August 19, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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 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 by considering them for your legal needs.

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