July 9, 2014

Twins Notes: Nolasco, Buxton, Sano, Gordon, Parmelee, and Dozier

ricky nolasco and ron gardenhire

• In signing Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million contract the Twins touted his durability as a major selling point, as the 31-year-old right-hander had started at least 30 games and logged at least 185 innings in five of the previous six seasons. Now, just four months into his Twins career and with an ugly 5.90 ERA in 18 starts, Nolasco has been shut down with elbow soreness that he's apparently been pitching through since spring training.

If everyone involved is to be believed that news came as a surprise to the Twins, which means either Nolasco went out of his way to hide the injury from trainers and coaches or those same trainers and coaches went out of their way not to investigate his season-long struggles. Or maybe a mixture of both. Certainly if he was hiding the elbow injury that has to be very frustrating for the Twins and Nolasco is absolutely at fault.

However, it's also worth noting that the Twins--from the front office to manager Ron Gardenhire and his coaching staff--have created and repeatedly fed into a culture in which acting like a tough guy and playing through pain is considered noble rather than stupid or irresponsible. Even in discussing how Nolasco hid the injury from the team Gardenhire almost couldn't help acting as if there was something positive about the so-called "old school" approach taken by the pitcher.

Meanwhile, seemingly every season one or two key players try to tough their way through injuries with disastrous results and no one ever seems to learn a lesson from it. Who knows whether that played a role in Nolasco pitching through pain, but it certainly didn't play a role in convincing him to do otherwise. When can we end this outdated, shortsighted approach of letting hugely valuable athletes risk their short- and long-term health and productivity in the name of being tough guys?

If you're a player and you're hurt, tell someone in charge. And if you're someone in charge and a player tells you he's hurt, don't let him continue playing. As simple as those two directives sound, they've been sadly lacking for the Twins in recent years. This time around it led to their trotting out an injured pitcher for 18 horrible starts and putting at risk a $48 million investment. If that's "old school" then everyone flunked out.

• Worst single-season adjusted ERA+ in Twins history among pitchers with 100 or more innings:

68 - Jim Deshaies, 1994
66 - Ricky Nolasco, 2014
71 - Boof Bonser, 2008
72 - Ray Corbin, 1974
72 - Joe Mays, 2003
72 - Jim Hughes, 1976

Helluva list.

• MLB starting pitchers have a combined 3.90 ERA. Twins starters have the following ERAs:

3.70 - Phil Hughes
4.17 - Kyle Gibson
4.79 - Kevin Correia
4.98 - Yohan Pino
5.90 - Ricky Nolasco
6.52 - Sam Deduno
7.99 - Mike Pelfrey

As a group Twins starting pitchers rank 29th among MLB teams in ERA, ahead of only the Coors Field-inflated Rockies. Last season they ranked 30th in ERA and in 2012 they ranked 29th in ERA, also ahead of only Colorado.

Byron Buxton finally returned from a wrist injury after sitting out the first three-plus months of the season and despite all the missed time Baseball America's midseason update still ranked him as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. Miguel Sano also ranked No. 9 even though the Twins just announced that he'll miss the entire season following elbow surgery and pitchers Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart, and Alex Meyer also cracked Baseball America's updated top 40.

• Meyer looks to be back on track at Triple-A after some struggles last month. He struck out 10 last night and has a 2.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 18 innings over his last three starts.

• No. 5 overall draft pick Nick Gordon has hit .359/.408/.500 with five extra-base hits and four stolen bases through his first 15 pro games for rookie-level Elizabethon.

Chris Parmelee is 26 years old and has batted .235 with a .299 on-base percentage and .370 slugging percentage in 677 plate appearances since his big September debut, so it's probably time to stop getting excited whenever he has a decent week.

• His batting average isn't pretty, but Brian Dozier's current 112 adjusted OPS+ is the best by a Twins middle infielder since Todd Walker in 1998 and Chuck Knoblauch in 1994-1996.

• He's a deserving All-Star, but it's odd to hear Kurt Suzuki endlessly praised for "handling" a pitching staff that ranks 28th in ERA, especially when pitch-framing stats show him as poor.

• This offseason the Twins were believed to be deciding between Suzuki and John Buck as their veteran catcher addition. Buck hit .226/.293/.286 for the Mariners and just got released.

• I looked this up after watching him leg out a single Monday evening: Kendrys Morales has 48 career infield hits, including at least 10 in three different years. Imagine that.

Eduardo Escobar was hitting .314/.357/.473 on June 15. Since then he's 9-for-66 (.136) with 17 strikeouts and 2 walks. Track records: Trust 'em.

Hisashi Iwakuma owns the Twins, with a 5-0 record and 0.00 ERA in five starts against them.

Vance Worley has a 2.28 ERA and 18/5 K/BB ratio in four starts for the Pirates, who think they've fixed whatever ailed him with the Twins last season.

Pat Neshek, who has a 2.39 ERA since being waived by the Twins in 2011, made his first All-Star team at age 33.

Lew Ford, now 37 years old, is hitting .372 with a .445 on-base percentage and .568 slugging percentage in the independent Atlantic League. And he's the team's hitting coach too.

• One-time Twins minor leaguer Yangervis Solarte turned back into a pumpkin after a big April and May for the Yankees.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

March 28, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Also in this series: 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

5. Jose Berrios | Starter | DOB: 5/94 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK-     8      1     1.08      16.2       7      0      27      3
         RK+     3      3     1.29      14.0       8      1      22      1
2013     A-     19     19     3.99     103.2     105      6     100     40

Selected out of a Puerto Rico high school 30 picks after Byron Buxton in the 2012 draft, Jose Berrios had a great rookie-ball debut and then made the jump to full-season competition last year at low Single-A. While his 3.99 ERA and .265 opponents' batting average were unimpressive, Berrios struck out 100 batters in 104 innings and allowed just six homers while being one of only eight teenagers in the Midwest League to log at least 100 innings.

Obviously it would be ideal to see Berrios overpowering hitters in the low minors, but missing plenty of bats and holding his own overall as a teenager is a very good sign. Berrios throws hard and receives praise for his off-speed stuff, but like most 19-year-olds his control needs work and one potential red flag is that he's been a fly-ball pitcher. That tendency usually gets more extreme further up the organizational ladder, so it'll be something to keep an eye on.

Berrios is a slight 6-foot-1 and so far the Twins have been cautious with his workload by limiting his starts in-season and convincing him to skip winter ball, but he'll likely be given a longer leash this year at high Single-A. He tends to get lost in the shuffle of what has become a stacked deck of Twins prospects, but in some recent years Berrios would have been the team's top pitching prospect and his long-term upside is substantial.

4. Kohl Stewart | Starter | DOB: 10/94 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-     6      3     1.69      16.0      12      0      16      3
         RK+     1      1     0.00       4.0       1      0       8      1

From 2005-2012 the Twins used a top-50 draft pick on seven college pitchers compared to just one high school pitcher, but they bucked that trend in a big way last year by picking 18-year-old Texas right-hander Kohl Stewart fourth overall. Considered the top high school talent in the draft class that saw college stars go 1-2-3, Stewart dominated rookie-ball hitters in his pro debut with a 1.35 ERA and 24/4 K/BB ratio in 20 innings.

Not only did Stewart have video game-like numbers as a senior with a 0.18 ERA in eight starts, he was a two-sport star and ESPN ranked him as the sixth-best prep quarterback in the country. He committed to play football at Texas A&M, but Stewart signed for $4.5 million instead of trying to replace Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. He throws a mid-90s fastball, but both ESPN and Baseball America peg Stewart's slider as his best pitch.

Across baseball during the past decade using top-five picks on high school pitchers has proven to be a terrible investment, but the Twins taking such an uncharacteristic gamble suggests they truly believe Stewart is a special prospect. On draft day scouting director Deron Johnson described Stewart's ceiling as "unlimited" and given their recent inability to develop front-line starters the high-risk, high-reward approach makes sense.

3. Alex Meyer | Starter | DOB: 1/90 | Throws: Right | Trade: Nationals

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     18     18     3.10      90.0      68      4     107     34
         A+      7      7     2.31      39.0      29      2      32     11
2013     AA     13     13     3.21      70.0      60      3      84     29

Despite being 23 years old Alex Meyer had yet to pitch above Single-A when the Twins acquired him from the Nationals for Denard Span last offseason, but he made the jump to Double-A last season and posted a 3.21 ERA with 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a .227 opponents' batting average. Unfortunately a shoulder injury limited Meyer to 13 starts and 70 innings, but he was healthy enough to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and threw 28 strong innings.

Meyer was the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Kentucky and the right-hander has the raw stuff to match his 6-foot-9 frame, throwing in the mid-90s with his fastball and complementing it with a hard curveball and useful changeup. Last season among all Eastern League pitchers with at least a dozen starts Meyer ranked second in strikeout rate and sixth in ERA while actually faring better versus lefties than righties.

He induces a ton of ground balls and has allowed a grand total of just nine homers in 207 innings, but not surprisingly for a huge pitcher who throws extremely hard Meyer's control is pretty shaky. If things go well for Meyer this season he could be in Minnesota by the All-Star break and he has the potential to be the first top-of-the-rotation starter the Twins have had since Johan Santana, but first he'll need to stay healthy and shut down Triple-A hitters.

2. Miguel Sano | Third Base | DOB: 5/93 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    293     .292     .352     .637     20     45     23     77
2012     A-     553     .258     .373     .521     28     60     80    144
2013     A+     243     .330     .424     .655     16     33     29     61
         AA     276     .236     .344     .571     19     37     36     81

Miguel Sano crushed high Single-A pitching to begin last season, hitting .330/.424/.655 with 16 homers in 56 games to earn a promotion to Double-A, where he continued to show huge power with 19 homers in 67 games but saw his batting average drop nearly 100 points. And yet even while hitting just .236 there only seven Eastern League hitters had a higher OPS than Sano and he was one of only four 20-and-under position players in the entire league.

Overall he hit .280/.382/.610 with 35 homers, 70 total extra-base hits, and 65 walks. He even swiped 11 bases to show that he's got some wheels at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. And then just as Sano was on the verge of the majors, perhaps even having a slight chance to win an Opening Day job, he had elbow problems while playing winter ball. Rest and rehab worked, but only briefly, and after a setback early in spring training he underwent Tommy John elbow surgery.

Even before the elbow injury Sano was questionable to stick at third base long term, but the vast majority of his value will come from his bat no matter where he is defensively. Missing a year of development at age 21 is unfortunate, especially since Sano's high strikeout rate is an area that could use improvement, but he may get some late-season at-bats as a designated hitter. His timetable has been delayed and his picture is a little blurrier, but Sano remains a stud.

1. Byron Buxton | Center Field | DOB: 12/93 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK-    102     .216     .324     .466      4     11     11     26
         RK+     87     .286     .368     .429      1      8      8     15
2013     A-     321     .341     .431     .559      8     33     44     56
         A+     253     .326     .415     .472      4     16     32     49

Considered the highest-upside prospect in the 2012 draft class, Byron Buxton fell to the Twins with the No. 2 pick when the Astros chose high school shortstop Carlos Correa instead. At the time there were questions about whether Buxton was ready to thrive as a pro after facing sub par competition as a Georgia high schooler, but he made those disappear almost immediately and two years later he's the consensus No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.

Buxton hit .341 in 68 games at low Single-A and batted .326 in 57 games following a promotion to high Single-A, where he was the only teenage hitter in the entire Florida State League. Overall as a 19-year-old in his first full season he batted .334/.424/.520 with 49 extra-base hits, 55 steals, and 76 walks in 125 games, which would be incredible for, say, a plodding first baseman. Buxton is a potential Gold Glove-caliber center fielder with truly elite speed and athleticism. He's a freak.

His high walk rate and reasonable strikeout rate were particularly encouraging to see, because it's tough to predict how well raw high school hitters will control the strike zone. Single-A is still just Single-A and he needs to prove himself against advanced competition, but Buxton's combination of age, tools, skill set, and production is nearly flawless to this point. As long as a spring training wrist injury proves relatively minor he has a shot to debut for the Twins before his 21st birthday.

March 14, 2014

Link-O-Rama

Who said it: Tom Waits or Rust Cohle?

• Here's the kicker to this story about 19-year-old Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo that got a lot of headlines: The couple in the story is my aunt and uncle. Seriously.

• As a Gchat power user I loved Julie Buntin's look at flirting and dating via instant message.

• What happens when you put dogs in a photo booth together? Maximum cuteness, that's what.

Jim Leyland told a great story that involves former Twins catcher Tom Prince and the line "I looked up and the f***er took off!"

• Last week I visited the Hopkins high school newspaper class and they were excited to cover the state basketball tournament. They got great stuff from a crazy championship game.

• Check out the housewarming gift that Link-O-Rama regular (and patriot) Dana Wessel got me.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode a drunk woman interrupted us several times to show us her butt and I attempted to flirt with a waitress, plus we talked about spring training.

Miguel Sano underwent Tommy John elbow surgery Wednesday and recorded a video message from his hospital bed while being prepped to go under the knife:

Somehow that made me even sadder about the whole thing.

Elisabeth Moss describing her failed marriage to Fred Armisen: "It was extremely traumatic and awful and horrible."

• It turns out that students drink and do drugs at the University of Minnesota.

• As someone who uses Twitter favorites for both good and evil, I enjoyed this detailed analysis.

• They should do this same thing for work-at-home bloggers too.

• Country Bar, which I've been talking about buying with John Bonnes and Parker Hageman for approximately 10 years now, has officially closed. And we're still too chicken to buy it.

• One of the all-time great PR e-mails I've even gotten.

• Every woman I know will be in attendance at First Avenue for this event next month.

Every few days I tweet the same stupid "is [famous person] on Tinder?" joke, but apparently now it's actually coming true.

• My latest installment of Twins prospect rankings includes a bunch of high-upside teenagers.

• I'm just hoping that they replace the H&M with an Old Navy to really shake things up.

• Rangers manager Ron Washington paid a fine from MLB with 20,000 pennies.

• Few things are funnier than a little kid very seriously calling a parent by their first name and generally just acting like an old person:

Cupcakes are serious business.

• For my latest NBCSports.com season preview I tried to figure out if the Royals are finally ready to contend in the AL Central.

Kyle Kinane was a great guest on "Stop Podcasting Yourself" with Dave Shumka and Graham Clark, including shrewdly noting that baseball "is a sport that was invented for cats originally."

• I've been doing a lot of matchmaking lately, with mixed results, but my proudest one is for sure hooking up "The Sportive" podcast with Amelia Rayno of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Alan Sepinwall did a good post-finale interview with "True Detective" creator Nic Pizzolatto.

• Restaurant recommendation: Blue Nile, an Ethiopian place in Minneapolis with good food, a nice staff, and a long beer list.

Paul "Meatsauce" Lambert from KFAN is doing stand-up comedy at the New Hope Cinema Grill tonight and tomorrow night. Go check it out. And be nice if you see me there.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Aaron Gleeman on Tinder"
- "Has Jon Taffer been in Minnesota?"
- "Sid Hartman net worth"
- "Greg Gagne net worth"
- "Lizzy Caplan podcast appearance"
- "MLB tongue photos"
- "Scott Conant naked shirtless"
- "Money on trees"
- "Luis Rivas designated hitter"

• Finally, because I saw them at The Cedar last weekend they were great this week's AG.com-approved music video is "You Go Down Smooth" by Lake Street Dive:

March 5, 2014

Miguel Sano, Tommy John surgery, and the problem with dreaming

miguel sano

Dang.

Maybe there just aren't that many players who have problem-free careers without bumps and detours and bad news. Maybe there just aren't that many players who avoid injuries and live up to their full potential to the point that when they're all finished and headed to Cooperstown fans who've watched them for two decades can say: "Well, that was exactly what we all were hoping for."

But after watching Joe Mauer, Francisco Liriano, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel all get derailed by injuries recently--and after watching Kirby Puckett's career get cut short during my childhood--I'd sure like to see it happen soon. Sadly it won't be with Miguel Sano, as the best power-hitting prospect in baseball--and one of the truly elite prospects in Twins history--will now be forced to come back from a major injury before even reaching the majors.

Tommy John elbow surgery is less awful for hitters than pitchers, but in Sano's case whatever chance he had of sticking at third base long term relied heavily on his arm strength and that's now going to need some good rehab and good fortune to return intact. Beyond that his range, footwork, instincts, and athleticism--all things that caused people to doubt his ability to stay at the position--will be put on hold right in the middle of the prime developmental time at age 21.

It's a damn shame, not only because Sano seems like a decent person who deserves better and not only because it hurts the Twins' chances of reestablishing themselves as consistent contenders, but also because it robs Twins fans--and baseball fans in general--of their chance to see what Sano was fully capable of. Hopefully he'll recover well from the early injury and go on to have a great career. Mauer did that following rookie knee surgery, after all.

But even if that happens there will always be the lingering feeling that we'll never quite know what Sano could have been capable of without any bumps in the road. Without the time off and the surgery and the lost development and the year spent doing something other than fielding ground balls and smacking fastballs. And if healthy Sano almost surely would have seen action for the Twins this season, perhaps as soon as May or June.

Instead now the best-case scenario likely involves seeing some late-season action in the minors as a designated hitter only and then continuing to hit while avoiding throwing in the Arizona Fall League or winter ball. And then, if everything goes well there, it's possible that Sano could show up to Twins camp next spring training with essentially the same status he showed up to Twins camp this spring training: Ready to claim a full-time gig in the majors.

Whether that'll be at third base is somewhat irrelevant since the odds were stacked against him sticking there anyway and he was unlikely to ever be a huge asset defensively. Sano's value is going to come from his bat. That was true the moment the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic for $3.15 million as a 16-year-old and it'll be true when he's ready to put on a uniform again late this season or early next.

Instead of being a big bat with a mediocre glove at third base he may have to settle for simply being a big bat--at first base or designated hitter or maybe an outfield corner--but the goal is still the same: Get him in the middle of the Twins' lineup, slamming homers, drawing walks, and driving in Mauer and Byron Buxton. And if Sano can still hack it at third base after the surgery--for one year or his whole career--then that's just a bonus.

If there's one positive to be taken from Sano's injury it's his absence from the 40-man roster. Mauer, Liriano, and Kubel were already in the majors at the time of their major early career injuries and because of that they burned through MLB service time while on the disabled list recovering. That meant essentially wasting team-controlled seasons, pushing them closer to big paydays and free agency without the Twins actually getting value.

However, because Sano hasn't been added to the 40-man roster yet and hasn't debuted in the majors yet he'll be doing his DL stint in the minors and his service time clock won't start ticking. If he makes a full comeback and turns into a middle-of-the-order monster, the Twins will have him under their control for six full seasons instead of five seasons and a year wasted on the disabled list.

It's rare for one team to have two truly elite prospects like Buxton and Sano in their farm system at the same time and last year when I looked into the history of teammates being top-five Baseball America prospects I was surprised to see that the duos usually failed to produce a pair of stars. In fact, based on my admittedly subjective definition of "stars" it has happened exactly once in 25 years.

Two good players? Definitely. One star and one good player? Sure. But two no-doubt-about-it stars? Once since 1990. Obviously the Twins are hoping that Buxton and Sano can break that trend and it's absolutely still possible, but Sano's injury is an example of why dreaming about prospects can be so damn frustrating and why ... well, shit happens. And maybe--just maybe--Buxton can still have that elusive problem-free career.

For a lot more about Sano needing Tommy John surgery and what it means for his future, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

December 11, 2013

Twins Notes: Hendriks, Pelfrey, Davis, Sano, Jones, and the Rule 5 draft

Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins

• To make room on the 40-man roster for Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes the Twins designated Liam Hendriks for assignment, cutting the 24-year-old right-hander loose just two seasons after he was named the organization's minor league pitcher of the year. Of course, last season's minor league pitcher of the year, B.J. Hermsen, has already been removed from the 40-man roster too and this year's winner, Andrew Albers, isn't exactly destined to remain there forever.

Here are the Twins' last 10 minor league pitcher of the year winners:

2013  Andrew Albers
2012  B.J. Hermsen
2011  Liam Hendriks
2010  Kyle Gibson
2009  David Bromberg
2008  Anthony Slama
2007  Kevin Slowey
2006  Matt Garza
2005  Francisco Liriano
2004  Scott Baker

There's obviously a lot more to the story, but that list is a good indicator of when things started to go wrong for the Twins. As for Hendriks, he's been terrible in the majors so far and even when he was putting up nice-looking numbers in the minors I was never a particularly big fan, viewing him as a potential mid-rotation starter long term. Still, considering his age and the replacement-level talent still residing on the 40-man roster letting him go isn't the call I'd have made.

• Even after adding Nolasco and Hughes the Twins are apparently still trying to re-sign Mike Pelfrey, which makes zero sense to me. He was a mess for the Twins and while he'll be another year removed from elbow surgery the problem is that Pelfrey was never much good before the injury with a 4.36 ERA and measly 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings for the Mets. I'd rely on young arms before turning back to Pelfrey and the idea of a two-year deal seems all kinds of misguided.

• Free agent outfielder Rajai Davis signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Tigers and in doing so reportedly turned down a two-year offer from the Twins. Davis is incredibly fast, stealing 60 bases per 600 plate appearances during the past five seasons, but also hit just .271/.317/.382 over that span and is a surprisingly mediocre defender. It's interesting that the Twins made a run at him, because they're certainly not short on outfielders at the moment.

Miguel Sano stopped playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic last month because of an elbow injury and the Twins are still waiting to determine whether Tommy John surgery is needed. That would obviously be a huge blow to Sano considering how close he is to the majors and how much of his ability to remain at third base revolves around arm strength, but position players do recover from Tommy John surgery more quickly than pitchers. Still, not good.

Garrett Jones, who left the Twins as a minor-league free agent way back in 2008, signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract with the Marlins. I'm not sure why the Marlins of all teams need a mediocre 33-year-old first baseman coming off a career-worst season, but good for him. Jones always showed good power in the minors, but his all-around skill set was never very impressive and his hitting .256/.318/.462 in five seasons for the Pirates definitely qualifies as a surprise.

• As of now the 40-man roster is full and Terry Ryan indicated that the Twins don't plan to pick anyone in the Rule 5 draft Thursday. Last year they selected Ryan Pressly from the Red Sox and he stayed in the majors all season as a low-leverage reliever, throwing 77 innings with a 3.87 ERA and 49-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio at age 24.

• Tickets won't go on sale until Friday morning, but here are the details on the next Twins Daily and "Gleeman and The Geek" event. Should be a good one.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we talked about the Twins missing out on free agent catcher targets A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the new homes for Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan, and Hendriks getting dropped.


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