June 22, 2011

Twins Notes: Sad Mad Bum, Alexi power, first rounders, and imagination

• San Francisco's starter last night, Madison Bumgarner, came into the game with a 3.03 ERA in 205 career innings, including a 3.21 ERA this year. He allowed eight runs on nine hits before getting yanked with just one out in the first inning. And then the Twins were held scoreless for 4.2 innings by Guillermo Mota, a 37-year-old reliever who'd never thrown that many innings in 13 seasons in the majors. Funny game, that baseball (but we knew that already).

• Not to be overlooked in last night's insanity: Alexi Casilla has now homered in back-to-back games after homering once in his previous 221 games.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports that the Phillies "made inquiries" about Michael Cuddyer. Presumably given the way he's hitting and the way the Twins are playing they were rebuffed. In the span of two weeks Cuddyer has gone from .260/.321/.370 to .281/.345/.454, raising his OPS by 109 points in 16 games. And the Twins have cut their deficit in the AL Central from 16.5 games to 6.5 games by going 15-3 in June, including eight straight wins, all after a 17-36 start.

Joe Nathan has thrown two scoreless innings while rehabbing at Triple-A and could be back in the Twins' bullpen as soon as this weekend.

Joe Mauer and Bill Smith addressed the media before his return to the lineup last week and what struck me is how much different the perception of his injury would've been had everyone involved simply called it complications from offseason knee surgery. Instead the Twins called it bilateral leg weakness, which raised eyebrows and never seemed to sit right with Mauer, and the odd diagnosis being shrouded in mystery magnified the criticism ten-fold.

Alex Wimmers was removed from the Fort Myers rotation after his season debut when the 2010 first-round pick walked all six hitters he faced and LaVelle E. Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that two months in extended spring training hasn't solved his control issues. Wimmers has visited a psychotherapist and Neal writes that "the Twins are baffled" by how he went from starring at Ohio State with excellent control to following Shooter Hunt's footsteps.

Hunt was one of the top college arms in the 2008 draft coming out of Tulane and had a strong pro debut after the Twins picked him 31st overall, but in three seasons since then he's walked 181 batters in 129 innings and now looks unlikely to get past Single-A. Hunt went from being one of the highest upside pitchers in the system to a bust overnight and Wimmers is in danger of the same fate just a year after being touted as one of the draft's most polished pitchers.

• Speaking of Neal, he dipped his toe in the sabermetric pool yesterday. What a nerd.

This year's first-round pick, Levi Michael, isn't able to sign because he's still playing for North Carolina in the College World Series, but he was dropped from second to seventh in the lineup because of a recent slump that dragged his once-lofty batting average below .300. I've been watching most of North Carolina's games to get a look at Michael, but he's struggled so much that forming an opinion on his skill set is tough. His defense has looked decent at shortstop.

• Just in case you thought the media taking pot shots at Kevin Slowey stopped when he was placed on the disabled list and banished to extended spring training, Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote this on Twitter during last night's game:

My imagination or did Twins turn it around after Slowey's plane landed in Fort Myers?

It's his imagination. In the days following Slowey being put on the DL the Twins went 1-6. And if you're going to attach their recent success to specific roster moves, the current 15-2 stretch started the same day they placed Jason Kubel and Jim Thome on the DL. That storyline isn't quite as convenient, though.

Dusty Hughes was removed from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Triple-A after clearing waivers. When the Twins claimed Hughes off waivers from the Royals in January they talked up his 3.83 ERA and how left-handed hitters like Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span gave glowing scouting reports after facing him. Hughes' track record suggested otherwise and sure enough he allowed 14 runs in 13 innings while opponents hit .365/.452/.673 off him.

Brian Dinkelman was also removed from the 40-man roster and sent back to Triple-A, which is no surprise given that his call-up early this month came out of nowhere. Dinkelman has been in the organization since 2006 and there wasn't much harm in giving him a cup of coffee in the majors when injuries left the Twins with few other options, but realistically he's a marginal role player at best and at age 27 seems unlikely to make it back to the big leagues.

Chuck James kept his spot on the 40-man roster, but the Twins optioned him back to the minors to make room for Glen Perkins' return from the disabled list. While not surprising, the decision to demote James rather than fellow left-hander Phil Dumatrait is unfortunate. Before shoulder surgery James was a solid young mid-rotation starter for the Braves and he deserves more of an opportunity after dominating as a reliever at Triple-A.

I'm sure the Twins based their decision on Dumatrait's sparkling ERA between Rochester and Minnesota, but his success has involved all of 25 innings and comes with more walks (17) than strikeouts (14). Dumatrait's track record includes a 6.67 ERA in 119 innings as a major leaguer and a 6.13 ERA with more walks (55) than strikeouts (46) in 104 innings at Triple-A last year. He's a bad pitcher having a fluky run, whereas James has the potential to actually be useful.

Pat Neshek returned to Minnesota as a member of the Padres over the weekend, throwing a scoreless inning Friday, and also shared some interesting thoughts about his departure with Phil Mackey of 1500-ESPN:

The best word is probably bittersweet I'd say. For that week before [I was waived], I knew everybody passed me up there. I didn't know why. I mean, I got the opportunity, but I didn't feel like anybody was really taking me serious. ... It was sad leaving behind the fan base, all the stuff I worked towards, all the stuff I did in my community, for my hometown. I was sad, but I knew it had to happen.

There comes a time when you're not getting that opportunity. Minnesota, that's my ideal place. I never would have left. I mean, I wish I would have stayed healthy, never had that Tommy John and stuff like that. My family's all decked out in Twins stuff. I don't know what to do with that stuff anymore. What do you do? My car's got a Twins emblem. I didn't expect it to happen. I thought as long as I pitched well I'd stay, but that's how the game works.

I'm very glad to see Neshek having success in San Diego with a 3.60 ERA and .222 opponents' batting average in 20 innings, although it comes with a horrendous 18-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He struggled to bounce back from elbow surgery and then upset the Twins by speaking publicly about the medical staff, but instead of just stashing him at Triple-A they cut him loose for nothing in a spring training move that didn't make much sense to me then or now.

• Rochester's search for players to fill out a roster plucked over by the Twins led them to sign right-hander Thomas Diamond, who was the No. 10 pick in the 2004 draft and twice cracked Baseball America's top 100 prospects while with the Rangers. Tommy John surgery derailed his career before Diamond bounced back enough to get a call-up to the Cubs last year, but they released the 28-year-old last week after he posted an 8.66 ERA in 45 innings at Triple-A.

• I'm giving serious thought to purchasing Toby Gardenhire's game-used Triple-A jersey in the name of both charity and irony.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota salsa company Curt's Salsa, which I've enjoyed on several occasions and personally recommend.

June 7, 2011

UNC shortstop Levi Michael leads Twins’ against-type first-round picks

Hoping the Twins take a college middle infielder while expecting them to pick toolsy high school outfielders and strike-throwing college pitchers has become a pre-draft tradition in this space, so imagine my shock last night when they selected North Carolina shortstop Levi Michael with the 30th overall pick and then went further against the grain in the supplemental round with high school slugger Travis Harrison at No. 50 and high school pitcher Hudson Boyd at No. 55.

Not only is Michael the first college middle infielder selected by the Twins in the first round or supplemental first round since LSU second baseman Todd Walker way back in 1994, they last used a first-round pick on a college hitter of any position for Clemson catcher Matthew LeCroy in 1997. Michael alone represents a radical shift in draft strategy for the Twins and Boyd is also the first high school pitcher they've taken in the first round since Kyle Waldrop in 2004.

As a three-year college starter who figures to move through the system quickly Michael fills an obvious need for the Twins, as they've long struggled to develop middle infielders and are very short on MLB-ready help up the middle right now. Drafting for need is normally a mistake, but in this case he's also considered a clear first-round talent who many mock drafts had coming off the board in the 20-25 range. ESPN pegged him as "the top college shortstop in the class."

Baseball America ranked Michael as the 22nd-best player in the draft, noting that "he's been a reliable defender at all three [infield] spots and scouts are warming up to the idea that he could stay at shortstop at the pro level." He's had a disappointing junior year at the plate after a monster sophomore campaign, but that was partly due to an ankle injury and Michael still hit .297 with a .444 on-base percentage and more walks (47) than strikeouts (41) in 60 games.

Overall in three years as a full-time player at North Carolina the switch-hitting Michael batted .310/.440/.520 with 27 homers, 81 total extra-base hits, and a 123-to-117 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 191 games, stealing 40 bases in 47 attempts and adding to his on-base percentage by leaning into 45 pitches. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus and ESPN noted that Michael has "solid tools across the board" with "great instincts and no real weaknesses in his game."

There are some questions about his power potential and range, but the Twins did very well to address an obvious area of short- and long-term need with a consensus first-round talent who should move quickly. As a switch-hitting college middle infielder with a strong track record and standout plate discipline Michael is exactly the type of player I've been hoping the Twins would target seemingly every June for the past decade. On paper at least, it's an ideal pick.

Harrison and Boyd are much different picks than Michael, as they're both years from potentially entering the Twins' plans and represent bigger risks along with sizable upsides. Harrison isn't quite as against type for the Twins as Michael or Boyd, but he's the first high school position player they've taken in the first round for his bat more than his tools since Chris Parmelee in 2006. According to Baseball America he "easily rates as the best high school bat" in California.

He's already 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds at 18, so while Harrison played third base in high school he may end up shifting across the diamond or to left field. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com reported during the draft coverage on MLB Network that Harrison has impressive power potential, but there are questions about his approach at the plate. Baseball America's take is similar, noting his "above-average power potential" but also his difficulty "adjusting to breaking balls."

For an organization largely devoid of power-hitting prospects after years of focusing on speed and athleticism in the draft a right-handed-hitting corner infielder with plenty of pop in his bat is certainly a welcome addition and while 50th overall is slightly higher than most projections Harrison is generally ranked as a top-100 player. Twins scouting director Deron Johnson called Harrison "the best bat left on the board" and they'll have to sign him away from USC.

Michael addresses the lack of middle infield depth, Harrison brings some much-needed power, and Boyd is the latest move in the Twins' ongoing effort to add high-velocity arms to a system largely populated by finesse guys. Baseball America compared him to Jonathan Broxton and Bartolo Colon for mid-90s heat as much as a 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame and Jason Churchill of ESPN says Boyd may wind up as a late-inning reliever if his off-speed stuff doesn't develop.

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

« Newer Posts