June 30, 2015

Byron Buxton and the curse of the elite Twins prospect

Byron Buxton Twins injury

Byron Buxton is expected to miss six weeks after suffering a sprained thumb in his 10th game for the Twins, knocking out the team's best prospect less than two weeks into his MLB career and right when he'd gotten back on the track to stardom following an injury wrecked 2014. Buxton had a trio of significant health problems last year, missing three months with a wrist injury, suffering a season-ending concussion in August, and skipping the Arizona Fall League with a broken finger.

Now he's sidelined by a fourth injury at age 21, which is a shame because it robs Buxton of crucial development time and each physical problem also potentially lowers his upside by putting dents in his immense physical tools. Unfortunately that's nothing new for Twins prospects and in fact it has become the standard fate for the crown jewels of their farm system. Based on Baseball America's annual top-100 prospect rankings, here are the best Twins prospects since 2000:

1. Joe Mauer
2. Byron Buxton
3. Francisco Liriano
4. Justin Morneau
5. Miguel Sano
6. Michael Cuddyer
7. Jason Kubel

You can certainly quibble with the exact order--I went into more detail here--but those are the only seven Twins prospects to be ranked among MLB's overall top 20 at some point since 2000. Six of those seven prospects suffered significant injuries before reaching their peaks and five of those seven prospects suffered significant injuries in the minors or in their rookie years with the Twins. In other words, nearly every elite Twins prospect since 2000 arrived as damaged goods.

Mauer tore the medial meniscus in his left knee while chasing after a foul ball in the second game of his Twins career, undergoing surgery the week before his 21st birthday and missing all but 35 games of his rookie season. Liriano made the All-Star team at age 22 and was having one of the most dominant rookie seasons ever by a pitcher when his elbow gave out, requiring Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for the entire next season.

Morneau made it to the Twins and reached his peak unscathed only to suffer a concussion in the middle of his age-29 season. At the time he was hitting .345 with a 1.055 OPS through 81 games, but he didn't play again that season, missed most of the next year, and has never been the same. Sano appeared to be on the verge of the majors last spring when he was shut down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss all of last season at age 21.

Kubel hit .352 with power and speed between Double-A and Triple-A at age 22 and then hit .300 in his 23-game debut with the Twins that September, but he suffered a career-threatening knee injury during a gruesome outfield collision in the Arizona Fall League and missed the entire next season before returning as a much different, more limited player. And now Buxton is out for six weeks with a thumb injury after being sidelined by wrist, finger, and brain injuries last season.

Injuries are obviously a part of baseball for all teams, but six of the Twins' seven elite prospects since 2000 suffering major injuries was franchise-altering. Liriano and Kubel were pretty clearly never the same following their injuries at age 22, it's possible that Mauer never truly reached his full potential playing an entire career with a surgically repaired knee, and Morneau was derailed by a brain injury at his absolute peak and never fully got back on track.

Sano is currently playing well at Double-A, but he's also repeating the level after a lost season, the injury lessens his odds of sticking at third base, and at the very least elbow surgery delayed his arrival to Minnesota. Similarly, four injuries in 18 months has stalled Buxton's development and the Twins can only hope that it won't keep him from ultimately reaching his peak or lower his upside whenever he does get there. It's a fate they've seen far too often with elite prospects.


For a lot more about Buxton's injury and the domino effect it has on the Twins' roster, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

August 29, 2014

Link-O-Rama

• We're broadcasting next week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode live from the KFAN booth at the State Fair from 4-6 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Come sit in the bleachers and stare at us. And also bring me some Sweet Martha's Cookies.

• On a related note, Sweet Martha's Cookies generates the most State Fair revenue and it's nearly three times more than any other vender.

• Mariners minor league Jesus Montero went into the stands with a bat after a Mariners scout heckled him with an ice cream sandwich. And that description doesn't even do the story justice.

Stephon Marbury is starring in a musical in China based on his life.

• Woman charged with attempted murder for driving her car into a man over a "bar tab dispute" at The Bulldog in Uptown, which is why you should go to Nightingale instead.

• Paying for "Invisible Girlfriend" has to be easier than Tinder for a lot of people.

• Minnesota Public Radio has started a new podcast network and my beloved Steve "Randball's Stu" Neuman is running it.

• We recorded this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode half at the KFAN studio and half on the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl while being joined by an assortment of guests.

Drake and Nicki Minaj went to a convenience store to buy a whole bunch of snacks:

We're in agreement about Cheetos.

Natasha Lyonne is dating Fred Armison, which seems like an all-time weird couple.

• Speaking of which, Anna Wintour and Michael Jordan went on a tennis date.

• Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons is a hit-stealing monster.

• A hearty congratulations to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for getting married. Now they can finally have sex.

• After two decades of awful teams Royals manager Ned Yost shamed fans for low attendance, so Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger destroyed him. And then my HardballTalk colleague Joe Posnanski explained why attendance shaming is so misguided.

• I have a couple openings in my "Hardball Dynasty" league on WhatIfSports and the new season begins next week. Click here for details.

• Given the team's self-created difficult circumstances Timberwolves fans should be happy about the return they got for Kevin Love, but Glen Taylor should still probably stop talking.

• I was on the fence about rekindling my long-dormant Timberwolves fandom and then this video pushed me over the edge:

I'm sure they'll figure out the non-dunking stuff at some point.

Joel Przybilla just retired after 13 seasons and nearly $45 million in career earnings.

• Would you let this man manage your baseball team?

Justin Morneau was almost traded to the Brewers, but the Rockies pulled him back off waivers.

• Rochester, New York signed a two-year extension with the Twins to remain their Triple-A home.

• Better late than never: "Gleeman and The Geek" producer Kate Butler just sent me this video of Brandon Broxey, Dana Wessel, Parker Hageman, Holly Manthei, and others "dancing" at my house party last year. I've since moved, thankfully.

• I always enjoy when Alicia Tobin is a guest on "Stop Podcasting Yourself" with Graham Clark and Dave Shumka.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "David Kahn baseball"
- "John Bonnes on KFAN"
- "How fast can Oswaldo Arcia swing?"
- "Wessel pornstar"
- "Scott Ullger horrible"
- "Has Angelina Jolie ever been to Minnesota?"
- "Actor who looks like Eduardo Escobar"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Am I Wrong" by Nico and Vinz:


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

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.

December 5, 2013

Twins Notes: Morneau, Nathan, Kazmir, Pierzynski, and Saltalamacchia

joe nathan and justin morneau twins

Justin Morneau is joining Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins in Colorado, agreeing to a two-year, $13 million deal with the Rockies. Morneau is smart to try to resurrect his career in the majors' most hitter-friendly ballpark and calling Coors Field home for half his games should lead to decent-looking raw numbers even if he doesn't actually improve any, but that's a whole lot more money than I'd feel comfortable investing in him at this point.

Joe Nathan is coming back to the AL Central, signing a two-year, $20 million contract with the Tigers that also includes a team option for 2016, when he'll be 41 years old. Nathan was brilliant in two years with the Rangers, saving 80 games with a 2.09 ERA, 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings, and a .198 opponents' batting average, and then shrewdly declined his $9 million player option for 2014 knowing that he could get a multi-year deal for similar annual money on the open market.

Scott Kazmir signed a two-year, $22 million contract with the A's, which is interesting within the context of Phil Hughes' three-year, $24 million contract with the Twins. Both signings seem reasonable to me, but as noted last month in my breakdown of free agent starters I think Kazmir has more upside than Hughes. Kazmir is perhaps also at considerably higher risk to provide zero value at some point, but there's only so much that can go wrong during a two-year commitment.

• There was quite a bit of buzz linking the Twins to free agents Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski, but now both catchers are off the board. Pierzynski signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Red Sox and it sounds like he passed up multi-year offers to join the defending champs. Saltalamacchia got a three-year, $21 million deal from the Marlins, which is pretty reasonable and suggests he really wanted to play in Miami and/or the Twins' reported interest was overstated.

• As expected the Twins tendered contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players: Anthony Swarzak, Trevor Plouffe, and Brian Duensing. All three are due for raises to around $1.5 million, so there were no monetary reasons to let any of them go. Last month the Twins parted ways with another arbitration-eligible player, Josh Roenicke, because they didn't think he was worth that type of money for a low-leverage middle relief role.

Caleb Thielbar, Andrew Albers, and Chris Colabello worked out well, so the Twins dipped back into independent ball to sign right-hander Jon Velasquez. He spent a couple seasons in the Phillies' farm system before moving on to the Canadian-American Association (where Colabello was MVP) and Atlantic League. Velasquez's track record was nothing special as a starter, but in shifting to the bullpen this year at age 27 he threw 74 innings with a 1.95 ERA and 82 strikeouts.

• They also signed career minor leaguers Brandon Waring, Chris Rahl, and Matt Hoffman to minor-league deals. Waring is a 27-year-old corner infielder with lots of power and strikeouts who hit .214/.317/.449 with 25 homers and 148 strikeouts in 109 games this year. Hoffman is a lefty reliever with just 117 strikeouts in 148 innings at Triple-A. Rahl is a 30-year-old outfielder who's hit .292/.328/.445 at Triple-A. Depth for Rochester, mostly.

Ron Coomer, who does television work for FOX Sports North during Twins games and co-hosts a daily radio show on K-TWIN, is one of two finalists for the Cubs' radio analyst gig.

Adam Platt interviewed Twins owner Jim Pohlad for Twin Cities Business magazine.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode might be the most baseball-focused show we've ever done, with an hour of non-stop talk about the Hughes and Ricky Nolasco signings.


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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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