March 26, 2012

Twins Notes: Outfield realignments, Rule 5 returns, and drugs of abuse

• In signing Josh Willingham to a three-year, $21 million contract in mid-December the Twins indicated that he'd be their everyday right fielder despite playing just 264 career innings there compared to 5,524 innings in left field. Getting a first-hand look at Willingham and the various other outfield options in camp apparently changed those plans, as Ron Gardenhire announced yesterday that Willingham will be the starting left fielder.

Gardenhire also made official what was expected by naming Denard Span the starting center fielder, which leaves right field for ... well, everyone. Depending on how often and at which positions Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are in the lineup right field could potentially be manned by Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Parmelee, or Ryan Doumit, none of whom have ever played the position on more than a semi-regular basis in the majors or minors.

For years the Twins stressed how valuable Michael Cuddyer's arm was in right field, so their willingness to use Revere there when he might have the majors' worst arm and his range is of better use in the more spacious left field is surprising to say the least. If nothing else it signals that Revere is headed for a part-time role, which along with Gardenhire's stubbornness could lead to his biggest strength being diminished and his biggest weakness being magnified.

If the manager were more willing to make daily shifts he could platoon Revere and Plouffe by using Revere in left field with Willingham in right field against right-handed pitching and Plouffe in right field with Willingham in left field against left-handed pitching. That's something plenty of managers do regularly, but it's something Gardenhire has always avoided with occasionally laughable results. Runners going first-to-third at will with Revere in right field would fit that bill.

Whatever the case, based on Terry Ryan's offseason comments and Gardenhire's outfield announcement yesterday it seems clear that the Twins are less sold on Revere than commonly believed. They're certainly right to be skeptical, as I've been making that case since Revere was in the low minors, but the less he plays the less chance their defense has of being above average and I'm similarly skeptical about Parmelee being ready to thrive offensively.

Terry Doyle seemed like an odd choice for the Twins with the No. 2 pick in the Rule 5 draft. Despite being 26 years old he had just 15 starts above Single-A, including zero at Triple-A, and nothing about his raw stuff or track record suggested more than back-of-the-rotation starter potential. At no point has the Rule 5 draft been a sure-fire way to add useful big leaguers, but when picking so high it seemingly made sense to at least target someone with more upside.

In explaining their reasoning for the pick the Twins talked about how impressed they were by Doyle's performance in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 1.98 ERA. However, that consisted of just eight starts and was fueled by an incredibly low batting average on balls in play that screamed fluke. My assumption was that they wouldn't have chosen Doyle if they weren't at least convinced he could stick in the majors as a mop-up man, but apparently not.

Doyle coughed up 10 runs in 5.1 innings this spring and the Twins didn't even keep him around until the end of camp, sending him back to the White Sox. Ultimately it's not a huge deal, as they're out $25,000 and the opportunity to add a higher-upside arm, but it's discouraging for a supposedly scouting-heavy team to take someone atop the Rule 5 draft while citing his fluky, small sample size performance in the AFL as a big factor and then cut him five innings later.

Aaron Thompson, a 25-year-old left-hander the Twins signed to a minor-league contract in December, has been suspended 50 games after violating MLB's drug policy for a "drug of abuse." His track record in the minors is mediocre at best, but Thompson is a former first-round pick and apparently the Twins will keep him in the organization despite the suspension. Once activated he'll likely be a fifth starter or long reliever at Triple-A.

• I'll have a lot more on this subject once my annual series ranking the Twins' top 40 prospects concludes later this week, but Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus recently released their annual organizational talent rankings and the Twins placed 20th and 22nd.

• On a related note, Baseball America crunched the numbers to find that the Twins ranked 15th in international spending last season after ranking 12th in 2010. Miguel Sano alone got a record $3.15 million signing bonus from the Twins in 2009, but in the two years since then they've spent a total of $4.85 million internationally.

• This offseason the Twins sliced $15 million from their payroll, but according to Forbes magazine in 2011 they had baseball's 13th-highest revenue at $213 million and an operating income of $16.6 million, causing the franchise's value to rise four percent to $510 million.

Nick Punto is getting the same treatment from the media in Boston that he got from the media in Minnesota. For instance:

In a game where talent can be measured by precise statistical metrics, Punto is a player whose value is harder to calculate but can’t be denied.

Punto played for $750,000 last year and will make $1.5 million both this season and next season, so teams seem to be in agreement that his value is fairly limited. Then again, I've not experienced his charm in person.

Seth Stohs of Twins Daily reports that the Twins released six minor leaguers: Michael Tarsi, Dan Osterbrock, Kane Holbrooks, Blayne Weller, Matt Schuld, and Derek Christensen. Osterbrock, Tarsi, and Holbrooks each cracked my annual top-40 prospects list at one point, but none were ever considered more than marginal prospects. Christensen was a 2010 draft pick and dominated the low minors, so cutting the 22-year-old right-hander loose seems odd.

• In late 2010 the Twins acquired reliever Brian Fuentes from the Angels for Loek Van Mil, a marginal pitching prospect whose claim to fame was being baseball's tallest player at 7-foot-1. He spent last year at Double-A, throwing 66 innings with a 2.04 ERA and 46-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but the righty from the Netherlands failed to make the Angels this spring and manager Mike Scioscia explained that "he's certainly searching for an out pitch" at age 27.

• Last season the local mainstream media often mocked Kevin Slowey for his intelligence, using it as a way to portray him in a negative light, but a fresh start in Cleveland means the narrative has changed. Jordan Bastian, who covers the Indians for MLB.com, wrote last week:

Always nice as a writer when you find ballplayers who are avid readers on the side ... two in Cleveland's clubhouse include Lonnie Chisenhall and Kevin Slowey.

Funny how that works.

• Last and least, with Opening Day right around the corner I'm restarting the AG.com "sponsor of the week" program. For details about advertising and to reserve your week, click here.

January 24, 2012

Twins Notes: Morneau, Slowey, Turpen, Putnam, French, and Tolbert

Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune traveled to Arizona to see Justin Morneau's workout routine and wrote a lengthy article about his latest comeback. Morneau revealed that he had concussion symptoms as recently as last month, which is awfully worrisome considering his initial brain injury occurred nearly 18 months ago and he still hasn't begun taking batting practice or fielding ground balls. Here's more of what Morneau said:

I wouldn't say the head's perfect yet ... but what I was able to do today is miles ahead of where I was at this time last year. I've had problems with focus. Your mind kind of wanders, I guess, because your brain's so exhausted from trying to interpret what your eyes are seeing.

Not exactly encouraging with spring training around the corner, and lost in all the concussion concerns is that he also underwent neck, knee, foot, and wrist surgeries in 2011. Christensen writes that Morneau still lacks feeling in his left pointer finger, needs treatment on scar tissue in his knee, and has a big bump on his foot. And oddly the wrist injury has somehow flown under the radar despite being the official reason for his trip to the disabled list in June.

At the time little was said about the actual cause of the wrist injury and that remains true, as Christensen says that "his left wrist began bothering him in May" and "when he returned two months later, the wrist was still a big problem." Morneau eventually had surgery to "stabilize a tendon." And that's about it, except Nick Nelson of TwinsCentric reported way back in June that "Morneau's wrist injury was the result of a locker room tirade after a strikeout."

• Last month the Twins traded Kevin Slowey to the Rockies for minor leaguer Daniel Turpen, dumping him for a marginal pitching prospect following a drama-filled year during which neither side came off looking good. At the time he was slated to be Colorado's fifth starter and Slowey avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $2.75 million contract, but the Rockies later traded outfielder Seth Smith for two potential starting pitchers and decided Slowey was expendable.

Six weeks after acquiring Slowey the Rockies traded him to the Indians, who wanted rotation help in case Fausto Carmona's legal situation in the Dominican Republic keeps him from being approved for a visa. Not only is he returning to the AL Central after the Twins banished him to the NL and the worst possible environment for a fly-ball pitcher, the Rockies managed to swap Slowey for Zach Putnam, who's a better prospect than they gave the Twins to get him.

Putnam is far from elite, but he's a 23-year-old former third-round pick with strong numbers in the minors and Baseball America ranked the right-handed reliever as the No. 10 prospect in the Indians' farm system. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has a lower opinion of Putnam, ranking him No. 20 in Cleveland's system, but still likes him more than Turpen. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find a prominent prospect analyst who doesn't have Putnam ahead of Turpen.

So how did the Twins trade Slowey for a marginal prospect only to see him swapped six weeks later for a younger, better prospect? Well, for one thing the Rockies sent $1.25 million to the Indians along with Slowey, whereas the Twins simply wiped him from their books. Beyond that Carmona's legal issues presumably meant the Indians were willing to give up more for Slowey than six weeks ago. And the Twins may have balked at trading him within the division anyway.

Ultimately the odds are against Putnam or Turpen having a significant impact in the majors and it's tough to place a value on how much of a prospect upgrade $1.25 million can buy, but given how the Twins mishandled the situation from start to finish their trading Slowey with his value at an all-time low becomes doubly frustrating when another team got more by letting him sit on their roster for a month. There wasn't even time for Slowey to piss off the Colorado media.

• In trying to figure out how much room the Twins have under their self-imposed $100 million payroll limit my assumption has been that Joe Nathan's buyout was part of the 2012 money. However, according to Christensen the Twins actually view the $2 million as part of "last year's books." If true, that means they should have more than enough payroll room to add a veteran right-handed reliever like Todd Coffey or Dan Wheeler or Brad Lidge or Chad Qualls.

• They won't be among the 25 non-roster players invited to spring training, but Luke French and Brad Thompson are the latest minor leaguers collected by the Twins. French was a decent enough prospect to be traded for a half-year of Jarrod Washburn in mid-2009. He's struggled in the majors with a 5.00 ERA and 79-to-57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 155 innings and got killed at Triple-A last season, posting a 6.27 ERA with 30 homers allowed in 146 innings.

Thompson briefly had some success as a middle reliever for the Cardinals in 2005 and 2006, but struggled after that and the Twins are his fourth organization since 2010. He's still just 29 years old, but Thompson's fastball tops out in the high-80s and his career strikeout rate is 4.2 per nine innings. To put that in some context, Nick Blackburn has averaged 4.3 strikeouts per nine innings. French and Thompson are both destined for Rochester.

Matt Tolbert, who the Twins dropped from the 40-man roster shortly after the season, inked a minor-league deal with the Cubs.

• We're recording a "Gleeman and The Geek" episode tonight, so if there are some questions you'd like to hear answered on the podcast leave them in the comments section.

December 15, 2011

Twins Notes: Comings, goings, returns, and engagements

• Arbitration-eligible players Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, and Alexi Casilla were tendered contracts, but the Twins non-tendered Jose Mijares and made him a free agent. Terry Ryan's explanation for the move was odd, as he said the decision "gets up to how much he's going to make" and "we decided we didn't want to go there." Ryan also indicated that the Twins tried to work out a pre-deadline contract with Mijares to avoid non-tendering him, but he declined.

Non-tendering players rather than paying them undeserved arbitration raises is common, but that doesn't really apply in Mijares' case. He was paid $445,000 in 2011 and would've been in line for a raise to at most $750,000, which is only $270,000 more than the new MLB minimum salary and represents 0.75 percent of the payroll. If the Twins thought he was worth keeping around cutting Mijares loose over money when "money" is only $270,000 makes little sense.

Clearly they lost all faith in Mijares as his velocity dipped and he totaled as many walks (30) as strikeouts (30) in 49 innings, but he's still just 27 years old and prior to falling apart in 2011 he had a 2.49 ERA in 105 career innings. His secondary numbers have never been as good as his ERA, but given that the Twins aren't exactly overflowing with quality relievers and the cost to keep the hefty lefty around was little more than the minimum salary the move surprised me.

• Along with non-tendering Mijares the Twins also sliced Jim Hoey and Pedro Florimon from the 40-man roster. Hoey was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays, leaving only marginal relief prospect Brett Jacobson to show for last winter's misguided J.J. Hardy trade with the Orioles. Florimon, whom the Twins claimed off waivers from the Orioles last week, cleared waivers this time around and was assigned to Triple-A.

Claiming and waiving a player within the span of a week might seem silly, but Florimon has the potential to be a decent utility infielder and now the Twins can stash him in the minors without using up a 40-man roster spot. I've long felt the Twins should be more willing to shuffle guys through the fringes of the 40-man roster, so while Florimon is hardly a high-upside player the maneuvering surrounding him was nice to see.

Hoey perhaps deserved a longer opportunity based on his minor-league numbers and mid-90s fastball, but his complete lack of control and quality off-speed pitches weren't encouraging and at 29 years old he's far from a prospect. Hoey wasn't totally without potential when the Twins acquired him and he's exactly the type of reliever teams should take fliers on in minor trades, but the problem is that trading Hardy was anything but a minor mistake, then and now.

• Signing veteran minor leaguers to help Rochester be competitive after back-to-back 90-loss seasons is clearly a priority for the Twins and the latest batch is Rene Rivera, P.J. Walters, and Sean Burroughs. Rivera split this year between Rochester and Minnesota, helping to fill in for Joe Mauer behind the plate, but was trimmed from the 40-man roster in October. He's the epitome of a replacement-level catcher and handy enough to have around at Triple-A.

Walters was traded from the Cardinals to the Blue Jays in the seven-player swap headlined by Colby Rasmus and Edwin Jackson on July 27, but Toronto let him become a free agent three months later and his track record is pretty underwhelming. Walters briefly looked like a decent prospect back in 2007 and his strikeout rates are solid, but the 26-year-old right-hander has a high-80s fastball, mediocre control, and a 4.63 ERA in 484 innings at Triple-A.

Burroughs was the ninth overall pick in the 1998 draft and Baseball America ranked him as one of the game's top 10 prospects in 2000, 2001, and 2002. His big-league career started off well enough, as Burroughs debuted for the Padres as a 21-year-old and hit .289/.345/364 through his first 339 games, but he never developed any power, regressed in other areas, struggled with substance abuse, and was finished at age 25. Or so it seemed.

After three seasons out of baseball Burroughs signed a minor-league deal with Arizona, whose general manager Kevin Towers was the GM in San Diego who drafted him. He worked his way back to the majors by hitting .412 in 34 games at Triple-A and then struggled in 78 games as a bench bat, hitting .273/.289/.336 with an ugly strikeout-to-walk ratio. Burroughs is one of the biggest prospect busts of the 2000s, but at age 30 still qualifies as intriguing Triple-A depth.

• Just five weeks after Bill Smith was fired as general manager Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com reports that he's close to returning to the organization in a "special assistant" role that would involve running the Twins' efforts in Latin America and their spring training complex in Florida. Smith was overmatched and then some as a GM, but handled the firing amazingly well publicly and has been with the Twins since the mid-1980s, so their showing him loyalty isn't surprising.

Nick Punto signed a two-year, $3 million deal with the Red Sox to replace Jed Lowrie, who was traded to the Astros for Mark Melancon. As always, in a bench role with a modest salary Punto is an excellent fit on just about any team. Unfortunately the Twins played him too much and paid him $4 million in both 2009 and 2010 (plus a $500,000 buyout to avoid paying him $5 million in 2011). He'll now be paid a total of $4 million for his first three post-Twins seasons.

Kevin Slowey avoided arbitration with the Rockies, agreeing to a one-year, $2.7 million deal.

Jacque Jones, whom I rated as the 30th-best player in Twins history, has been hired by his hometown Padres as a Single-A hitting coach. He last played at Triple-A for the Twins in 2010.

• Mauer got engaged to fellow Cretin-Derham Hall graduate Maddie Bisanz.

December 9, 2011

Twins Notes: Slowey, Turpen, Doyle, Hunt, Popham, Florimon, and Cuddyer

Kevin Slowey and the Twins have been headed for divorce since they demoted him from the rotation in favor of Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn during spring training and he reacted poorly to the idea of becoming a reliever. He lasted much longer than I ever expected, making it through the season with a team that grew to despise him, but the two sides finally parted ways as the Twins traded him to the Rockies for a marginal reliever prospect in Daniel Turpen.

Slowey absolutely deserves plenty of criticism, both for his attitude and performance, but the Twins also created the ugly situation by dumping a 27-year-old career-long starter with a 4.41 ERA from the rotation and trying to force him into a role he was unwilling or unable to accept. Duensing and Blackburn combined for a 4.87 ERA in 54 starts while Slowey's stock plummeted so far that the Twins dumped him for a reliever who won't crack my top 40 prospects list.

No one should come off looking good, yet the local media focused on portraying Slowey in the worst possible light while freeing the Twins of any responsibility. He was ripped for refusing to accept an understandably upsetting demotion and for supposedly faking arm issues, and once it became clear the Twins no longer wanted anything to do with Slowey the criticism became absurdly personal. Following the trade, Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote:

Slowey, we hardly knew ye. Oh, wait, yes we did. That's why Twins traded the jerk for a boiled hot dog and a used spit cup.

Terry Ryan made the deal of winter meetings. Traded Slowey for a human.

That's just the culmination of his season-long bashing and while Souhan is the most extreme example he was hardly alone. I'm not defending Slowey's pitching or behavior, but the media coverage was laughably one-sided and the personal attacks were both pathetic and plentiful. Slowey showed how not to handle a demotion, the Twins showed how to squander an asset, and the local media showed how willing they are to rip a guy to shreds if given the go-ahead.

• In trading Slowey to the Rockies the Twins sent him to the worst possible place for a fly-ball pitcher and calling Coors Field home makes it far less likely he'll come back to haunt them. In a neutral environment Slowey remains capable of throwing 150-175 innings with a 4.50 ERA and great strikeout-to-walk ratios, but the odds are heavily stacked against a control pitcher with a high-80s fastball and one of the highest fly-ball rates in baseball thriving at altitude.

Colorado targeting Slowey is weird, but the Rockies probably just saw a 27-year-old formerly decent mid-rotation starter under team control at reasonable salaries for two more years and figured why not pick him up for pennies on the dollar. Turpen was revealed as the player to be named later immediately after the Rule 5 draft was completed and the brief delay was due to the Twins not wanting to protect him from being selected by placing him on the 40-man roster.

Turpen was actually picked by the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft last winter, but didn't stick and is now with his fifth organization in five seasons. He spent this year at Double-A, where the side-arming righty threw 60 innings with a 4.82 ERA and more walks (35) than strikeouts (33). Turpen's previous track record was somewhat better and he's a ground-ball pitcher with good velocity, but as a 25-year-old reliever yet to reach Triple-A he's a long shot to be useful.

• With the No. 2 pick in the Rule 5 draft the Twins selected right-hander Terry Doyle from the White Sox. Doyle's strong performance in the Arizona Fall League got the Twins' attention, but that involved just eight starts and he split the regular season between Single-A and Double-A despite being a 25-year-old drafted out of college in 2007. He fits the Twins' mold with good control and a low-90s fastball, throwing 173 innings with a 3.07 ERA and 122/33 K/BB ratio.

Rule 5 picks must remain in the majors all season or be offered back to the original team. Last year the Twins took Scott Diamond from the Braves and rather than keep him on the roster traded former second-round pick Billy Bullock for the ability to stash him in the minors. I hated the move, as Bullock had far more upside as a hard-throwing reliever with big strikeout totals, and the Twins ended up promoting Diamond to the majors in July anyway.

Presumably by passing on various higher-upside arms to take Doyle with the No. 2 pick they're willing to simply keep him in the majors as a long reliever and mop-up man. Vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff told John Manuel of Baseball America that the Twins think Doyle "has got the ability to be a fourth or fifth starter" with velocity that ranges from "marginal" to "average." Not exactly what I'd target atop the Rule 5 draft, but he's not without potential.

• Despite leaving some decent prospects unprotected the Twins lost no one in the big-league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Shooter Hunt was taken by St. Louis in the minor-league phase, but the 2008 first-round pick's complete inability to throw strikes took him off the prospect radar long ago. Hunt once projected as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter, but he's yet to move beyond Single-A and has a 6.85 ERA with 236 walks in 193 career innings.

They also selected right-hander Marty Popham from the Indians in the minor-league phase and unlike Doyle he can remain in the minors. Popham is another strike-thrower with low-90s velocity and the former 20th-round pick tossed 112 innings with a 4.58 ERA and 106/25 K/BB ratio between high Single-A and Double-A as a 23-year-old. Major-league Rule 5 picks rarely pan out and minor-league Rule 5 picks almost never pan out, so he's likely just Triple-A depth.

• Baltimore trimmed Pedro Florimon from the 40-man roster after an abbreviated September call-up and the Twins claimed the 24-year-old shortstop off waivers. Prior to making his debut Florimon spent the year hitting .267/.344/.396 in 133 games at Double-A. Those numbers are mediocre enough for any 24-year-old at Double-A, but also include a poor 114-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio and actually represent the best performance of Florimon's six-season career.

In other words he can't hit, but Florimon has a reputation as a good defensive shortstop and the other middle infielders on the 40-man roster were Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, and Luke Hughes. There isn't a standout defensive shortstop in the bunch and even "middle infielder" is a stretch in some cases, so for now at least a good-glove, no-hit guy is worth adding to stash in the minors even if Florimon's upside is utility man.

• It sounds like the Twins' primary competition for Michael Cuddyer is the Rockies, so he might be reunited with Slowey if they top the Twins' reported three-year, $25 million offer.

• Old friend Jose Morales signed a minor-league contract with the Pirates. Morales was traded to the Rockies last offseason when the Twins opted for Drew Butera as their backup catcher and ended up missing most of the season with a broken thumb.

• I'm assuming ESPN.com chose this picture to accompany Jerry Crasnick's article about Terry Ryan because it features a Phil Mackey cameo.

• Speaking of which, Twins baseball communications manager Dustin Morse shared a photo of Mackey, John Shipley, and Rhett Bollinger grilling Ron Gardenhire at the winter meetings.

Dan Szymborski released his annual ZiPS projections over at Baseball Think Factory and the Twins' numbers ... well, they aren't pretty.

• This week's podcast features lots of talk about Cuddyer, Slowey, Matt Capps, Jason Kubel, and the winter meetings, plus various other beer-fueled randomness, so give it a listen.

September 22, 2011

Twins Notes: Sisyphus, meetups, cash considerations, regrets, and returns

• I'll be on 1500-ESPN radio today from 10 a.m. until whenever Judd Zulgad and Joe Anderson kick me off the "Judd and Phunn" show. You can listen online here.

John Bonnes, Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, and Parker Hageman (also known as TwinsCentric) are hosting a get-together Saturday at noon for Game 1 of the Twins-Indians doubleheader. I'll be there as well and we'll be recording an episode of the "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast, so if you're interested in watching the game(s), drinking some beer, and talking Twins please come hang out.

The only catch is that we'll be at Manitou Station in White Bear Lake, which is a lengthy trek for most people and along with the Twins' dismal season has me worried that the crowd may be a little more sparse than a typical TwinsCentric gathering. But we're all making the drive and you should too. And as an added incentive I'm pledging to buy any AG.com readers who show up their first beer. Just show up, say hello, order a beer, and it's on me. Here are the details:

Who: Bonnes, Stohs, Nelson, Hageman, Gleeman, and hopefully more

What: TwinsCentric get-together during the Twins-Indians game

Where: Manitou Station in White Bear Lake (click here for map/directions)

When: Saturday from noon until whenever we go home

Why: Because the Twins are less depressing if you're watching with a group and/or drinking

• When the Twins traded Jim Thome to the Indians on August 25 they received a player to be named later or cash in return and they've somewhat surprisingly opted for the money, getting $20,000 to complete the deal. Obviously for a team with a $115 million payroll $20,000 means nothing and for the Twins to choose that instead of even a low-level prospect is frustrating at the end of a miserable year. In announcing the deal general manager Bill Smith explained:

We exchanged some names both ways and in the end we both felt this was the proper way to go. This was certainly the right thing to do for Jim Thome and the right thing to do for the Twins.

It's tough to imagine why they wouldn't pick some Single-A live arm and if any of those players ever finds out that they were passed over for $20,000 they'll probably retire on the spot, but ultimately it doesn't matter. Thome was dealt to save money and to give him a shot at playing meaningful games in September. Cleveland almost immediately fell out of contention following the move, but between his salary and the $20,000 throw-in the Twins saved about $650,000.

• As if the Twins' collapse isn't depressing enough, Wilson Ramos has hit .267/.331/.443 with 14 homers in 109 games for the Nationals. Those certainly aren't jaw-dropping raw numbers, but Ramos' production adds up to an adjusted OPS+ of 112 and that's damn impressive for a 23-year-old rookie catcher. In fact, during the past 25 years here's the complete list of every 23-year-old catcher to post an OPS+ above 100 in 400 or more plate appearances:

                  YEAR      PA     OPS+
Joe Mauer         2006     608     144
Buster Posey      2010     443     129
Jason Kendall     1997     572     114
Craig Biggio      1989     509     114
WILSON RAMOS      2011     420     112
Russell Martin    2006     468     101

That's it. That's the whole list. Oh, and he's also thrown out 34 percent of steal attempts. Sigh.

Denard Span returning to the lineup for a handful of meaningless September games seems like an iffy decision considering how poorly things went last month when he came back despite still having concussion symptoms. Toss in Justin Morneau's recent setback 15 months after his concussion and leaving Span on the sidelines sure seemed like the sensible plan, but at least he felt good after playing five innings. He also said: "I'm praying I wake up feeling good."

Jason Repko was hit in the helmet Sunday and has unfortunately joined Span and Morneau in suffering a concussion, with Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reporting that he's "been bothered by headaches and nausea." According to trainer Rick McWane "he had a CT scan and an MRI exam on his head and they both came back normal" and Repko hasn't officially been ruled out for the season yet, but he won't play again in 2011. What a shame.

• As the Twins zero in on the No. 2 overall pick next year Baseball America released their initial ranking of the top 50 prospects available in the 2012 draft. Generally speaking the draft class is considered underwhelming, particularly in terms of elite talent, but while that's bad luck for the Twins a lot can change before June. For now the main names to track are Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero, and Florida catcher Mike Zunino.

• Speaking of Baseball America, they named Miguel Sano the No. 1 prospect in the rookie-level Appalachian League this season after the 18-year-old third baseman batted .292/.352/.637 with 20 homers and 45 total extra-base hits in 66 games. Elizabethton's other record-setting slugger, 19-year-old center fielder Eddie Rosario, ranked No. 5 on the same list and this year's second-round pick, right-hander Madison Boer, ranked No. 17.

Mike Fast of Baseball Prospectus did an extensive study on the often overlooked impact MLB catchers have framing pitches. His research and results are way too interesting and in-depth for me to recap here, so I'll just note that Joe Mauer's pitch framing has been two runs above average per 120 games, while Drew Butera's pitch framing has been nine runs below average per 120 games. Check out the whole study for some very intriguing, unique stuff.

Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia are the only two players on the Twins' injury wrecked roster who'll log enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, but believe it or not that isn't particularly rare. Ten teams in baseball history have had just one hitter qualify for the batting title, two of which are the Astros and Giants this season, and the Twins are the 70th team to have two or fewer qualifiers in a season.

Brian Dinkelman is 20-for-53 (.377) and all 20 of his hits have been singles. Jim Perry is the only other player in Twins history to record at least 15 hits in a season without an extra-base hit. Perry, a starting pitcher who won the Cy Young award in 1970, went 17-for-92 (.185) with all singles in 1971.

Tom Tango launched his annual "scouting report by the fans for the fans," which is your shot to play a scout by entering in personal observations about the players you watch on a regular basis to become part of the huge collection of scouting reports compiled entirely by fans. Take a look at the instructions and details, and then go to the Twins page to mark down what you think of, say, Trevor Plouffe's throwing accuracy or Ben Revere's arm strength.

Kevin Slowey, after taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning last night only to fall apart for his seventh straight loss:

It's like we’re watching the fate of Sisyphus himself. We get to the top of that hill and just can't seem to figure it out.

Actually, there was probably no need to identify which player said that.

• On a related note, this would have been an interesting conversation to overhear:

Something tells me neither of them mentioned any Greek mythology.

Michael Kruse from Grantland wrote a lengthy article about 32-year-old career minor leaguer Chase Lambin, who spent this season playing at Triple-A for the Twins.

• Dating back to last season the Twins are 61-106 in their last 167 games, including 9-39 since late July. To avoid the second 100-loss season in team history they'd have to finish 4-4.

• If you haven't yet, please check out this week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek."

This week's content is sponsored by Jane Gallop's new book, "The Deaths of the Author: Reading and Writing In Time."

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