September 10, 2014

Twins Notes: Santana, Escobar, St. Peter, Thorpe, Mauer, and May

Danny Santana Twins

Danny Santana picked a bad season to be a .320-hitting rookie center fielder, because White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu is hitting .317/.378/.590 with 33 homers and will run away with the Rookie of the Year award. However, assuming that he doesn't go into a prolonged slump down the stretch Santana's performance would be enough to make him a deserving Rookie of the Year winner in quite a few previous seasons. Last season, for instance.

Last season's winner, Wil Myers of the Rays, hit .293/.354/.478 in 88 games as a right fielder. Santana has hit .320/.358/.475 in 84 games as a center fielder/shortstop. They've been nearly identical as hitters and Santana has large edges in base-running, defense, and positional value. Looking at Twins history, Marty Cordova won the award in 1995 while hitting .277/.352/.486 in 137 games as a left fielder in a much higher era for offense.

Here's where Santana currently ranks among Twins rookies in Wins Above Replacement during the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014:

                    YEAR     WAR
Francisco Liriano   2006     4.5
Lew Ford            2004     4.5
Denard Span         2008     4.3
Bobby Kielty        2002     2.7
DANNNY SANTANA      2014     2.7

Longtime readers of this blog will probably remember that I thought Bobby Kielty was destined for stardom. He was not.

• Santana was thrust into center field without ever playing there regularly before and has done reasonably well, but assistant general manager Rob Antony recently said: "I think he's going to be our shortstop of the future. Any opportunity we get to play him at shortstop is a good thing." Which is fine, except with Aaron Hicks back in the majors the Twins are still going out of their way not to play Santana at shortstop, even using Eduardo Nunez there instead of him.

• On a related note: Since a strong start Eduardo Escobar has hit just .247/.292/.365 in his last 85 games. He's now a career .253/.299/.363 hitter in 761 plate appearances as a big leaguer.

• For most of the past four years the Twins' bullpen has been a strength amid the team's overall struggles, but now the relievers are struggling too. In the first half the bullpen had a 3.21 ERA with a 13-10 record. In the second half they have a 4.92 ERA with a 6-10 record, including a 5.81 ERA during the past month. Their season totals now include ranking 22nd in ERA, 29th in xFIP, and dead last in strikeout rate. Of course, the rotation has still been worse.

• Twins president Dave St. Peter apparently didn't mind Keith Olbermann ripping the team to shreds on ESPN, but he predictably did mind me saying their brand survey was "tone deaf." On a related note, we spent a large portion of this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode discussing the Twins' increasing assurances of "we get it" in the face of mounting evidence that they don't.

• Pitching prospect Lewis Thorpe, an 18-year-old left-hander from Australia with 144 strikeouts in 116 career innings and one of the highest-upside arms in the Twins' farm system, has been diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. For now the Twins are insisting he'll be fine, but UCL injuries are what lead to Tommy John surgery.

Jose Berrios had one of the 10 best starts by any pitching prospect this season, according to Baseball America.

Joe Mauer has a .405 on-base percentage with more walks than strikeouts in 28 games since returning from the disabled list. During that time he's got an .848 OPS. His career OPS is .861.

Kurt Suzuki has hit .235/.279/.337 in 27 games since his two-year, $12 million extension. He hit .237/.294/.357 in 477 games from 2010-2013.

Tommy Milone allowed 21 runs in 21 innings for the Twins after coming over from the A's in exchange for Sam Fuld and now he's hurt. (Fuld has hit just .218/.269/.307 in 35 games since the trade.)

• Since his disastrous MLB debut Trevor May has a 24/12 K/BB ratio and three homers allowed in 27 innings. It'll take a while for his ERA to not be hideous, but he'll be just fine.

• After nine seasons as the Twins' minor-league hitting coordinator and 14 total seasons in the organization Bill Springman has been let go.

• At one point this season the Twins were 23-21. Since then they are 39-61.


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March 25, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

Also in this series: 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

15. Travis Harrison | Third Base | DOB: 10/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2011-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    253     .301     .383     .461      5     21     24     51
2013     A-     537     .253     .366     .416     15     43     68    125

Travis Harrison was selected by the Twins with the 50th pick in the 2011 draft as compensation for losing Orlando Hudson as a free agent and signed away from USC for $1.05 million. Touted as one of the best bats in the high school class, Harrison had an impressive debut at rookie-ball and then showed some of his flaws last year while moving up to full-season competition, hitting just .253 while striking out 125 times in 129 games.

Combined with his rookie-ball showing Harrison has 176 strikeouts in 189 games, which is a red flag in the low minors. Beyond that his power has been somewhat underwhelming after being billed as elite coming out of high school, with 20 homers and a .161 Isolated Power in 790 total plate appearances. That's certainly not a lack of power, especially considering Harrison played last season at age 20, but given questions about his ability to stick at third base he needs to mash.

One bright spot is that Harrison drew 68 walks last season and also got plunked by 14 pitches, which suggest he should be able to get on base at a decent clip even if all the strikeouts keep his batting average modest. Ultimately much of his value depends on where he ends up defensively and how much power he can develop by the time he reaches Minnesota. So far he's shown enough to be an intriguing prospect, but the edges are still pretty rough.

14. Danny Santana | Shortstop | DOB: 11/90 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     A-     409     .247     .298     .373      7     27     25     98
2012     A+     547     .286     .329     .410      8     38     29     77
2013     AA     587     .297     .333     .386      2     34     24     94

Danny Santana is generally more highly thought of as a prospect than his performance in the minors would suggest based on the idea that athleticism, speed, and defense will eventually allow him to become a starting-caliber shortstop in the majors. At age 23 he still has an opportunity to develop further, but in the meantime he hasn't been all that impressive, making a lot of errors (for whatever that's worth) along with little power and awful strike zone control.

Last season he hit .297 at Double-A, but managed just two homers and 24 walks in 131 games on the way to a modest .333 on-base percentage and .386 slugging percentage. His numbers at high Single-A in 2012 were similar and combined during the past two seasons he totaled 10 homers in 1,134 plate appearances, struck out 171 times versus 53 walks, and was successful on just 66 percent of his steal attempts. Right now he projects as a sub par offensive player.

The good news is that Santana is still pretty young and the bar for offense at shortstop is very low, so even hitting, say, .275 with minimal power and a poor walk rate would make him a solid all-around player if his glove is a huge asset. If instead his defense at shortstop is merely decent, then his current offensive skill set leaves Santana looking like something less than a building block, even considering the Twins' longstanding inability to develop competent middle infielders.

13. Max Kepler | First Base | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    221     .262     .347     .366      1     15     23     54
2012     RK+    269     .297     .387     .539     10     31     27     33
2013     A-     263     .237     .312     .424      9     23     24     43

When the Twins signed Max Kepler out of Germany for $800,000 in 2009 he oozed potential. At age 16 he was still growing into a 6-foot-4 frame and had uncommon athleticism along with the unique background of parents who met while performing in the ballet. He was seen as a potential center fielder long term and performed well in the low minors, but Kepler took a step backward last season and has lost a lot of upside as he's matured physically.

He played primarily first base at low Single-A last season, in part because of an elbow injury that delayed this 2013 debut and in part because he no longer has the speed to handle center field on a regular basis. Going from center field to first base or an outfield corner puts far more pressure on the development of Kepler's bat and he hit .237 with a high strikeout rate last year. However, he also showed solid power and patience with nine homers and 24 walks in 61 games.

Kepler is still just 21 years old and still has considerable potential, but his upside has shrunk dramatically. At this point he needs to stay healthy and put up some big numbers offensively to re-emerge as a top prospect, as he's yet to play more than 61 games in a season and yet to advance past low Single-A. If the power arrives Kepler could reach Double-A this year and work his way into the Twins' plans for 2015, but for now he's a question mark.

12. Michael Tonkin | Reliever | DOB: 11/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-30

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     A-     48      3     3.87      76.2      82      3      69     24
2012     A-     22      0     1.38      39.0      29      1      53      9
         A+     22      0     2.97      30.1      24      2      44     11
2013     AA     22      0     2.22      24.1      21      0      30      8
         AAA    30      0     4.41      32.2      33      3      36      8
         MLB     9      0     0.79      11.1       9      0      10      3

Michael Tonkin was a 30th-round pick out of high school in 2008 and looked like a mediocre starter prospect in the low minors, but Jason Kubel's brother-in-law has emerged as a potential impact arm since switching to the bullpen full time in 2011. Tonkin stands 6-foot-7 with a mid-90s fastball and has racked up 242 strikeouts in 213 innings during the past three seasons, including an impressive nine-appearance debut with the Twins.

And unlike a lot of hard-throwing young arms Tonkin has also shown good control with a career walk rate of 2.4 per nine innings and just 19 walks in 68 innings last season while rising from Double-A to the majors as a 23-year-old. He's huge, he throws a very hard fastball-slider combo, he misses lots of bats, and he actually knows where the ball is going most of the time, which is the most reliable recipe for a good relief prospect.

Bullpen depth is one of the Twins' few strengths at this point, making it unclear how early Tonkin could be in the big-league relief mix this season, but he certainly looks MLB-ready and projects as a potential late-inning setup man for Glen Perkins. As a reliever in a stacked farm system Tonkin is often overlooked, but in terms of the ability to make an immediate impact few Twins prospects are better.

11. Lewis Thorpe | Starter | DOB: 12/95 | Throws: Left | Sign: Australia

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-    12      8     2.05      44.0      32      2      64      6

Investing baseball's most resources into scouting Australia has yet to pay huge dividends for the Twins, producing a handful of marginal big leaguers and Grant Balfour, who starred elsewhere. Lewis Thorpe has a chance to change that after signing for $500,000 as a 16-year-old in 2012 and dominating rookie-ball in his pro debut last season, posting a 2.05 ERA and 64/6 K/BB ratio in 44 innings against Gulf Coast League hitters.

At age 18 he works in the low-90s and tops out in the mid-90s, complementing his fastball with a changeup that draws praise, and the extent to which he sliced up opponents last season suggests he's ready to skip a level of rookie-ball and go directly to low Single-A. Thorpe is the youngest of my top 20 prospects and if you want to feel really old consider that he was born six months after the Twins drafted Doug Mientkiewicz, so he's a long way from the big leagues.

In terms of long-term upside, however, few prospects in the Twins' farm system can compete with the 6-foot-2 left-hander and he has more polish than most rookie-ball pitchers. His place on this list reflects how I'm generally conservative when it comes to rankings prospects--and particularly pitchers--who've yet to face full-season competition, but Thorpe has cracked some prominent MLB-wide top-100 lists.

July 5, 2012

Twins Notes: Doumit, Blackburn, Hendriks, Minier, Mauer, and Plouffe

• Assuming the Twins decide to become sellers at the trade deadline Ryan Doumit likely would have drawn a decent amount of interest from contending teams, but instead they took him off the market with a two-year, $7 million extension that will pay the catcher/designated hitter $3.5 million in both 2013 and 2014. Handing out multi-year deals to 31-year-old non-stars isn't usually a great plan for a rebuilding team, but the price is right and Doumit is a good fit.

I liked adding Doumit on a one-year, $3 million deal this offseason because he essentially replaced Jason Kubel as a quality left-handed bat for a fraction of the price and was also a much-needed alternative to Drew Butera behind the plate in case Joe Mauer struggled to stay healthy again. Doumit has a good enough bat to be useful at DH and a good enough glove to be useful at catcher, and that's the kind of versatility the Twins needed.

He's been exactly what they hoped, hitting .282/.344/.449 versus a .271/.334/.442 career line and proving to be a more palatable defensive catcher than his awful reputation. His defense in the outfield and at first base is a different story, as Ron Gardenhire soured on Doumit there almost immediately and has used him for all of 52 non-catcher innings in the field, but the ability to basically have Mauer and Doumit alternate between catcher and DH has been ideal.

Doumit for $3 million this year was a nice pickup, so Doumit for $3.5 million in 2013 represents the same solid value and paying him $3.5 million in 2014 will hardly cripple the Twins even if he declines at age 33. Jason Marquis got $3 million for seven awful starts and Nick Blackburn is owed $5.5 million next year, so $3.5 million for a .750-.800 OPS hitter who can catch is enough of a bargain to be worth the risk of a multi-year commitment. And they can trade him later too.

• Speaking of Blackburn, yesterday he was dumped from the rotation and demoted to Triple-A for the second time since the Twins misguidedly gave him a four-year contract extension in March of 2010. I hated that signing at the time, noting that the Twins already had Blackburn under team control through 2013 via arbitration and his miniscule strikeout rate limited his upside and made him far more likely to decline than improve.

Sure enough since the Twins guaranteed him $14 million instead of going year-to-year he's got a 5.51 ERA and among all pitchers with 50-plus starts he has the fewest strikeouts per nine innings (4.2) and the highest opponents' batting average (.309) and slugging percentage (.500). Some of that can certainly be blamed on injuries, but that's one of the reasons to avoid making unnecessary commitments to mediocre pitchers you already control for years to come.

Had the Twins smartly chosen to go year-to-year with Blackburn via arbitration they'd have presumably already cut him, if not after his 5.42 ERA and demotion to Triple-A in 2010 than at least after his 4.49 ERA and forearm injury in 2011. Instead they're paying him $4.75 million this season and owe him $5.5 million next season, which would have been his final year under team control via arbitration anyway.

Liam Hendriks will be joining Blackburn in Rochester after struggling for the third time in three chances with the Twins. Hendriks came into the season as the team's top pitching prospect, but that was mostly by default and despite being the Twins' reigning minor league pitcher of the year his long-term upside has always been mid-rotation starter. He was rushed to the majors, much like Chris Parmelee, and is still 23 years old with 16 starts at Triple-A.

Obviously his 6.71 ERA through 12 career starts is ugly, but a 39-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62 innings isn't far off from what you'd expect based on Hendriks' track record. He'll need to show better control because mediocre raw stuff and modest strikeout rates in the minors make it hard to imagine many missed bats, but his biggest problem was serving up 13 homers in 62 innings after allowing three homers in 94 innings at Triple-A. Don't give up on him yet.

• This season's international prospects became eligible to sign Monday and the Twins spent $1.4 million for one of the top-rated hitters in 16-year-old Dominican infielder Amaurys Minier. Ben Badler of Baseball America ranked Minier as the 12th-best international prospect available, saying the 6-foot-2 switch-hitter will likely shift from shortstop to third base and "has drawn attention for his bat speed and plus power from both sides of the plate." Here's a bit more:

He has some noise in his setup, but he has a smooth stroke with good balance and whips the bat head through the zone. With his power, he can put on a good show in batting practice. Scouts have reservations about his ability to hit in games, so his pitch recognition skills will have to improve. Many players with Minier's body type--thick lower half and below-average speed--are already at third base. ... He has a strong arm but will have to work on his infield actions to avoid a move further down the defensive spectrum.

In addition to Minier the Twins also spent $500,000 on 16-year-old Australian southpaw Lewis Thorpe, who Baseball America called the country's top prospect. As part of the new collective bargaining agreement they have $1 million left to potentially spend on international signings.

• Mauer has played 72 of 80 games while hitting .332 with a league-leading .420 on-base percentage and his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) total of 2.8 leads the Twins while ranking 10th among the league's position players. If your reaction to his being selected for the All-Star team at baseball's thinnest position was anything other than "of course he made the All-Star team" then you're likely better off booing him at Target Field than reading this blog.

• Parmelee was recalled from Triple-A because he responded to a mid-May demotion by hitting .375/.500/.708 in three weeks there. Since rejoining the Twins he's started a total of four times in 26 games. How that helps him or the Twins in the short or long term is beyond me.

Danny Valencia had 23 homers in 266 games for the Twins. Trevor Plouffe has 18 homers in 39 games since replacing him on May 15. Plouffe has shown no signs of turning back into a pumpkin and Valencia is hitting .245/.286/.410 in 49 games at Triple-A.

• I somehow neglected to include this in my SABR convention recap, but I was at Target Field last Friday night to witness one of the better "security guards chasing an idiot who ran onto the field" moments in recent memory. Shockingly he wasn't part of the SABR group.

• Since the Twins changed catchers nine seasons ago Mauer has been on base 306 more times than A.J. Pierzynski while making 534 fewer outs.

Paul Bargas, the pitching prospect the Twins acquired from the Rockies for catcher Jose Morales in 2010, has died from brain cancer. He was just 23 years old.

Miguel Sano's high error total at third base has the Twins concerned about his defense at low Single-A, but his odds of sticking at third base have never been very high anyway.

• Pitcher wins are hilarious, part infinity: Jeff Gray is 5-0. He's thrown 35 innings with a 4.08 ERA and 18-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

• If you missed it last week, Dave Beal of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote a good article about the Twins' involvement with sabermetrics.

Michael Cuddyer is hitting .233 away from Coors Field for a 31-50 team while earning $10.5 million, but some things never change.

• When he's not riding elevators with me Jose Mijares has a 1.69 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 32 innings for the Royals, which is why cutting him loose for $750,000 never made much sense.

Frank Viola's daughter, Brittany Viola, made the Olympic diving team.

• Along with being one of MLB's best relievers Glen Perkins also has great taste in podcasts.

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