September 5, 2011

Twins Notes: Bad news, good news, call-ups, vetoes, and symptoms

• Unfortunately in a season ruined by injuries not even the Twins' minor leaguers are safe, as Kyle Gibson will undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. On the Twins' advice Gibson tried to avoid surgery with rest and rehab, but the odds were always in favor of his eventually going under the knife. In the past telling pitchers to put off surgery hasn't worked well for the Twins, but in this case the delay likely won't matter.

Because the typical recovery timetable for Tommy John surgery is 12-18 months Gibson would have missed most and perhaps all of 2012 whether he had the operation now or a month ago when the partially torn ligament was identified. All things being equal sooner is better, but there are some examples of pitchers with similar injuries avoiding Tommy John surgery and the chance of that, however slim, was probably worth the month-long delay for a 23-year-old.

Stephen Strasburg is back in the majors and throwing mid-90s fastballs again almost exactly 12 months after his Tommy John surgery, so it's possible that Gibson could see game action by late next year. Either way, his timetable for joining the Twins' rotation has now been pushed back until at least mid-2013 and the 2009 first-round pick has gone from the organization's top prospect to a major question mark. What a shame.

Alex Wimmers walked the first six hitters he faced this year, was immediately removed from the rotation at high Single-A, and spent three months trying to avoid going further down the scary Steve Blass/Rick Ankiel path. He rejoined Fort Myers as a reliever and then moved back into the rotation last month, pitching very well while avoiding any serious control issues. And on Saturday night he threw a seven-inning no-hitter in his final outing of the season.

Perhaps more importantly than not allowing any hits Wimmers issued just two walks and faced the minimum 21 batters in a 1-0 victory, with Aaron Hicks knocking in the lone run. Since his disastrous season debut and lengthy stay in extended spring training Wimmers has thrown 41 innings with a 3.32 ERA and 39-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio while limiting opponents to a .189 batting average. He's not out of the woods yet, but the 2010 first-round pick is back on track.

• Rosters expanded from 25 to 40 players on September 1 and the Twins called up Jim Hoey, Kyle Waldrop, and Brian Dinkelman as their first batch of reinforcements. Hoey was acquired from the Orioles in the J.J. Hardy deal and flopped earlier this season, allowing 18 runs in 15 innings. He still has high-90s velocity, but Hoey is 28 years old and didn't even fare particularly well at Triple-A with a 3.83 ERA and 38-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 42 innings.

Waldrop was similarly underwhelming in Rochester's bullpen, striking out just 44 batters in 79 innings while opponents to hit .276 with seven homers. He was far better in 2010, tossing 88 innings with a 2.57 ERA and 25 percent more strikeouts, but the Twins left him off the 40-man roster during the offseason and Waldrop went unpicked in the Rule 5 draft. Finally adding him now is odd timing, but Waldrop gets enough ground balls to possibly be a useful reliever.

When the Twins called up Dinkelman in June it was surprising, but two weeks later they put him through waivers unclaimed and sent the 27-year-old career minor leaguer back to Triple-A, removing him from the 40-man roster in the process. All of which makes it even more surprising that they've now re-added Dinkelman to the 40-man roster and called him up again. He must be one hell of a guy, because he hit .243/.316/.324 in 127 games at Triple-A.

UPDATE: Fittingly the Twins spelled Dinkelman's name wrong on the official lineup card today.

Liam Hendriks is also slated to come up from Triple-A tomorrow and make his debut against the White Sox. Hendriks ranked No. 8 on my preseason list of Twins prospects and has upped his stock since then by throwing 139 innings with a 3.36 ERA and 111-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio between Double-A and Triple-A. He projects as a mid-rotation starter, but with Gibson out and Wimmers a worry the 22-year-old Australian is arguably the Twins' top pitching prospect.

Jim Thome's departure opened one spot on the 40-man roster and the Twins created another opening by transferring Nick Blackburn to the 60-day disabled list, ruling him out for the rest of the year because of a forearm injury. They'll need to clear one more space for Hendriks and Ron Gardenhire indicated that shifting Francisco Liriano to the 60-day DL could be the move despite his wanting to "throw at least a couple innings" before the end of the season.

• Leading up to the August 31 waiver trade deadline Joe Nathan told reporters that he "would consider" waiving his no-trade clause for a Thome-like deal to a contender, but when it came time to actually make a decision he vetoed any potential deals. In order to move Nathan the Twins would have had to eat his remaining $2 million salary for this season plus a $2 million buyout for 2012, and even then the best they might have hoped for was a marginal prospect.

Still, considering the Twins paid him $11.25 million not to pitch in 2010 and $11.25 million for a 5.02 ERA this year giving them a shot to swing a deal would have been nice. Nathan told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that next year's $12.5 million option played a part in the decision, but there's virtually zero chance of the Twins bringing him back at that price and even after being traded he could have returned next season a la Rick Aguilera in 1996.

Justin Morneau going on the disabled list with a wrist problem and then having neck surgery took the focus off last year's concussion, but now he's sidelined again with further symptoms stemming from the initial injury 14 months ago. His current symptoms were deemed "mild," but it's tough to think of anything concussion-related as "mild" given Morneau's ongoing struggles and Denard Span's similarly troubling attempts to come back from his own concussion.

Even after missing two months Span mistakenly came back before he was ready and Morneau still has headaches, dizziness, and fogginess 14 months later, making them both big question marks heading into 2012. Morneau has played just 150 of the past 327 games dating back to late 2009, undergoing back and neck surgeries in addition to the concussion, and was nothing like his usual self in 69 games this season. Scary times for two of the Twins' building blocks.

• Perception versus reality: Joe Mauer has driven in 16.1 percent of all runners on base for his plate appearances this season. Michael Cuddyer has driven in 13.8 percent. Mauer also had a higher RBI percentage than Cuddyer in 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, and 2005.

Jim Mandelaro, who covers the Triple-A team for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, notes that they've lost 90 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1903 and 1904.

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February 3, 2011

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2011: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 36-40.

35. Kyle Waldrop | Reliever | DOB: 10/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     A+     20      0     3.09      35.0      43      0      20      7
         AA     31      0     1.46      55.2      51      2      30     18
2010     AAA    59      0     2.57      87.2      89      5      60     20

Kyle Waldrop was a first-round pick in 2004 who looked less and less impressive as he moved up the minor-league ladder and then missed all of 2008 following shoulder surgery. He shifted to the bullpen full time upon returning in 2009 and has had back-to-back strong seasons as a reliever. Last year Waldrop had a 2.59 ERA and 60-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 88 innings at Triple-A, allowing just five homers while inducing 64 percent ground balls.

His lack of top-notch velocity and mediocre strikeout rates make it unlikely that Waldrop will be a force in the late innings, but the 25-year-old right-hander certainly looks capable of being a solid middle reliever thanks to good control and some serious worm-killing ability. He also looks to be just about MLB-ready, which is why it was surprising when the Twins declined to add him to the 40-man roster and left him unprotected for the Rule 5 draft in December.

Waldrop struggling down the stretch at Triple-A and getting knocked around in the Arizona Fall League may have scared teams off, as he went unpicked and the Twins lost no players in the draft. However, the fact that they were willing to lose him and his lack of a spot on the 40-man roster show the Twins' absence of faith in Waldrop despite his success as a reliever and could equal an uphill battle for a call-up in 2011.

34. Deolis Guerra | Starter | DOB: 4/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Mets

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     A+     26     25     5.47     130.0     138     12      71     71
2009     A+     16     15     4.69      86.1      95      6      57     25
         AA     12     11     5.17      62.2      62      4      49     17
2010     AA     19     19     6.24     102.1     127     14      67     37
        AAA      5      4     6.84      25.0      35      5      18      8

Believe it or not, many people considered Deolis Guerra the centerpiece of the four-prospect package the Twins received from the Mets for Johan Santana in February of 2008. At the time he was just 18 years old and had already logged 180 impressive innings at Single-A, and the combination of a 6-foot-5 frame, low-90s fastball, and oft-touted changeup earned Guerra the No. 35 spot in Baseball America's annual ranking. Three years later he barely made this list.

Because the Mets had Guerra pitching at high Single-A as an 18-year-old the Twins have been forced to promote him far more aggressively than his performance has warranted. Even now he's one of the youngest pitchers on this list and younger than the average player at Single-A, but had the Twins assigned and promoted him based strictly on age and performance he'd still be in the Florida State League five years after debuting there.

Instead he's been thrown into the fire at Double-A and in the second half of last year Triple-A, leading to some hideous numbers. Guerra is 8-16 with a 5.97 ERA in 190 innings between the two levels, allowing opponents to hit .300 while managing just 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Guerra's raw stuff has also declined since the deal, as he's struggled to maintain peak velocity and ceased being a ground-baller. He's still young, but that's about all he has left in his favor.

33. Luke Hughes | Third Base | DOB: 8/84 | Bats: Right | Sign: Australia

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     AA     319     .319     .385     .551     15     33     28     70
        AAA     117     .283     .325     .453      3     11      7     30
2009     AA     229     .250     .320     .445      6     24     19     38
        AAA     157     .259     .344     .481      6     16     18     38
2010    AAA      81     .257     .313     .405      1      9      5     18

Luke Hughes made his MLB debut on April 28 and went deep off Max Scherzer to become the 106th player in baseball history to homer in his first at-bat, but the rest of his season wasn't very memorable. Hughes' first taste of the majors lasted only two games and he was limited to just 22 games back at Triple-A because of a sports hernia and groin injury that both required surgery, almost surely costing him at least a September call-up.

Hughes has bounced around a ton defensively since the Twins signed him out of Australia as a teenager in 2002, seeing time at every position except pitcher and catcher. Most of his action has come at third base, where Hughes made his major-league debut, and second base, where he looms as a potential fallback option for the Twins this season should Alexi Casilla struggle after being handed a starting job.

While reviews of Hughes' defense vary a lot most seem to agree that he's unlikely to be more than passable as an infielder, so he'll have to hit his way into a job and is running out of time at age 26. He's hit .282/.348/.473 between Double-A and Triple-A, which isn't enough to cancel out a poor glove and projects to make him a bench bat who draws starts versus lefties. He'll likely be in Minnesota at some point this season and it could be a make-or-break year.

32. Trevor Plouffe | Shortstop | DOB: 6/86 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2004-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     AA     249     .269     .325     .410      3     23     16     43
        AAA     272     .256     .292     .420      6     26     14     47
2009    AAA     477     .260     .313     .407     10     38     34     68
2010    AAA     445     .244     .300     .430     15     41     27     90

Trevor Plouffe made his major-league debut in mid-May and was called up four different times during the season, but the 2004 first-round pick started a total of just seven games and went 6-for-41 (.146) with 14 strikeouts and zero walks in his first taste of the big leagues at age 24. His performance at Rochester was more encouraging, but only slightly, as Plouffe's third crack at Triple-A involved posting nearly the same poor numbers there as he did in 2008 and 2009.

Plouffe has spent the bulk of three straight seasons at Triple-A, posting batting averages of .256, .260, and .244, on-base percentages of .292, .313, and .300, and slugging percentages of .420, .407, and .430. His overall Triple-A line is .253/.303/.419 in 1,194 plate appearances and his career line in 3,318 total plate appearances in the minors is an equally underwhelming .254/.316/.391. At this point it's pretty safe to conclude that Plouffe simply can't hit.

He's shown 15-homer power, but that doesn't hold much value when it comes along with poor plate discipline, a relatively high strikeout rate, and the inability to hit even .275 at any level in any season since rookie-ball in 2004. Plouffe's value is almost entirely tied to his defense and opinions are mixed on whether he can be an asset at shortstop in the majors, so right now a career as a utility man looks like his most realistic upside.

31. Martire Garcia | Starter | DOB: 3/90 | Throws: Left | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     RK-    11     11     3.25      52.2      45      3      53     22
2009     RK+    13     12     4.42      59.0      61      4      54     31
2010     RK+     8      8     1.75      46.1      42      2      63     15
         A-      6      6     6.00      27.0      27      2      30     23

Martire Garcia was signed by the Twins just before his 17th birthday in 2007 and the skinny, diminutive left-hander from the Dominican Republic spent most of his first three pro seasons in various levels of rookie-ball before a second-half promotion to low Single-A last year. He had a rough time in six starts at Beloit, with 23 walks in 27 innings, but also managed 30 strikeouts and held opponents to a .252 batting average.

Consistently throwing strikes was also an issue for Garcia at rookie-ball in 2008 and 2009, but he began last season by posting a 1.75 ERA and 63-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 46 innings at Elizabethton and aside from that six-start stretch at Beloit his control certainly hasn't been bad enough to stand out as a red flag for a 21-year-old with good raw stuff. He'll likely spend most of this year in Beloit's rotation, but the Twins will probably limit his workload somewhat.

Garcia might have to eat a big breakfast just to weigh in at 160 pounds, but he packs plenty of velocity into a 5-foot-11 frame and has 281 strikeouts in 263 innings. He's one of the leading candidates to make a big jump up this list for 2012 once we see how he handles full-season competition, but for now Garcia's ranking is on the conservative side and based more on his potential than actual performance.

December 13, 2010

Twins select Braves left-hander Scott Diamond in Rule 5 draft

Overshadowed by the Twins trading J.J. Hardy to the Orioles last Thursday is that they also made a pick in the Rule 5 draft, taking 24-year-old left-hander Scott Diamond from the Braves. Undrafted out of a Canadian high school, Diamond signed with the Braves in 2007 for $50,000, which is the same price the Twins paid to select him. Despite being undrafted Diamond moved pretty quickly through Atlanta's system, reaching Triple-A in his third year as a pro.

He's had success at every level, posting ERAs of 3.08 at low Single-A, 2.79 at high Single-A, 3.51 at Double-A, and 3.36 at Triple-A. This year he made 17 starts at Double-A and 10 starts at Triple-A, posting a combined 3.46 ERA and 123-to-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 159 innings. Diamond's strikeout and walk rates have been mediocre, with 7.3 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings, but he's done a tremendous job inducing ground balls and limiting homers.

Diamond has served up a total of 19 homers in 442 career innings, including just 11 long balls in 290 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Not surprisingly he's also had a ground-ball rate above 50 percent at every level, suggesting he may be able to find success in the big leagues without missing a ton of bats. In order for the Twins to keep Diamond he must remain on the 25-man roster (or disabled list) for the entire 2011 season or he'll be offered back to Atlanta.

There are plenty of notable Rule 5 picks, including some guy named Johan Santana, but most of the time the players selected don't stick all year and are offered back to their original team. Diamond has a chance to stick, in part because he projects as a potentially useful pitcher and in part because the Twins have plenty of spots to settle in the bullpen. He could begin 2011 in a long relief role and perhaps get a chance to be a situational left-hander if things go well.

No players were plucked from the Twins in the big-league phase of the Rule 5 draft, which is good news since they left Kyle Waldrop unprotected despite back-to-back strong years after a move to the bullpen. Struggling down the stretch at Triple-A and getting knocked around in the Arizona Fall League may have scared teams off Waldrop, but the Twins' willingness to lose him and his lack of a 40-man roster spot could equal an uphill battle for a call-up in 2011.

In the Rule 5 draft's minor-league phase the Twins did lose three pitchers: Michael Allen, Jean Mijares, and Eliecer Cardenas. Very few players picked in the minors portion have gone on to have any sort of MLB career, with Brian Buscher actually ranking among the biggest success stories. Allen, Mijares, and Cardenas don't figure to be any different, as none ever cracked my annual list of the Twins' top 40 prospects and weren't in consideration for the 2011 version.

November 22, 2010

Twins Notes: 40 men, help for Rochester, decisions, and Webb

• Friday night was the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster in preparation for the Rule 5 draft on December 9 and the Twins added four prospects: Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, David Bromberg, and Chris Parmelee. No surprises among the additions, as all four rank among the Twins' top 20 prospects, but the one name that stands out among the various Rule 5-eligible players they chose not to protect is right-hander Kyle Waldrop.

Waldrop was a first-round pick in 2004 who looked less and less impressive as he moved up the minor-league ladder and then missed all of 2008 following shoulder surgery, but he shifted to the bullpen full time after returning in 2009 and has had back-to-back strong seasons as a reliever. This year Waldrop had a 2.59 ERA and 60-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 87.2 innings at Triple-A, allowing just five homers while inducing 64 percent ground balls.

His lack of top-notch velocity and mediocre strikeout rates make it unlikely that Waldrop will be a strong late-inning reliever, but as a 24-year-old who certainly looks capable of being a useful middle reliever he's someone worth protecting given the Twins' current bullpen questions. He struggled down the stretch at Triple-A and got knocked around in the Arizona Fall League, so the Twins have either soured on him or believe that will keep other teams from selecting him.

• In the past the Twins have generally had successful minor-league teams, but this year their four full-season affiliates combined for an abysmal 228-332 record (.407) that includes 49-95 at Triple-A and 44-98 at Double-A. Winning percentages in the minors are far from an accurate gauge of an organization's prospects, but keeping the affiliates in Rochester, New Britain, Fort Myers, and Beloit happy is still important.

In an effort to avoid another horrendous year at Triple-A the Twins have signed some veteran reinforcements to pair with whichever prospects are assigned to Rochester in 2011, inking Jeff Bailey, Phil Dumatrait, Yorman Bazardo, Chase Lambin, Jake Stevens, and Justin Huber to minor-league deals. Eric Hacker, who was confusingly signed to a major-league contract and given a spot on the 40-man roster last week, may also end up at Rochester.

Bailey, Dumatrait, Bazardo, and Huber have all played in the majors and Stevens once ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects, but aside from Hacker they were all brought in as Triple-A filler with long odds of playing their way into the Twins' plans. Those types of guys are never in short supply and signing them to ensure a more competitive Rochester team is smart, which is why giving the equally replaceable Hacker a 40-man roster spot seems to strange.

UPDATE: There's no official word yet, but I'm told the Twins have also inked right-hander Andy Baldwin to a minor-league deal. Baldwin is a Minnesota native and former fifth-round pick who spent the past three seasons pitching at Triple-A for the Mariners.

• I wrote last week about why keeping J.J. Hardy around for at least one more season should be a no-brainer move, but clearly the Twins don't feel the same way. Ron Gardenhire and Bill Smith have both spoken publicly about wanting to add more speed to the lineup, specifically at shortstop, and reportedly at least one team has talked to the Twins about possibly trading for Hardy. December 2 is the deadline to tender Hardy a contract for 2011.

• Based on the amount of reported interest in Carl Pavano it sounds like he's a goner unless the Twins want to give him a three-year contract. And they shouldn't. Depending on the price bringing Pavano back for one or maybe even two years could make sense, but a three-season commitment to a 35-year-old pitcher with his extensive injury history is just asking for trouble. Be happy with how well he pitched for 1.5 seasons and take the draft picks when he walks.

• According to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick the Twins are among the teams interested in former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb, who hasn't pitched since Opening Day of 2009 thanks to an assortment of shoulder problems. Before the injuries he was an elite starter and ground-ball machine, winning one Cy Young award and finishing runner-up twice, but he hasn't been right since the second half of 2008. Intriguing if the price is right, but it probably won't be.

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