June 21, 2012

Twins Notes: Liriano, Benson, Rosario, Slama, Bard, Doyle, and Marquis

Francisco Liriano had a 9.45 ERA, .346 opponents' average, and 21-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings over six starts when the Twins demoted him to the bullpen in May. Since rejoining the rotation he has a 2.67 ERA, .155 opponents' average, and 35-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 innings over five starts. It's hard to imagine the Twins re-signing the impending free agent, in which case he has another half-dozen starts to build trade value.

• As if the Twins' farm system wasn't weak enough already now four of their top 10 prospects in my preseason rankings are on the minor-league disabled list. No. 7 prospect Kyle Gibson is still making his way back from last year's Tommy John surgery, No. 9 prospect Alex Wimmers is trying to rehab an elbow injury of his own to avoid the same fate, and now No. 2 prospect Joe Benson and No. 4 prospect Eddie Rosario are both sidelined for extended periods.

Benson fractured his left wrist and surgery will keep him out until mid-July. Rosario was struck in the face by a teammate's line drive and is expected to miss six weeks after surgery to insert a metal plate above his lip. Benson had already been demoted from Triple-A to Double-A and wrist problems often linger, so his injury is the bigger long-term concern. Rosario's injury is also a shame, because it sounds gruesome and he was hitting .293/.363/.473 at low Single-A.

• Sadly the "Free Anthony Slama" movement has been put on ice, and not because the Twins finally called him up after years of dominating in the minors. Slama is slated to miss six weeks after a line drive broke his leg, potentially ending his season with a 0.40 ERA, .175 opponents' average, and 37-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23 innings at Triple-A. He'll be 29 years old before next season and has a 2.24 ERA with 172 strikeouts in 141 career Triple-A innings.

• No. 42 pick Luke Bard was the last remaining holdout among the Twins' top 11 draft picks and the Georgia Tech right-hander agreed to a deal yesterday, meaning just two weeks after the draft they've signed every player selected within the first 250 overall picks. No. 2 pick Byron Buxton is expected to make his rookie-ball debut within a week, so the earlier signing deadline as part of the new collective bargaining agreement has worked well for the Twins.

Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that in preparing scenarios for the No. 2 pick the Twins narrowed their list to Buxton, Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and Kyle Zimmer. Most pre-draft speculation had them choosing whichever one of Buxton or Appel didn't go No. 1, but in reading between the lines it seems like they were set to take Correa if the Astros had taken Buxton. And there was lots of organizational disagreement about the best player.

• In examining the Twins' draft it was obvious that they went out of their way to get power arms, even if they came in the less-than-ideal form of college relievers. Sure enough vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff admitted that was the plan going in, saying: "Pitchability and playability, maybe we overemphasized that. Maybe we emphasized that for too long. It added up. This year, we went for the more presentable qualities."

• Going into the draft Mitch Brown seemed destined for the Twins, as they had six picks in the top 100 and the local right-hander from Rochester Century high school was regarded as a consensus top-100 player. General manager Terry Ryan even scouted him in person multiple times, but then the Twins passed on him at 32, 42, 63, and 72. Brown wound up with the Indians at 79 and signed for an above-slot bonus of $800,000.

• They also repeatedly passed on Gophers right-hander T.J. Oakes, who was selected by the Rockies in the 11th round and signed for $100,000. Oakes is considered a marginal prospect, placing 292nd in Baseball America's pre-draft rankings, but the Twins liked the 6-foot-5 starter enough to draft him in the 41st round last year as a sophomore and have a history of picking Gophers. Oakes had a 2.31 ERA and 78-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 97 innings as a junior.

Released by the Twins with an 8.47 ERA and more walks (14) than strikeouts (12) in seven starts, Jason Marquis signed a minor-league deal with the Padres and made one Double-A start before returning to the majors. Marquis and his agent were smart to choose an NL team with MLB's most-pitcher friendly park, but this is crazy: Through three starts he has a 1.86 ERA and 20/8 K/BB ratio in 19 innings, including his first double-digit strikeout game since 2001.

• Waiver claim Erik Komatsu became expendable once the Twins decided to recall Ben Revere from Triple-A a month ago, so the Rule 5 pick was designated for assignment and predictably the Nationals accepted his return. Komatsu had more upside than the guy he replaced as fourth outfielder, Clete Thomas, but there wasn't much fit for him on a roster that includes both Revere and Denard Span. He's back at Triple-A for the Nationals.

• Speaking of the Rule 5 draft, Terry Doyle is headed to Japan after the Twins selected him with the No. 2 pick only to send him back to the White Sox in spring training. Doyle rejoined the White Sox at Triple-A with a 2.83 ERA and 71-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 76 innings, including a near no-hitter against Rochester, but they agreed to release the 26-year-old right-hander so he could sign with a Japanese team. A fitting end to an all-around weird story.

Phil Dumatrait, who was pitching in Rochester's bullpen after spending much of last season with the Twins, announced his retirement at age 30. He spent parts of 10 years in the minors and finishes with a 6.20 ERA in 151 career innings as a big leaguer, but the 2000 first-round pick had enough smoke and mirrors to post a 3.92 ERA in 45 appearances for the Twins last season despite an ugly 29-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41 innings.

Kevin Mulvey also called it quits, becoming the first player from the Johan Santana trade to retire. At the time of the Santana deal Mulvey was 23 years old and the former second-round pick looked like a potential mid-rotation starter who was billed as close to MLB-ready, but he posted a 7.90 ERA in 27 innings as a big leaguer. He was a bust, but the Twins managed to get some value out of Mulvey by trading him to the Diamondbacks for Jon Rauch in mid-2009.

Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors crunched the numbers on every team's payroll commitments for next season and the Twins have the 13th-most money already spent at $65 million. This year's payroll is around $94 million, which represents a 17 percent drop from last year's $113 million.

Trevor Plouffe isn't the only Twins hitter putting up big numbers since May 15. Through that date the Twins' lineup scored an average of just 3.3 runs in 36 games, but in 31 games since then they've averaged 5.2 runs.

Alex Burnett has a great-looking 2.16 ERA, but he's gotten it done with a ton of smoke and mirrors while posting a horrid 13-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 33 innings. Burnett's strikeouts per nine innings have plummeted from 7.0 in 2010 to 5.9 in 2011 to 3.5 this season, which is the lowest mark by any reliever in baseball.

Jim Thome has hit .315 with 61 homers and a .640 slugging percentage in 194 career games against the Twins. He hit .266 with 37 homers and a .562 slugging percentage in 179 games for the Twins, producing the highest Isolated Power in team history.

Paul Konerko (.431) and Joe Mauer (.415) are the only hitters in the American League with an on-base percentage above .400.

Justin Morneau is hitting .310 with a .595 slugging percentage against right-handers and .091 with a .197 slugging percentage against left-handers.

Lew Ford, who last played in the majors for the Twins in 2007 and is now 35 years old, has hit .383/.450/.626 with five homers and four steals in 28 games at Triple-A for the Orioles.

John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com took a trip to Beloit to see the Twins' low Single-A team and had some interesting thoughts on a variety of prospects, including a pre-injury Rosario.

• ESPN.com ranked the 25 best single-game performances in postseason history and two of the top three spots belong to Twins.

• I was a guest on the Bucs Dugout podcast, talking about the Twins and my decade blogging about them with host Charlie Wilmoth.

• And if you haven't listened to this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode yet, the show was a good one as my guest co-hosts Parker Hageman and Joe Nelson subbed for Wally Pipp.

This week's blog content is sponsored by DiamondCentric and their new "Plouffe There It Is!" shirt, which is available in men's and women's sizes. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

March 12, 2012

Twins Notes: Perkins’ extension, prospect hyperbole, and 1987 romance

• Two months after avoiding arbitration for this season with a one-year, $1.55 million deal Glen Perkins and the Twins agreed to a three-year, $10.3 million extension that includes a team option for 2016. Perkins would have been arbitration eligible for the final time in 2013, so the extension pre-pays that bill and then covers his first two seasons of free agency while giving the Twins a $4.5 million option or $300,000 buyout for his third season of free agency.

Between his 5.06 ERA as a starter and an injury grievance filed against the team Perkins was deep in the doghouse and close to being discarded, but instead he stayed with the Twins and shifted to the bullpen with great success. Perkins wore down late in the season, but that isn't shocking from a 29-year-old working as a full-time reliever for the first time ever and he still finished with a 2.48 ERA and 65-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62 innings overall.

Perkins wasn't quite as great as his ERA suggested, largely because allowing just two homers in 253 plate appearances isn't sustainable, but his 2.92 xFIP ranked 16th among all relievers with 50 or more innings. And while committing $10.3 million to a 29-year-old with a 4.41 career ERA is certainly risky, Perkins was a completely different pitcher last season thanks to adding 3-4 miles per hour to his fastball moving from the rotation to the bullpen.

Obviously waiting to see if Perkins could duplicate that success before making the commitment would have been ideal for the Twins, but another standout year would establish him as an elite reliever and leave him just one season away from a big contract in free agency. Once a player can sniff the open market the motivation to sign a long-term deal often vanishes, so if the Twins believe the Perkins they saw in 2011 is the real deal they did well to sign him now.

Perkins will get $2.5 million in 2013, $3.75 million in both 2014 and 2015, and $4.5 million or a $300,000 buyout in 2016, all of which will be bargains if he keeps thriving as a reliever. And while the deal also includes incentives based on games finished to raise those salaries if he becomes a closer, by signing Perkins as a setup man the Twins don't have to worry as much about how racking up saves would strengthen his bargaining power and perceived value.

• More and more lately I've been trying to take the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" approach to the local mainstream Twins coverage, but sometimes it's just too tough. Last week Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote a pair of columns about Twins prospects that really had me shaking my head. First he wrote a column entitled "Brian Dozier is going to be the next big thing for Twins" that was full of fawning hyperbole:

Dozier, a shortstop from Tupelo, Miss., is going to be the next big thing for the Twins. The only question is: How soon is next? ... At the moment, there seems to be no alternative [at shortstop]. However, Twins fans should take comfort in knowing this dire situation appears temporary. Because Dozier has been advancing through the farm system at breakneck speed.

Apparently in Powers' mind "advancing through the farm system at breakneck speed" means a soon-to-be 25-year-old who began last season at high Single-A and has yet to play a game at Triple-A. But wait, there's more:

Everyone seems convinced that Dozier is the next big thing. Of course, spring training is all about hope. If you can't get excited over a prospect in spring training, heck, you should be watching a different sport. But in this case, I really do think that "next" is going to be pretty darn quick.

Powers writes that "everyone seems convinced that Dozier is the next big thing." In reality, Dozier appeared on zero prominent top-100 prospect lists and doesn't even rank as one of the Twins' top seven prospects according to John Manuel of Baseball America or Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus or Keith Law of ESPN.com. Dozier has the potential to become a solid big leaguer, but the picture being painted by Powers is misleading at best.

And then a couple days later Powers wrote another column with similarly hyperbolic prose touting Chris Parmelee as a future middle-of-the-order slugger:

A true power hitter has a different air about him when he talks about home runs. It's not about getting a good pitch to hit or guessing right on a fastball, but rather it's about a certain feeling that occurs when bat and baseball collide. True power hitters get sort of a faraway look just describing it.

"It's some feeling when you know you got it," Chris Parmelee said. "It's a good feeling, a great feeling." And if the ball is going over the fence anyway, it might as well go waaayyy over the fence, right? "Yeah, why not?" Parmelee said with a chuckle.

Parmelee, like Dozier, has the potential to be a solid big leaguer. He also has a grand total of 19 homers in 253 games and 1,073 plate appearances at Double-A. But wait, there's more:

Called up Sept. 6, Parmelee, a lefty first baseman, hit .355 in 76 at-bats. His on-base percentage was .443, and he had six doubles and four home runs. And those homers traveled a long way. ...

The good news is that he never has lost sight of his best attribute: the ability to hit the baseball a long way. In other words, his role is that of a power hitter. ... Here's a kid who can hit the ball a mile. Put him in the lineup until he shows he doesn't belong there.

Powers makes a huge deal about the four homers Parmelee hit for the Twins in September, using them as evidence that the 24-year-old with zero Triple-A experience should be playing every day in the majors, and repeatedly writes things that make it seem as though he's a big-time slugger. Yet not once in the entire 20-paragraph article does Powers mention that Parmelee had just 19 homers and a .416 slugging percentage in two seasons at Double-A.

J.J. Hardy joined David Ortiz in saying that the Twins coached him not to maximize his power potential, although unlike Ortiz he later clarified the comments to be less critical. Whatever the case, the Twins' homer total hasn't been among the league's top five since way back in 1988 and they've ranked 10th or worse 16 times during that span. They've also had one of the league's top five offenses just three times in the past 19 seasons.

Alexi Casilla didn't look awful and graded out decently statistically in 36 starts at shortstop last year, but apparently the Twins weren't impressed. During an in-game interview on FSN last week Terry Ryan said: "We tried Casilla at shortstop a couple times and it didn't really work out."

Kevin Mulvey, who was acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana deal and then traded to the Diamondbacks for Jon Rauch, has re-signed with the Mets on a minor-league contract after being released by the Diamondbacks. And at age 26 he's little more than Triple-A filler.

• California high school right-hander Lucas Giolito is one of the Twins' potential targets with the No. 2 overall pick, but he'll miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury.

Bobby Valentine, who managed Tsuyoshi Nishioka in Japan for six years, says he predicted Nishioka's broken leg and even warned him about it last spring.

Drew Butera has hit .178/.220/.261 in the majors after hitting .214/.296/.317 in the minors, which makes this article pretty hilarious.

Jason Pridie was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a "drug of abuse," which means the Twins probably won't try to acquire him for a third time.

Doug Mientkiewicz, who last played in 2009, is the Dodgers' new rookie-ball hitting coach.

Joel Zumaya is scheduled for Tommy John surgery and will attempt another comeback.

Gary Gaetti's son is marrying Dan Gladden's daughter.

August 19, 2011

Twins Notes: 600, concussions, missed flights, debuts, and naming later

Jim Thome ruined the Twins' plans to have him reach 600 career home runs at Target Field by being too damn good, hitting his 599th and 600th homers Monday night in Detroit and then delivering No. 601 against the Tigers two nights later. Thome has been deserving of the Hall of Fame for years already, but hopefully becoming the eighth member of the 600-homer club will ensure his place in Cooperstown. With the way he's hitting, though, that can probably wait.

Thome hasn't been able to duplicate his ridiculous 2010 numbers, but he's having one of the greatest seasons in baseball history by a 40-year-old. In fact, last season his .283/.412/.627 line added up to the fourth-highest adjusted OPS+ of all time by a 39-year-old and this season his .259/.365/.513 line would be tied for the fourth-highest adjusted OPS+ from a 40-year-old. Here are the age-39 and age-40 leaderboards for adjusted OPS+:

AGE 39           YEAR     PA    OPS+        AGE 40           YEAR     PA    OPS+
Barry Bonds      2004    617    263         Willie Mays      1971    537    158
Ted Williams     1958    517    179         Carlton Fisk     1988    298    155
Hank Aaron       1973    465    177         Edgar Martinez   2003    603    141
JIM THOME        2010    279    161         JIM THOME        2011    226    139
Babe Ruth        1934    471    161         Dave Winfield    1992    670    137

If you're curious, here's the adjusted OPS+ leaderboard among 41-year-olds:

AGE 41           YEAR     PA    OPS+
Ted Williams     1960    390    190
Barry Bonds      2006    493    156
Brian Downing    1992    391    138
Stan Musial      1962    505    137
Carlton Fisk     1989    419    136

I'd love to see Thome take a run at that list in 2012 for the Twins and even in a part-time role he'd move past Sammy Sosa for seventh place on the homer list. My favorite stat: Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds are the only hitters with more homers and more walks than Thome.

• Two weeks ago Denard Span came off the disabled list despite admitting that he wasn't fully recovered from a June 3 concussion, saying that he felt it was time to simply play through the symptoms after spending two months on the sidelines. He struggled on a rehab assignment at Triple-A and that continued with the Twins, as Span went 2-for-35 (.057) with three times as many strikeouts as walks before being shut down again with migraines and dizziness.

According to trainer Rick McWane "this is something very similar" to his 2009 bout with vertigo and "the concussion stirred up a previous existing condition." Various medications failed and left Span with side effects, making it likely that he'll miss the remainder of the season. Worse, much like Justin Morneau coming into this season, Span may enter 2012 as a major question mark. Unfortunately for Span and Morneau being tough won't help you get over a brain injury.

Luke Hughes was recalled from Rochester to take Span's roster spot and the short-handed Twins would've started him last night versus left-hander CC Sabathia and the Yankees, except Hughes missed his flight to Minneapolis because he was at the wrong gate. Seriously. Michael Cuddyer and Matt Tolbert were on the active roster but injured and Jason Kubel wasn't with the team due to a personal matter, which forced Ron Gardenhire to get creative.

Gardenhire had exactly nine healthy players at his disposal, including a 40-year-old designated hitter and a pair of catchers, so he wrote out a lineup that included Joe Mauer in the outfield for the first time since high school. Mauer will surely never get the same type of endless praise that the local media gives Cuddyer for his willingness to play other positions, but he's looked good at first base since returning from the disabled list and was decent in right field too.

• It turns out the "later" in player to be named later was around 48 hours, as the Tigers sent 23-year-old right-hander Lester Oliveros to the Twins to complete the Delmon Young trade. At the time of the deal a source told me the PTBNL would be "nobody special" and Oliveros fits the description, but he's not without promise. His fastball averaged 94.5 miles per hour in nine games for the Tigers and he's got 93 strikeouts in 72 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

Oliveros' mid-90s velocity and outstanding strikeout rate also comes with poor control, as he's walked 43 batters in those 72 frames. Tons of strikeouts, tons of walks, and a big-time fastball make Oliveros appear similar to a younger version of Jim Hoey, which is intended as a positive thing despite the actual Hoey flopping with the Twins earlier this year. Oliveros may eventually do the same, but he also has a chance to be a quality reliever as soon as next season.

• It went down to the wire, but the Twins got first-round pick Levi Michael and supplemental first-round picks Hudson Boyd and Travis Harrison signed before Monday's deadline. Michael received $1.175 million, which is right about the MLB-recommend "slot" bonus for a 30th pick, but Boyd and Harrison each signed for around $1 million when the slot amounts for their picks were $700,000 and $650,000. As always, it's good to see the Twins spending on the draft.

Kevin Mulvey, who the Twins acquired from the Mets as part of the Johan Santana deal and then traded to the Diamondbacks for Jon Rauch in mid-2009, was designated for assignment by Arizona. He's allowed 24 runs in 27 innings as a major leaguer and the 26-year-old former second-round pick has posted increasingly poor results at Triple-A, including a 6.98 ERA and 44-to-37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80 innings there this year.

• Gardenhire was asked about the 2012 middle infield during a recent interview on 1500-ESPN and specifically mentioned Brian Dozier, a 2008 eighth-round pick who began this season as a 24-year-old at high Single-A and is now playing at Double-A. Dozier is having a very nice year, hitting .317/.397/.465 with nearly as many walks (46) as strikeouts (55) in 108 games, but has just four homers and batted just .275/.350/.349 between two levels of Single-A last season.

• No decision has been made yet on Kyle Gibson's possible Tommy John surgery, as the 2009 first-round pick has decided to get a second opinion next week from the doctor who performed Joe Nathan's elbow surgery in March of 2010.

Ben Revere has made too many outs atop the lineup, but at least some are exciting outs.

• Last night's game against the Yankees wasn't much fun, but this MLB.com headline made me laugh: "Long balls trip up Duensing." In related news, I'm a 28-year-old child.

• Thanks to everyone who listened to the first episode of my "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast with John Bonnes. We weren't sure what to expect, but the download count and the feedback have been extremely encouraging and our plan is to record one new episode a week. You can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or download it via the website, so please help spread the word. And if anyone with some design skills has an idea for a good logo, let me know.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota law firm Snyder Gislason Frasier LLC, so please help support AG.com by considering them for your legal needs.