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.

October 24, 2012

Twins Notes: Coaching changes, Rantz retires, and Gibson impresses

• It turns out the coaching shakeup wasn't as extreme as first believed, as the reconfigured staff includes Joe Vavra and Scott Ullger sticking around in new roles. Vavra goes from hitting coach to third base coach and Ullger goes from bench coach to first base coach. Ullger is running out of jobs he can be moved to, going from hitting coach to third base coach to bench coach to first base coach, which is the role he filled upon joining Tom Kelly's staff in 1994.

Vavra and Ullger remaining on Ron Gardenhire's staff and Rick Anderson keeping his job as pitching coach means the shakeup led to just three new coaches: Tom Brunansky replaces Vavra as hitting coach, Bobby Cuellar replaces Rick Stelmaszek as bullpen coach, and Terry Steinbach replaces Ullger as bench coach. Brunansky and Cuellar were the Triple-A hitting and pitching coaches, while Steinbach has been an assistant coach for Wayzata high school.

Cuellar is an intriguing addition because he has a lengthy track record in the minors that includes being credited with teaching Johan Santana his incredible changeup and also gives the Twins a much-needed Spanish-speaking coach. Brunansky was promoted from Double-A to Triple-A this year and has drawn some rave reviews for his work with young hitters, so it will be interesting to see how his approach differs from Vavra's, especially with Vavra still around.

Cuellar and Brunansky were expected additions, but Steinbach seemingly came out of nowhere after the Twins decided against taking Paul Molitor up on his offer to join the staff. Steinbach is a Minnesota native who starred for the Gophers and spent the last three seasons of his 14-year career with the Twins, but he's never coached professionally beyond being a spring training instructor. In addition to bench coach duties he'll work specifically with catchers.

It's not often that you see both a hitting coach and a bench coach demoted to base coaches, but it fits with the Twins' overall reluctance to make sweeping changes. Even when they shake things up they still can't quite say goodbye to longtime staffers and in the end Stelmaszek, first base coach Jerry White, third base coach Steve Liddle are the only members of the 2012 staff who won't be on the 2013 staff.

• There was a major change in the front office, as Jim Rantz announced his retirement after an astounding 52 years in the organization as a player, scout, and executive. Rantz was born in St. Paul, pitched for the Gophers, and actually predates the team's move to Minnesota, signing with the Washington Senators in 1960. He never made the majors, but pitched five years in the minors and went on to become one of the most important people in Twins history.

For the past 27 years Rantz has been the Twins' minor league director, overseeing the draft and development of prospects that has consistently played such a key role in any success the organization has found during that time. He's specifically credited with picking Kirby Puckett third overall in the 1982 draft and repeatedly received awards from his peers in the scouting community. Rantz's right-hand man, Brad Steil, has been named the interim replacement.

Kyle Gibson is turning heads with his performance in the Arizona Fall League, combining great results with better velocity than he showed prior to Tommy John elbow surgery last year. So far we're only talking about a total of 13 innings, so the sample size is barely worth mentioning, but Gibson has a 0.69 ERA and 19-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio while inducing nearly three ground balls for every fly ball. Keith Law of ESPN.com filed this scouting report:

Gibson was very impressive Tuesday in his second start of the fall, working from 92-94, driving the ball down in the zone, and showing a plus slider at 83-86 that he would throw in any count, in or out of the zone, and would even back-foot to a left-handed hitter when the guy might be looking for a changeup away. He did show a true changeup, but was mostly fastball-slider and looked like a big leaguer, and one with a higher ceiling than he showed as an amateur when he had a pretty-but-slow curveball as his primary breaking ball.

Gibson wouldn't be the first pitcher to come back from Tommy John surgery throwing harder than before, but that certainly hasn't been the norm for Twins pitchers over the years and too often the opposite has been true. He still has a long way to go, but so far so good.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we did a tutorial on transaction, roster, and service time issues and one of them was the circumstances in which "Super Two" players get an extra year of arbitration eligibility. Based on MLB Trade Rumors' calculations Twins reliever Alex Burnett missed qualifying for "Super Two" status by four days, so he'll make the minimum salary in 2013 rather than potentially doubling that amount via the arbitration process.

• In preparation for the offseason teams are clearing 40-man roster space by waiving players and because of their high waiver wire priority the Twins may be able to snag someone useful. Their own housecleaning should come soon and marginal players on the 40-man roster include Luis Perdomo, Esmerling Vasquez, Matt Carson, Jeff Manship, P.J. Walters, Deolis Guerra, Cole DeVries, Samuel Deduno, Carlos Gutierrez, Kyle Waldrop, and Drew Butera.

• Just a reminder in the wake of his ALCS MVP: Delmon Young has hit .268/.296/.422 in 191 regular season games for the Tigers, was moved to designated hitter on a team that has Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the field, hit .240/.270/.320 in "high leverage" situations this year to rank dead last among 143 qualified hitters in Win Probability Added, ranked 139 out of 143 in Wins Above Replacement, and hit .235/.278/.235 in the ALDS. Shit happens.

• I wrote the foreword for the "2013 Offseason Handbook" published by Twins Daily, which includes an incredible amount of good, unique content written by John Bonnes, Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, and Parker Hageman, plus a lengthy interview with Terry Ryan. I'm not part of the Twins Daily crew, so my recommendation is based purely on merit: For just $6.95 you can get a great product and support writers who provide tons of free Twins content year-round.

• There's no real correlation between playing ability and coaching ability, but I ranked Brunansky as the 28th-best player in Twins history.

• I'll start breaking down potential free agent options, trade targets, and other offseason topics once the World Series is over, but in the meantime this week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" includes a lengthy preview of the Twins' payroll situation and winter plans along with a position-by-position look at free agency.

October 17, 2012

Twitter Mailbag: Answers

Last week I asked for mailbag questions submitted via Twitter, so here are about 1,600 words worth of me answering 140-character queries ...

@mdidrikson: What is the best baseball book you've read?

Without question "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton. I've read it at least five times and it never ceases being amazing. For him to write something that great in 1970 is crazy. Meeting him at the SABR convention in Seattle a few years ago was a big thrill.

@caniwarrior: How did Rick Anderson survive the coaching purge?

Rick Anderson became pitching coach when Ron Gardenhire replaced Tom Kelly as manager in 2002, so the combination of a decade on the job and Gardenhire's support is a pretty strong one. My assumption is that Gardenhire fought to keep Anderson around, perhaps at the expense of multiple other coaches, but that's just speculation. Obviously the Twins' pitching has been in decline for a while now and Anderson is presumably on the hottest of hot seats.

@ZBurmeister: What are your favorite podcasts I probably haven't heard of?

I work from home and listen to podcasts constantly all day while I write for NBCSports.com, so at this point I subscribe to more than 40 of them. There's a complete list on the right-hand sidebar of this page, but in terms of podcasts you may not be familiar with my favorites right now are:

- "Stop Podcasting Yourself" with Graham Clark and Dave Shumka
- "The Best Show On WFMU" with Tom Scharpling
- "Fan Graphs Audio" with Carson Cistulli and Dayn Perry
- "The Long Shot" with Sean Conroy, Eddie Pepitone, Jamie Flam, and Amber Kenny
- "Throwing Shade" with Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi

And of course "Gleeman and The Geek." Once the playoffs are over and my work schedule settles down a bit I think I'll write up a guide to all the podcasts I like, because it's something people ask about a lot and as someone who loves the medium spreading the word would be nice.

@jacoblaxen: What is Terry Ryan's first move this offseason?

It's always hard to predict the timing of moves, but based on Terry Ryan's repeated comments about upgrading the rotation and not liking the free agent market my guess would be some sort of trade for a starting pitcher. Reading between the lines, it sure seems like he has a trade or two on the table that he feels reasonably comfortable with.

@skrypzUSN: Who would you rather see traded for starting pitching, Denard Span or Ben Revere?

It all depends on what type of returns they would fetch. Denard Span is a better player than Ben Revere right now and generally seems underrated by Twins fans, but he's also older, much more expensive, and much closer to free agency. If they both had identical trade value I'd probably lean toward trading Revere and sticking with Span, but they don't. Span should be able to command a lot more in return.

@commnman: Are there any bargain free agent starting pitchers you'd be comfortable with the Twins targeting this offseason?

Quite a few, actually. This is a pretty deep crop of free agent starters, at least relative to other offseasons. There aren't many elite, top-of-the-rotation options, but the Twins wouldn't be in the mix for them anyway and there are plenty of mid-rotation types available. As soon as the playoffs end I'll have an article breaking down all the options, but for now some names to ponder: Joe Blanton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ervin Santana, Gavin Floyd, Brandon McCarthy.

@dbrugg999: Twins talk is about how they need starting pitching, but what other position is crucial that they upgrade?

Middle infield, but that's been true for essentially the past decade. Right now Pedro Florimon is probably the favorite to start at shortstop in 2013, which says a lot about a lot.

@jackthumser: How closely do you follow other sports?

Pretty closely. I've always been a big basketball and football fan, and for several years I wrote about the NFL for Rotoworld. I know absolutely nothing about hockey and don't have a ton of interest in other sports except for mixed martial arts and, if you consider it a sport, poker.

@mattusaurus: Who has the best pitch in baseball?

Mariano Rivera's cutter was the correct answer to this question for 15 years, but since he missed the entire season I suppose we need a new one. Fan Graphs assigns run values to pitches and based largely off those my picks would be Craig Kimbrel's fastball, Fernando Rodney's changeup, Clayton Kershaw's curveball, Yu Darvish's slider, and R.A. Dickey's knuckleball. And along the same lines as Rivera's cutter, I guess Dickey's knuckler is the best.

@salmensays: Do right-handed hitters or left-handed hitters get more infield hits?

I'm guessing most people would assume left-handed hitters get more infield hits, by virtue of being a couple steps closer to first base. However, studies have shown that right-handed hitters actually get more infield hits because they hit more ground balls to third base and shortstop, which require longer throws than ground balls hit to second base and first base.

@ZnelND: Who's the best Twins prospect no one has heard of?

I'd say probably Jorge Polanco. He was overshadowed by Miguel Sano and Max Kepler when he signed for $750,000 as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 and then got off to a slow start as a professional, but Polanco had a great half-season at rookie-ball. He's years from potentially entering the Twins' plans, but as a shortstop with a good bat Polanco is one of their highest-upside prospects.

@jimcamery: Do prominent ex-players make better coaches than scrubs? Is there any real data?

That question was about Paul Molitor being turned down for a job on the Twins' revamped staff. Many fans assume that great players like Molitor would make great coaches, but there isn't much evidence to support that. Very few Hall of Fame-level players go on to become great coaches or managers and many of the best coaches and managers were marginal players. Molitor, for instance, was fired by the Mariners after one season as hitting coach in 2004.

@MeatSauce1: Bring Alex Rodriguez to the Twins?

That question comes from the world renowned Meat Sauce of KFAN fame, so of course I have to answer it. There's zero chance of the Twins trading for Alex Rodriguez, but it'll be interesting to see if the Yankees try to trade him, period. He's owed $114 million for the next five seasons and I'm guessing they'd have to eat at least $75 million to unload him. Also worth noting: Rodriguez hit .272/.353/.430 this season. Justin Morneau hit .267/.333/.440.

@mdidrikson: What's the best team in the past 25 years to not win the World Series?

There are a lot of them, because the nature of baseball means being the best team during a 162-game season and winning the World Series are often very different things. I'd probably go with the 2001 Mariners, who set the modern record with 116 wins and lost in the ALCS. Any good baseball team can beat any other good baseball team three times in five games or four times in seven games, which simultaneously makes the playoffs great and maddening.

@ScandiAngel: What's a reasonable expectation for Kyle Gibson in 2013? Will the Twins treat him like Stephen Strasburg?

I'm sure Kyle Gibson will be on a workload limit in 2013. In terms of what to expect, he's off to an impressive start in the Arizona Fall League and reportedly throwing harder now than he did before Tommy John surgery. He'll compete for a rotation spot in spring training before most likely heading to Triple-A. Expectations should be held in check because Gibson wasn't an elite prospect before the injury, but if things go well he could join the Twins' rotation midseason.

@jimcamery: Was Prince Fielder worth the money?

Prince Fielder hit .313/.412/.528 with 30 homers in 162 games, so he certainly earned his $23 million salary this season. That was always pretty likely, though, because he's 28 years old with a great track record. He's still owed another $191 million for the next eight seasons and the odds of the second half of that deal looking good for the Tigers seems iffy at best. Then again, I'm more or less against handing out massive long-term contracts to any player.

@SpitThatHotFire: Where do you see Josh Hamilton ending up next year?

Josh Hamilton is one of the most interesting free agents ever. Based solely on his track record at age 31 he'd be in line for well over $100 million, but because of his off-field (and on-field) issues it wouldn't surprise me if he signed for less than $100 million. As for where ... I have no idea. It sure seems like the Rangers don't want him back unless it's cheap and most of the usual free-spenders seem unlikely to go nuts for him. "Not the Twins" is the best I can do.

@wombat_socho: Is there any cure for Ron Gardenhire's addiction to scrappy/useless infielders?

Well, the most obvious cure is for the front office to stop providing him with such players, but then that brings up the question of who has the addiction in the first place.

@commnman: How are Twins fans supposed to decide between rooting for Delmon Young and rooting for the Yankees?

We actually discussed this at some length on this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode and ultimately concluded that rooting for the Tigers made sense under these circumstances.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Audible, which is offering a free audiobook download for AG.com readers and "Gleeman and The Geek" listeners at AudiblePodcast.com/Gleeman.

September 6, 2012

Twins Notes: September call-ups, Dozier, Slama, Span, Parmelee, and AFL

• As of September 1 rosters can expand from 25 to as many as 40 players, but the Twins waited until September 4 to do so and then called up just two players: Eduardo Escobar and Luis Perdomo. Escobar is a light-hitting 23-year-old middle infielder who was acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade and hit just .217/.259/.304 with a 26-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 games at Triple-A following the deal.

Perdomo is a 28-year-old journeyman reliever who was signed as a minor-league free agent back in November and began this season at Double-A before moving up to Triple-A. Between the two levels he threw 73 innings with a 2.60 ERA and 68-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and Perdomo also got a five-game stint with the Twins earlier this season in which he walked seven in six innings. He throws hard, but has iffy control and a 4.07 career ERA at Triple-A.

• Apparently those are the only planned additions for the entire month, which means players on the 40-man roster not getting call-ups include Brian Dozier, Deolis Guerra, Jeff Manship, Pedro Hernandez, and Oswaldo Arcia. Dozier's lack of a call-up is the most surprising, because when the Twins demoted him to Triple-A last month the assumption was that he'd definitely be back once rosters expanded.

Instead he was a mess in Rochester, hitting just .171 with a 16/3 K/BB ratio in 20 games to continue the troubling lack of strike-zone control he showed in the majors. Combined between Triple-A and the majors Dozier hit .233 with a .276 on-base percentage and .334 slugging percentage while striking out 92 times compared to 30 walks. Plenty of prospects bounce back from a terrible season, but the difference with Dozier is that he's already 25 years old.

• And then there's Anthony Slama, who as usual posted amazing numbers at Triple-A and as usual is ignored by the Twins. Slama finished his fourth consecutive season in Rochester with a 1.24 ERA, .195 opponents' average, and 56 strikeouts in 36 innings, giving him a lifetime 2.27 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 154 innings at Triple-A. Slama is 28 years old, so whatever career he was capable of having has been wasted because the Twins wouldn't give him a chance.

For his minor-league career Slama has a 1.99 ERA and 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, racking up more than twice as many strikeouts (446) as hits allowed (213) in 325 innings. Maybe he would have struggled against big-league hitters, but the Twins will never know because they repeatedly left Slama in the minors to rot. This year that involved giving Jeff Gray five months and 50 innings to show that his lengthy track record of mediocrity wasn't a fluke.

Denard Span was finally placed on the disabled list after staying on the Twins' active roster for 18 days with a shoulder injury that allowed him to play just four games during that time. Rather than another rant about the Twins' medical staff I'll focus on the fact that Span's injury opens the door for Chris Parmelee to get an extended opportunity down the stretch after mostly sitting on the bench for a month last time he was in the majors.

Parmelee certainly deserves a chance after hitting .338/.457/.645 with 17 homers, 17 doubles, and a 52-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64 games at Triple-A, but as I wrote three weeks ago without a trade or an injury there wasn't anywhere for him to play. It's interesting that the Twins are using Parmelee in right field because he figures to be below average there and played zero innings in the outfield for Rochester.

• This year's Arizona Fall League participants are out and the Twins are sending Kyle Gibson, Michael Tonkin, Logan Darnell, Caleb Thielbar, Chris Herrmann, Nate Roberts, and Evan Bigley. Going to the AFL is a way for Gibson to get some work in after missing most of the season following last year's Tommy John surgery and a strong performance there could give him at least some chance to compete for a spot in the Twins' rotation next spring.

Gibson, Herrmann, and Roberts each cracked my list of the Twins' top 40 prospects heading into the season and Tonkin will definitely be on the 2013 list after breaking out between two levels of Single-A. This will be Herrmann's second trip to the AFL, as he was part of the Twins' contingent there last year along with Dozier, Aaron Hicks, Cole DeVries, Scott Diamond, Dakota Watts, Brett Jacobson, and Bruce Pugh.

Lester Oliveros pitched well enough in the minors this season to emerge as a bullpen option for 2013, but now the hard-throwing right-hander will likely miss all of next year after Tommy John elbow surgery. Acquired from the Tigers in last season's Delmon Young trade, Oliveros threw 48 innings with a 2.42 ERA and 51-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio between Double-A and Triple-A at age 24 and has (or at least had) a legitimate mid-90s fastball.

• As the Twins appear headed for another top-five draft pick it's worth noting that the 2013 draft class, much like the 2012 draft class, is viewed as lacking elite-level talent. Keith Law's early ESPN rankings include Mark Appel in the top spot after the Stanford right-hander fell to No. 8 and turned down $3.8 million to go back to school, followed by Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek, Stanford outfielder Austin Wilson, and Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea.

• After bludgeoning the White Sox for 18 runs Tuesday night the Twins rank fourth among all MLB teams in games with double-digit runs scored this season, yet they rank just 13th in overall runs per game. When the Twins score double-digit runs they're 13-0. In all other games they're 43-81 while averaging 3.6 runs per game.

Jamey Carroll snapped the majors' longest homerless streak Monday, going deep off White Sox starter Hector Santiago for his first home run in 1,540 plate appearances dating back to August 9, 2009. In between Carroll long balls Jose Bautista led the majors with 134 homers, seven players homered at least 100 times, and 93 players homered at least 50 times.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily used video and numbers to examine Joe Mauer's struggles throwing out runners this season.

Ben Revere is now hitting .300 with a .690 OPS, which would make him the first player since Lenny Randle in 1974 to hit .300 or higher with an OPS below .700. Aside from Revere and Randle no other .300 hitter has posted a sub-.700 OPS since 1943.

• In the comments section of my post last week about Darin Mastroianni's future several people wondered if he could be an option at second base after seeing some time there in the minors, but Ron Gardenhire has already shot that idea down pretty thoroughly.

• For a lot more about September call-ups, Dozier, Slama, and the Twins' medical staff check out this week's episode of Gleeman and The Geek (which is back to being fueled by beer).

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August 7, 2012

Twins Notes: Valencia, Nishioka, Wimmers, Gibson, Plouffe, and Morneau

Trevor Plouffe's thumb injury and the lack of other decent, healthy infielders on the 40-man roster convinced the Twins to turn back to Danny Valencia despite his hitting .250/.289/.399 with a 40-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 69 games at Triple-A following his mid-May demotion. Plouffe remains on the disabled list, but after one week with Valencia the Twins decided they'd seen enough and traded him to the Red Sox for rookie-ball outfielder Jeremias Pineda.

Pineda's lofty .421 batting average looks pretty, but a month of Gulf Coast League action doesn't mean much and his 22-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't particularly impressive from a 21-year-old competing against teenagers. He's fast and might some day develop into a decent prospect, but Pineda is little more than a toss-in right now. Make no mistake about it: Valencia was essentially given away by the Twins. And it's hard to blame them.

Valencia hit .311 with good defense in an 85-game debut in 2010, but his track record showed he was playing over his head on both sides of the ball. He came crashing back down to earth last season and then completely fell apart this year, making him a career .260/.301/.393 hitter in 1,062 plate appearances. Jason Tyner had a higher OPS as a Twin. Toss in poor defense at third base from a soon-to-be 28-year-old and Valencia just isn't a starting-caliber player.

He does potentially have some value as a backup third baseman/first baseman or platoon guy versus left-handers, against whom he's hit .318/.363/.472. Of course, since Plouffe is also a right-handed bat and it's hard to imagine Ron Gardenhire platooning Justin Morneau or even Chris Parmelee with Valencia at first base there wasn't going to be much room for a part-time role in Minnesota. He's a marginal player who wore out his welcome on and off the field.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka was even worse than Valencia in Rochester, hitting .245/.309/.301 in 84 games, yet he was called up to fill the roster spot and immediately thrown into the lineup at second base last night. It took literally one play for the ball to find Nishioka and for Nishioka to commit a brutal error, and then later he made a second error just for good measure, although he did manage to successfully turn a double play without getting his leg broken. Baby steps.

Nishioka has no business being in the majors--he was terrible for the Twins and overmatched at Triple-A--but he's making $3 million this season and is owed another $3 million next season. At some point perhaps they'll decide he's simply a sunk cost and move on, but in the meantime he'll get a chance to show any sort of offensive or defensive ability. It probably won't be pretty, but it's not as if Nishioka is blocking any promising middle infielders from playing time.

• In early May former first-round pick Alex Wimmers was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral elbow ligament and the Twins, as they've often done with injured pitchers, advised him to rest and rehab in attempt to avoid surgery. Rarely, if ever, has that accomplished anything but delaying the inevitable and pushing back the eventual recovery timetable, and sure enough after resting for three months Wimmers had Tommy John surgery last week.

He'll be sidelined for 12 months and because he waited until now to undergo surgery that means Wimmers may not pitch at all next season. Wimmers was said to be one of the most MLB-ready pitchers available when the Twins drafted him out of Ohio State with the 21st pick in 2010, but the combination of last season's extreme control problems and this year's elbow injury means he'll likely see his next game action in 2014 as a 25-year-old with 62 pro innings.

• Wimmers' story is depressingly similar to Kyle Gibson's story, as the 2009 first-round pick injured his elbow last July, was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in August, and underwent Tommy John surgery in September. And because of the delayed surgery Gibson is just now seeing game action again in rookie-ball, where both his raw stuff and results have been very encouraging so far.

When back-to-back first-round picks touted as close to MLB-ready need Tommy John surgery that helps explain how the Twins' pitching situation became so dire. Neither projected as aces, but things would have been much different had Gibson joined the rotation as a No. 3 starter in the middle of last season and Wimmers got the call-up as a No. 4 starter this year. That's bad luck, but as has far too often been the case the Twins' medical staff didn't help matters.

• Speaking of the medical staff, the aforementioned Plouffe is the latest player to miss significant time with a supposed "day-to-day" injury that the Twins initially didn't deem worthy of a DL stint. Plouffe hurt his thumb on July 20, remained on the active roster for a week without actually being available to play, and then finally went on the DL. And now he'll remain on the DL well beyond the minimum 15 days, which is an all-too-familiar story.

To invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the MLB roster and seven-team farm system only to frequently have "day-to-day" injuries turn into month-long absences, terrible performances attributed after the fact to playing through injuries, and surgeries delayed by half a season has to be maddening for ownership and the front office. And yet just like after last season the question is how much more of that needs to take place before substantial changes are made?

• One month ago Morneau was hitting .238/.306/.431. Since then he's hit .368/.413/.611 with five homers and eight doubles in 24 games, including a pair of homers last night. During that time Morneau reduced his strikeout rate from 20 percent to 9 percent and went from hitting under .100 versus lefties to hitting nearly .500 against them. He's up to .275/.335/.481 on the season, which is very close to his .280/.351/.495 career mark.

• FSN showed this stat last night and I had to double-check to make sure it was true. Sure enough Josh Willingham now has the most homers in baseball since July 29 of last season:

JOSH WILLINGHAM       45
Curtis Granderson     42
Ryan Braun            41
Josh Hamilton         41
Jose Bautista         39
Albert Pujols         38

During that year-plus span Willingham has played 161 total games, hitting .260/.365/.555 with 45 homers, 33 doubles, 82 walks, and 129 RBIs. Mercy.

Lester Oliveros, who made one appearance for the Twins in mid-June, will miss the rest of the season following surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. Oliveros has a mid-90s fastball and logged 48 innings between Double-A and Triple-A with a 2.42 ERA and 51-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio, so if healthy the right-hander acquired from the Tigers in the Delmon Young trade could be an Opening Day bullpen option for 2013.

• I'm assuming anyone reading this blog understands Samuel Deduno's success isn't sustainable unless he makes major changes, but just in case: Pitchers with more walks than strikeouts don't stay in the majors for long, let alone maintain sub-3.00 ERAs, and as a 28-year-old journeyman with 5.1 walks per nine innings in the minors he's an unlikely candidate for sudden improvement. It sure is interesting to watch while it lasts, though.

• Thursday night Glen Perkins became the first Twins reliever since Craig Breslow in 2008 to pitch two or more innings while recording a save, which has happened a total of 11 times since Gardenhire took over as manager in 2002. On a related note Breslow, who pitched for the Red Sox against the Twins this weekend, has a 3.02 ERA in 235 innings since they misguidedly waived him in favor of Sean Henn in mid-2009.

Pat Neshek was traded from the Orioles to the A's and called up to Oakland after spending all season at Triple-A. Neshek struggled for the past two years following Tommy John surgery, but pitched like his old self in the minors with a 2.66 ERA and 49-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44 innings and then struck out the side in his A's debut Friday. Oakland and Baltimore play in September, so a Neshek-Lew Ford matchup that would blow Twins fans' minds is possible.

Matthew Kory of Baseball Prospectus noticed that Francisco Liriano is all but certain to lead the Twins in strikeouts for the season with 109 despite being traded on July 28. Scott Diamond has the second-most with 62. In his 17 starts Liriano averaged 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings and the 10 other pitchers to start a game for the Twins this season have combined for 4.8 strikeouts per nine innings, including none above 6.3.

• While watching Friday night's game I wondered if Darin Mastroianni, Denard Span, and Ben Revere are the fastest (and maybe best defensive) outfield to start multiple games together in Twins history. Impossible to say for sure, but it's hard to imagine a group with more range. Other candidates from my lifetime include the "Soul Patrol" of Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter, and Matt Lawton or the World Series trio of Dan Gladden, Kirby Puckett, and Shane Mack.

Jamey Carroll, who's 38 years old and hitting .245 with zero home runs and a .292 slugging percentage, is five RBIs away from a new career-high.

• For a lot more (and some might even say too much) talk about Valencia, Nishioka, and the Twins' medical staff, listen to this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode.

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