013. During that time there were 232 instances of a non-Twins second baseman hitting at least 15 homers, including 12 seasons by Jeff Kent and 10 seasons by Craig Biggio. And the Twins had no shortage of excellence at second base in Carew and Chuck Knoblauch, but those two combined to reach double-digit homers just four times in 19 seasons in Minnesota.

Justin Morneau passing through waivers unclaimed let the Twins to shop him around before settling on the Pirates, but Josh Willingham was claimed off revocable waivers by the Orioles. That meant Baltimore was the only place he could be traded, but beat writer Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com reported that the Orioles felt the Twins were "asking way too much" and the window closed without a deal.

So instead the Orioles added a different right-handed bat with good power and terrible outfield defense in Michael Morse of the Mariners and the Twins held onto Willingham, who's hit .164 with 33 strikeouts in 25 games since returning from knee surgery. Willingham is under contract for $7 million next season, which makes his situation much different than Morneau, but the way he's struggled all season it's tough to see any teams trading much for him this winter.

Chris Colabello was named MVP of the International League after hitting .352/.427/.639 with 24 homers in 89 games for Rochester. It's worth noting that the International League's previous seven MVPs were Mauro Gomez, Russ Canzler, Dan Johnson, Shelley Duncan, Jeff Bailey, Mike Hessman, and Kevin Witt. Not a prospect among them and Colabello certainly fits in that group, but I still think he can be useful if given an extended chance.

Miguel Sano finished tied for the eighth-most homers in the Eastern League despite his not being promoted to Double-A until mid-June. He hit 19 homers in 67 games there and the league leader is a 28-year-old with 23 homers in 139 games. Sano also finished tied for the eighth-most homers in the Florida State League despite not playing there since June 9. He totaled 35 homers overall for the most by any Twins minor leaguer in 25 years.

Wilkin Ramirez is done for the year after fracturing his left tibia with a foul ball. He previously spent three months on the disabled list with a concussion, so it's been a very rough season for the 27-year-old journeyman who won a bench spot with a strong spring training performance despite a thoroughly mediocre track record. He hit .272/.302/.370 with a 23-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 87 plate appearances and seems likely to be dropped from the 40-man roster this offseason.

Samuel Deduno, who complained of shoulder problems three weeks ago, left Thursday's start after three innings with shoulder soreness and has been placed on the disabled list. Deduno has started 33 games for the Twins, which is one full season's worth, and he's thrown 187 innings with a 124-to-94 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 4.08 ERA, which is exactly league average.

• Last year's second-round pick, Rice University right-hander J.T. Chargois, needs Tommy John elbow surgery after not pitching at all this season in an attempt to rehab the injury. As a dominant college reliever he was supposed to move through the farm system quickly, but Chargois will likely miss the entirety of back-to-back seasons.

• This year's Twins prospects heading to the Arizona Fall League are Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer, Eddie Rosario, Trevor May, Max Kepler, Zach Jones, A.J. Achter. That's as strong a group as I can remember the Twins sending to the AFL and it's hard to imagine too many other teams ever sending a better contingent.

• As expected the August 11 deal sending Jamey Carroll to the Royals for a player to be named later or cash considerations was essentially a give-away, as the Twins got an undisclosed sum of money to complete the trade. Carroll is 1-for-25 since joining the Royals, starting six games.

• Old friend Jason Kubel is back in the AL Central after being designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks and traded to the Indians. Since signing a two-year, $16 million deal with Arizona as a free agent last offseason Kubel has hit .242/.315/.447 in 230 games.

Joe Benson, who was designated for assignment by the Twins and claimed off waivers by the Rangers in mid-May, has now been designated for assignment by the Rangers. In between he hit just .205/.293/.394 in 37 games at Double-A, continuing a remarkably steep decline.

• Mauer rates extremely well in Matt Klaassen's comprehensive catcher defensive rankings this season, which further complicates the question of a potential position switch. Ryan Doumit again rates horribly, which is an annual occurrence.

• Mauer has hit .324 in 508 plate appearances. All other Twins have hit .232 in 4,713 plate appearances and no one else with 100-plus plate appearances is above .260.

• Buxton in August: .410/.533/.506 with 20 walks and 16 steals in 25 games. As a 19-year-old at high Single-A in his first full professional season.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included a ton of talk about the Morneau trade.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Ticket King, a local ticket broker that doesn't charge check-out fees, offers in-store pickup, and specializes in Twins tickets. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

August 28, 2013

Does a concussion mean it’s time to move Joe Mauer away from catcher?

joe mauer first base

Talk of moving Joe Mauer from catcher to another position has been common since 2004 when his rookie season was ruined by knee surgery and got loudest when he spent half of 2011 on the disabled list, but recently he's been so healthy and productive that it's become little more than a whisper. Unfortunately the volume is rising again because Mauer is on the DL and out indefinitely after suffering a concussion while catching last week. It's a very complicated question.

Since coming back from his injury wrecked 2011 season Mauer has hit .321 with a .410 on-base percentage and .460 slugging percentage in 1,149 plate appearances. Among all catchers with at least 600 plate appearances during that two-year span Mauer leads MLB in on-base percentage, ranks second in batting average a few points behind Yadier Molina, and is tied with Molina for second in adjusted OPS+ behind Buster Posey.

However you slice it Mauer has been one of the three best-hitting catchers in baseball over the past two years and his combined .321/.410/.460 mark during that time is nearly identical to his .323/.405/.468 career line. And looking at his career totals paints Mauer in an even better light, because he's maintained his level of excellence for a decade. Here are the hitting leaders among active catchers with at least 1,000 career plate appearances:

BATTING AVERAGE            ON-BASE PERCENTAGE         SLUGGING PERCENTAGE
JOE MAUER         .323     JOE MAUER         .405     Buster Posey      .497
Buster Posey      .312     Buster Posey      .379     Brian McCann      .477
Yadier Molina     .285     Carlos Santana    .365     JOE MAUER         .468
A.J. Pierzynski   .284     John Jaso         .364     Carlos Santana    .446
Jonathan Lucroy   .281     Ryan Hanigan      .364     David Ross        .442

Mauer has the best batting average by 11 points over Posey and at least 38 points over everyone else. Mauer has the best on-base percentage by 26 points over Posey and at least 40 points over everyone else. And he ranks third in slugging percentage behind Posey and Brian McCann. Add it all up and here are the active catching leaders in overall offensive production according to OPS, adjusted OPS+, and weighted on-base average:

OPS                        ADJUSTED OPS+              WEIGHTED ON-BASE
Buster Posey      .876     Buster Posey       146     JOE MAUER         .377
JOE MAUER         .873     JOE MAUER          135     Buster Posey      .376
Brian McCann      .827     Carlos Santana     128     Brian McCann      .355
Carlos Santana    .811     Brian McCann       118     Carlos Santana    .353
Miguel Montero    .780     John Jaso          114     Miguel Montero    .340

In terms of career-long production Mauer and Posey are the players with an argument for being the best-hitting catcher in baseball and Molina enters the mix if the most recent two seasons are given more weight. Mauer has also been an asset defensively, throwing out 43 percent of steal attempts this season and 33 percent for his career compared to the MLB average of 25 percent. And for whatever value you choose to place in Gold Glove awards Mauer has three of them.

Whether you focus on recent performances or career-long track records Mauer stands out as one of the two or three best catchers in all of baseball and certainly has a strong argument for being the best catcher considering he's maintained elite status for much longer than Posey or Molina. However, if you take his 2012/2013 numbers and make those same comparisons to first basemen (and designated hitters) instead of catchers Mauer slides down the rankings a bit:

BATTING AVERAGE            ON-BASE PERCENTAGE         SLUGGING PERCENTAGE
Joey Votto        .324     Joey Votto        .451     David Ortiz       .589
JOE MAUER         .321     JOE MAUER         .410     Chris Davis       .585
David Ortiz       .318     David Ortiz       .406     Edwin Encarnacion .546
Allen Craig       .310     Prince Fielder    .383     Joey Votto        .533
Billy Butler      .303     Paul Goldschmidt  .378     Paul Goldschmidt  .518
                                                      ...
                                                      JOE MAUER         .460

If you compare Mauer to first basemen rather than catchers he falls behind Joey Votto as his position's king of batting average and on-base percentage, although Mauer still ranks second in both categories for 2012/2013. However, the big change is that while slugging .460 gets Mauer ranked among the top half-dozen catchers for 2012/2013 it would place just 20th among first basemen and designated hitters during that same time. Here's a look at overall production:

OPS                        ADJUSTED OPS+              WEIGHTED ON-BASE
David Ortiz       .995     David Ortiz        166     Joey Votto        .419
Joey Votto        .985     Joey Votto         163     David Ortiz       .415
Chris Davis       .941     Chris Davis        151     Chris Davis       .396
Edwin Encarnacion .922     Edwin Encarnacion  148     Edwin Encarnacion .391
Paul Goldschmidt  .896     Paul Goldschmidt   141     Paul Goldschmidt  .382
...                        ...                        ...
JOE MAUER         .870     JOE MAUER          140     JOE MAUER         .379

Mauer narrowly misses cracking the top-five first basemen in OPS, adjusted OPS+, and weighted on-base average for 2012/2013, ranking sixth in all three categories. Beyond focusing on where he'd stand relative to the truly elite players at each position, his place relative to the average at each position would also fall. Mauer has an .870 OPS for 2012/2013, which is 22 percent above average for a catcher versus 12 percent above average for a first baseman.

As a catcher Mauer is arguably the best at his position and no worse than the top three, producing 20-25 percent more offense than an average player. As a first baseman he'd have zero claim to being the best at his position and realistically slot somewhere in the 5-10 range, producing 10-15 percent more offense than an average player. Or, put another way: By moving from catcher to first base he'd go from elite to merely very good and All-Star spots might be hard to come by.

Of course, it's not as simple as looking at where his production would rank at a new position. By moving away from catcher and avoiding the daily physical toll Mauer should in theory be able to stay healthier, play more games, and increase his offensive output. So perhaps instead of being a top-three catcher for 135 games he'd be a top-eight first baseman for 155 games. And maybe he'd go from a top-eight first baseman to a top-five first baseman by not wearing down as much.

None of that is set in stone, however. For one thing simply playing first base or even designated hitter doesn't make someone immune to injuries and wearing down, as Justin Morneau has sadly demonstrated. There's also no guarantee that moving out from behind the plate will automatically increase Mauer's output at the plate. Mauer's odds of staying healthy and upping his production should be better at a position other than catcher, but it's impossible to know for certain.

Having a great-hitting catcher impacts a lineup a few ways, because in addition to being a strong bat his presence also keeps the team from having to use a weak-hitting catcher and leaves a spot open for another strong bat who doesn't have to be much of a defender at first base, an outfield corner, or designated hitter. If the Twins move Mauer they'd have to find a new catcher who'd be a sizable downgrade offensively and they'd have one less spot for a defensively challenged bat.

In terms of in-house options to replace Mauer at catcher Ryan Doumit is under contract for 2014, Chris Herrmann is holding his own as a rookie, and Josmil Pinto is a step away from the majors at Triple-A. Of course, Doumit catches like a designated hitter, Pinto might end up at designated hitter, and Herrmann is a 25-year-old with a .372 career slugging percentage in the minors. It's not a terrible set of options, but that mostly just speaks to the overall weakness of the position.

Another potential issue with a position switch is that assuming Mauer's production declines as he gets deeper into his thirties like the standard aging curve he'd remain an above-average catcher for much longer because the bar is so low at the position. First base is a much different story, as a decline-phase Mauer hitting, say, .285 with 10 homers and a .750 OPS, would drop to the bottom of the positional pile pretty quickly. He's signed through age 35, in 2018.

Ultimately, though, here's why the speculation about Mauer changing positions has started up again after being dormant for a while: Catching puts players at much higher risk for concussions and none of the above numbers will mean anything if Mauer's career is derailed by brain injuries like Morneau and Corey Koskie before him. Mauer is a great catcher and might "only" be a good first baseman, but a good first baseman is more valuable than a catcher disabled by brain trauma.

This is an impossible question to answer definitively, because brain injuries are so unpredictable that even MLB organizations with $100 million payrolls and doctors with high levels of expertise and decades of experience struggle to effectively diagnosis and treat concussions. In general the amount of Mauer's value that comes from being a catcher and in turn his all-around value are often undersold, but the "should Mauer change positions?" question is no longer just about value.

For a lengthy discussion about a potential Mauer position switch, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Ticket King, a local ticket broker that doesn't charge check-out fees, offers in-store pickup, and specializes in Twins tickets. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

January 24, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35.

40. Ryan Pressly | Reliever | DOB: 12/88 | Throws: Right | Rule 5: Red Sox

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     A-     26     24     3.72     113.2     110      9      96     43
2011     A+     26     26     4.50     130.0     125      9      72     53
2012     A+     20     12     6.28      76.0      86      9      61     26
         AA     14      0     2.93      27.2      23      2      21     10

Picking fourth in the annual Rule 5 draft the Twins selected Double-A right-hander Ryan Pressly from the Red Sox, who originally picked him out of a Texas high school in the 11th round of the 2008 draft. Pressly's numbers as a starter aren't pretty, but he shifted to the bullpen at Double-A in the second half last year and threw 28 innings with a 2.93 ERA and 21-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And then he thrived in the Arizona Fall League with an 18/1 K/BB ratio in 14 innings.

Rule 5 picks must stick in the majors all season or be offered back to their original team for half of the $50,000 selection fee, although teams can work out a side deal to get around that like the Twins and Braves did with Scott Diamond in 2011. Last winter the Twins touted Terry Doyle's performance in the Arizona Fall League after taking him from the White Sox with the second pick in the Rule 5 draft, only to let him go midway through spring training.

Doyle was a 26-year-old, low-velocity control pitcher, whereas Pressly is a 24-year-old with what Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com described in his Rule 5 preview as "a big arm that can fire fastballs in the mid-90s and ... an outstanding power curve." Of course, he's still a long shot to crack the Opening Day roster and at this point Pressly's resume includes 400 innings of mediocre pitching as a starter and 40 innings of good pitching as a reliever.

39. Eduardo Escobar | Shortstop | DOB: 1/89 | Bats: Switch | Trade: White Sox

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     A+     408     .285     .327     .402      3     29     23     76
         AA     216     .262     .294     .376      3     14      9     35
2011     AAA    536     .266     .303     .354      4     31     27    104
2012     AAA    151     .217     .259     .304      1      7      8     26
         MLB    146     .214     .278     .260      0      5     11     31

Eduardo Escobar won the White Sox's utility infielder job out of spring training and collected dust on the bench until being traded to the Twins along with Pedro Hernandez for Francisco Liriano in August. Sent to Triple-A after the trade, he hit just .217/.259/.304 in 35 games for Rochester and then received a September call-up to Minnesota, where he hit just .227/.271/.227 in 14 games for the Twins.

In seven seasons as a minor leaguer Escobar has hit .267/.312/.348, including .255/.293/.343 in 167 games at Triple-A, so while he's still just 24 years old it's pretty safe to conclude that his defense will have to carry him. And it might, because Baseball America named Escobar the best defensive infielder in the White Sox's farm system for 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Of course, even the slickest of fielders are destined for bench roles unless they can hit at least a little bit.

And so far at least it looks like Escobar can't hit, even a little bit. His power is non-existent, with a grand total of 15 homers in 2,700 plate appearances between the minors and majors, and both his plate discipline and strike zone control are severely lacking. Good-fielding middle infielders are hard enough to find that Escobar cracks this list despite those considerable flaws, with the hope that he's perhaps still capable of improving into "decent role player" territory.

38. Deolis Guerra | Reliever | DOB: 4/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Mets

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     AA     19     19     6.24     102.1     127     14      67     37
         AAA     5      4     6.84      25.0      35      5      18      8
2011     AA     37     10     5.59      95.0     102     11      95     28
2012     AA      7      0     0.71      12.2       5      0      15      1
         AAA    29      0     4.87      57.1      59      7      56     21

Deolis Guerra is the Twins' last chance to squeeze more value out of the Johan Santana trade and at age 24 he remains in the organization after being dropped from the 40-man roster and passed through waivers unclaimed in November. When the Twins acquired Guerra from the Mets he was an 18-year-old starter and consensus top-50 prospect, but after years of struggling he shifted to the bullpen full time in the middle of last season

Guerra pitched very well as a reliever at Double-A down the stretch in 2011 and continued to thrive back in New Britain last year, earning a promotion to Triple-A in late April. His secondary numbers were solid in Rochester with a 56-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57 innings, but Guerra served up seven homers on the way to posting a 4.87 ERA. He also missed some time with injuries and was bypassed for a September call-up despite then being on the 40-man roster.

Guerra no longer has much upside and has lost velocity since his teenage peak, but since moving to the bullpen his performance has been promising enough to suggest he can be a useful reliever. During the past one-and-a-half seasons he's thrown 124 innings out of the bullpen with a 3.56 ERA and 136-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio between Double-A and Triple-A, but he'll face an uphill climb to crack a Twins bullpen that appears pretty well set for 2013.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     A-     392     .225     .295     .378     10     32     32     67
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

Josmil Pinto appeared on this list in 2010, ranking 36th after impressive rookie-ball production, but back-to-back seasons with a sub-.700 OPS at Single-A followed. He repeated high Single-A last year and bounced back in a big way, hitting .295/.361/.473 in 93 games while controlling the strike zone well, and then hit .298/.365/.553 in 12 games at Double-A to finish the season. That convinced the Twins to add Pinto to the 40-man roster in November.

His lack of high-minors experience, inconsistent track record, and uncertain future defensively made Pinto's addition somewhat surprising, but clearly the Twins think the 23-year-old from Venezuela has a chance to be an impact bat. And he'll probably need to be to have significant value, because despite good caught stealing numbers Pinto draws mixed reviews as a catcher and saw about half of his action last season at designated hitter.

Generally speaking a 23-year-old part-time catcher, part-time designated hitter with barely any time above Single-A and a career .266/.337/.427 line is a long shot to develop into a quality big leaguer, but Pinto has shown flashes of noteworthy potential. This season should provide a big test both offensively and defensively, and by this time next year odds are Pinto will either be at least a dozen spots higher on this list or no longer on the 40-man roster.

36. Alex Wimmers | Starter | DOB: 11/88 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2010-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     A+      4      4     0.57      15.2       6      0      23      5
2011     A+     12      4     4.20      40.2      28      5      39     22
2012     AA      1      1     4.15       4.1       6      1       3      2

What a shame. Alex Wimmers' fast track to the majors was derailed in early 2011 by extreme control problems, which he conquered enough to throw a seven-inning no-hitter in his final start of the season only to blow out his elbow one start into last year. On the Twins' advice Wimmers initially tried to avoid going under the knife, but that simply delayed Tommy John surgery until August and could mean he won't pitch at all in 2013.

Once upon a time Wimmers was a polished, strike-throwing right-hander who won back-to-back Big Ten conference pitcher of the year awards at Ohio State on the way to being the Twins' first-round pick in 2010, but between the Steve Blass/Rick Ankiel-like control problems and elbow injury he's now 24 years old and has appeared in one game above Single-A. His career totals consist of 63 innings in three pro seasons.

Even if Wimmers successfully returns from elbow surgery it's impossible to guess what type of pitcher he's capable of being at this point and he was never considered a high-upside arm to begin with. For both Wimmers and the Twins it would be nice if he could get back on track enough to re-emerge as a potential back-of-the-rotation starter, but we may have to wait until 2014 to find out if that's at all possible.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Fresh Brewed Trivia at Granite City in Rosedale Center on Tuesday nights, where you can drink $3 tap beers and win prizes. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

November 27, 2012

Twins Notes: Pinto, Thielbar, Bromberg, Clement, Valencia, and Nishioka

• After clearing lots of the dead weight from the 40-man roster the Twins filled the empty spots by adding eight players: Aaron Hicks, Kyle Gibson, B.J. Hermsen, Michael Tonkin, Daniel Santana, Josmil Pinto, Tim Wood, Caler Thielbar. All eight players would have been eligible for the Rule 5 draft on December 6 if they hadn't been added and the first five names on the list were expected, as they rank among the Twins' better upper-minors prospects.

Pinto was somewhat surprising in that he's played just 12 games above Single-A through age 23, already spent about half of his time as a designated hitter, and failed to crack a .700 OPS in 2010 or 2011. He did bounce back with a strong season at high Single-A, hitting .295/.361/.473 in 93 games before a late promotion to Double-A, and the Twins apparently believe Pinto has a chance to be an impact bat.

When the Twins signed Wood to a minor-league contract on November 10 he didn't get a 40-man roster spot, but for some reason two weeks later they decided the 30-year-old reliever with just 58 career innings of big-league experience needed to be protected. He has a decent Triple-A track record and looks capable of being a useful middle reliever, but adding Wood to the 40-man roster weeks after signing him to a non-roster deal certainly seems odd.

Thielbar was cut by the Brewers two years after being an 18th-round draft pick and latched on with the independent league St. Paul Saints, where the left-handed reliever impressed the Twins enough to sign him in mid-2011. This year he pitched at Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, faring very well overall, but his 3.57 ERA and 32/16 K/BB ratio in 40 innings for Rochester were nothing special for a 25-year-old. Helluva story, questionable 40-man addition.

• Most of the aforementioned dead weight that was previously trimmed from the 40-man roster have either found new homes or re-signed with the Twins on minor-league deals. Samuel Deduno, P.J. Walters, Esmerling Vasquez, and Luis Perdomo re-upped without 40-man roster spots, Jeff Manship signed a minor-league contract with the Rockies, and Matt Carson signed a minor-league deal with the Indians.

At the time Carlos Gutierrez was the only player claimed off waivers after being dropped from the 40-man roster by the Twins, but two weeks later the Cubs dropped him from their 40-man roster and sent him outright to Triple-A when no one claimed the former first-round pick. As of now the Twins have a full 40-man roster, but there's still no shortage of replacement-level talent that can safely be let go if/when they need spots for trades or signings.

David Bromberg was the Twins' minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, but he was dropped from the 40-man roster after missing most of 2011 with a broken forearm and became a minor-league free agent last month. It was somewhat surprising to see the Twins sour on Bromberg so quickly, but he was never considered a top prospect and struggled this year working mostly as a reliever at age 24. He signed a minor-league deal with the Pirates.

• If you're into misleading headlines "Twins sign former top prospect, No. 3 pick" is a good one, but Jeff Clement seems destined for Rochester after inking a minor-league deal. While in the Mariners' farm system Clement ranked among Baseball America's top 75 prospects in 2006, 2007, and 2008, but poor defense kept him from playing catcher regularly and his bat hasn't been good enough for first base/designated hitter. For now he's just intriguing Triple-A depth.

Tim Doherty and Marty Mason replaced Tom Brunansky and Bobby Cuellar on the Triple-A coaching staff. Doherty will be Rochester's hitting coach after serving as a Red Sox assistant hitting coach this year. Mason takes over as pitching coach and his resume includes 11 seasons as the Cardinals' bullpen coach under manager Tony La Russa. Brunansky and Cuellar were promoted to the Twins' coaching staff as part of last month's quasi-shakeup.

• Last month when Tsuyoshi Nishioka forfeited the remaining $3.25 million on his contract to part ways with the Twins it was portrayed as an act of charity on his part. There's no doubt he did the Twins a favor, but as I wrote at the time: "He'll likely recoup the $3.25 million and then some back in Japan, where he was a .346-hitting, Gold Glove-winning star before leaving." Sure enough, Nishioka signed a two-year, $7.5 million deal with the Hanshin Tigers.

Danny Valencia spent most of his time at Triple-A after the Twins traded him to the Red Sox for a non-prospect in early August and now Boston has cut him from the 40-man roster. Overall this year Valencia hit .188/.199/.299 in the majors and .259/.300/.404 in the minors, posting a combined 90/21 K/BB ratio in 126 games. At age 28 he might be nearing the end of the line, although Valencia re-emering as a right-handed bench bat wouldn't be shocking.

Torii Hunter is back in the AL Central, signing a two-year, $26 million contract with the Tigers. That's a big commitment to a 37-year-old and his 2012 production was built on an sustainably great ball-in-play batting average, but it's worth noting that Hunter has more or less been worth $20 million over every two-year period since establishing himself in 2001. He's aged remarkably well and moving from center field to right field resuscitated his defense.

• For a whole lot more about the 40-man roster additions, Nishioka's raise, and the state of the Twins' farm system check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

« Newer Posts