Just a few years ago a not-insignificant number of people in New York talked up Eduardo Nunez as the Yankees' heir apparent to Derek Jeter at shortstop, but that was always pretty far-fetched and now that Jeter is actually ready to retire it looks downright delusional. Nunez's stock dropped so much that last week the Yankees designated him for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot and yesterday the Twins acquired him for their No. 28 prospect, Miguel Sulbaran.
Nunez proved to be a horrible defensive shortstop when filling in for Jeter, making 30 errors in 1,150 innings (including 124 starts) at the position while Ultimate Zone Rating pegged him as an astounding 31 runs below average. New York also played him occasionally at third base, but his glove rated nearly as poorly there and as a career .267/.313/.379 hitter with even worse numbers at Triple-A his bat is hardly good enough to be an asset at a corner spot.
So what exactly do the Twins want with Nunez? Well, for one thing the price was right. Sulbaran isn't totally without upside, but he's also a Single-A pitcher they acquired from the Dodgers nine months ago in exchange for Drew Butera. Beyond that Nunez is still relatively young at 26 and under team control through 2017, so while he's really only a "middle infielder" like I'm a "radio broadcaster" there's some chance he could be not-horrible at second base or third base.
Mostly, though, the Twins' infield depth is so lacking and the MLB-wide standard for a serviceable backup infielder is so low that it wouldn't take much for Nunez to capably fill the role. He also has a minor-league option remaining, which means for now the Twins can stash him at Triple-A while deciding if they'd rather have Nunez on the roster than, say, the hollowed out remains of Jason Bartlett's skill set.
Nunez isn't a player I'd have given up anything to acquire--can't hit, can't field, and base-stealing isn't worth much on its own--but in general the Twins should be looking to add infield depth and clearly they think his speed and athleticism can still translate into something useful. If the Twins think Nunez represents a viable alternative to Pedro Florimon at shortstop they're likely to be disappointed upon closer inspection, but searching for a viable alternative is a good idea.
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30. D.J. Baxendale | Starter | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-10
YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2012 RK+ 6 0 0.00 7.2 1 0 16 1
A- 11 0 1.64 11.0 12 0 15 1
2013 A+ 9 9 1.10 57.1 34 2 48 11
AA 16 16 5.63 92.2 110 13 64 22
D.J. Baxendale had a dominant 19-inning pro debut after going to the Twins in the 10th round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Arkansas and began his first full season by jumping all the way to high Single-A, where he went 7-0 with a 1.10 ERA in nine starts. That earned Baxendale a lot of attention and a quick promotion to Double-A, but he allowed as many earned runs in his first start there as he did combined in nine starts for Fort Myers.
Overall in New Britain he got knocked around for a 5.63 ERA and .293 opponents' batting average in 16 starts to provide a reminder that college pitchers thriving at rookie-ball and Single-A tends not to mean much of anything. Baxendale throws strikes and works mostly in the high-80s with his fastball, so it's not surprising that he ran into a wall against more experienced Double-A hitters after carving up the low minors.
Another worry is that he's an extreme fly-ball pitcher and that became an issue for the first time in New Britain, where he allowed 13 homers in 93 innings. Fly balls and high-80s fastballs are a bad combination, although it's worth noting that Baxendale reached Double-A very quickly at age 22. His raw stuff seems unlikely to ever translate into many missed bats, so Baxendale's control may determine his big-league chances. So far he's walked just 35 batters in 169 pro innings.
29. Lewin Diaz | First Base | DOB: 9/96 | Bats: Left | Sign: Dominican
Last year the Twins' biggest international splash was spending $1.4 million on 16-year-old Lewin Diaz, a 6-foot-4 first baseman from the Dominican Republic. Ben Badler of Baseball America, whose coverage of foreign prospects is the most informed and thorough anywhere, ranked Diaz as the 15th-best international player available and wrote that "his value is all in his bat" and his "big, lumbering body ... could end up along the lines of David Ortiz physically."
Having an Ortiz build unfortunately doesn't necessarily mean having an Ortiz bat, but Badler reported that Diaz has "good bat speed and flashes some of the best raw power in Latin America during batting practice." However, he also noted at the time of the signing that Diaz "doesn't bring the same loft power against live pitching" and "will have to make adjustments for his power to play in games."
Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com ranked Diaz as the 10th-best international prospect, writing that "scouts love the big left-handed hitter's stroke at the plate and his body reminds many scouts of Ryan Howard." When a baby-faced 16-year-old is compared physically to Ortiz and Howard he's going to be a massive adult some day, so not surprisingly Diaz has sub par speed and projects as a first baseman. In other words, the Twins are betting on him developing huge power.
28. Miguel Sulbaran | Starter | DOB: 3/94 | Throws: Left | Trade: Dodgers
YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2012 RK+ 11 11 2.51 57.1 57 2 62 9
2013 A- 27 20 2.96 112.2 110 3 101 32
When the Twins traded Drew Butera to the Dodgers in July for a player to be named later or cash considerations my assumption was that the return would be cash and the considerations would be approximately the cost of a bucket of baseballs. Instead they ended up getting Miguel Sulbaran, a diminutive 19-year-old left-hander with a solid track record in the low minors since signing out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old.
As one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League last season Sulbaran had a 2.96 ERA and 101/32 K/BB ratio in 113 innings. For comparison, top-10 prospect Jose Berrios had a 3.99 ERA and 100/40 K/BB ratio in 104 innings facing the same low Single-A hitters at the same age. Two years ago the Twins drafted Berrios with the 32nd overall pick and he has much better raw stuff, so they're hardly prospect equals, but to get any sort of useful player for Butera was shocking.
Sulbaran hasn't cracked any Baseball America or ESPN rankings, but before the trade Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com rated him as the No. 14 prospect in the Dodgers' farm system. Mayo wrote that Sulbaran "has a good feel for his low-90s fastball" and "his curveball is his best offspeed pitch and both his slider and changeup show promise." Any deal for Butera would have gotten the "great trade ... who'd we get?" treatment, but Sulbaran was a nice haul.
There was a lot of excitement surrounding Amaurys Minier when the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic for $1.4 million as a 16-year-old, with some people even making stretched comparisons to Miguel Sano, but last season he showed the folly of hyping every big-money teenage signing. Minier began his pro career in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit just .214 with 29 strikeouts in 31 games.
The good news is that he did manage six homers in 112 at-bats, which is impressive in a league where two entire teams managed only five total homers in the 60-game schedule and the overall slugging percentage was .338. The better news is that Minier turned 18 years old in January and what he did in a 31-game debut doesn't mean much in terms of his long-term potential. Not all teenage prospects come out of the gates slugging like Sano, which is what makes Sano so special.
Minier was technically signed as a shortstop, but he'll never play there and spent last season at third base. There's no real sense in trying to analyze Minier's performance so far and his place on this list is based mostly on the money the Twins paid to sign him and the fact that just about everyone seems to agree he has the potential to be a very good hitter. It may take another year or two before there's much beyond that to analyze.
26. Fernando Romero | Starter | DOB: 12/94 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican
YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2013 RK- 12 6 1.60 45.0 32 0 47 13
Fernando Romero signed with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, getting $260,000 as a 16-year-old. After throwing 31 mediocre Dominican Summer League innings in 2012 he moved up to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year for his American debut and dominated similarly inexperienced hitters with a 1.60 ERA and 47/13 K/BB ratio in 45 innings. He held opponents to a .196 batting average, including zero homers in 181 plate appearances.
Of course, Gulf Coast League numbers are rarely accurate predictors of success, particularly when the sample size is 181 plate appearances. At the time of the signing Romero reportedly threw in the high-80s and low-90s, and he's added some velocity since then while filling out his six-foot frame a bit. Like most teenagers his fastball is ahead of his off-speed stuff and Romero hasn't shown whether he can hold up under a starter's workload yet.
In terms of long-term upside he's one of the top pitching prospects in the Twins' farm system, but my general approach to this list is to be conservative with teenagers until there's some sort of track record versus decent competition. Romero won't turn 20 years old until after this season and figures to spend the whole year pitching for rookie-level Elizabethton, putting him several seasons away from even entering into the Twins' plans.
• Kyle Gibson's first taste of the majors likely came to an end Monday, as the Twins demoted him back to Triple-A immediately following his poor outing against the Mets. Gibson pitched well in his Twins debut on June 29, but was mostly a mess after that and returns to Rochester sporting an ugly 6.53 ERA in 10 starts. His secondary numbers are only slightly more encouraging, including just 29 strikeouts in 51 innings and a .327 opponents' batting average with seven homers allowed.
Gibson got knocked around by big-league hitters and looked worn out at times, so considering the expected workload limit in his first full season since elbow surgery shutting him down soon made sense. He's thrown 144 total innings between the majors and minors and by shutting Gibson down after optioning him to Triple-A the Twins keep him from accumulating MLB service time while not pitching, although certainly the demotion could be purely based on performance.
There are some positives to be taken from Gibson's first 10 starts, including an average fastball of 92.2 miles per hour and a ground-ball rate around 50 percent, but the questions about his ability to generate strikeouts remain and overall he looked like anything but a top prospect. Hopefully he can come back strong next season, because Gibson will be 26 years old in a couple months and the Twins desperately need someone to emerge as more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.
• When the Twins traded Drew Buterato the Dodgers on July 31 for a player to be named later or cash considerations my assumption was that their return would be cash and the considerations would be approximately the cost of a bucket of baseballs. Instead they ended up getting Miguel Sulbaran, a diminutive 19-year-old left-hander with a solid track record in the low minors since signing out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old.
As one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League this season Sulbaran has a 3.26 ERA and 86-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 97 innings. For comparison, J.O. Berrios has a 3.45 ERA and 92-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 innings facing the same low Single-A hitters at the same age. Last year the Twins drafted Berrios with the 32nd pick and he has much better raw stuff, so they're hardly prospect equals, but to get any sort of useful player for Butera is shocking.
Sulbaran hasn't cracked any Baseball America or ESPN rankings, but Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com recently rated him as the No. 14 prospect in the Dodgers' farm system. Mayo wrote that Sulbaran "has a good feel for his low-90s fastball" and "his curveball is his best offspeed pitch and both his slider and changeup show promise." Butera is arguably the worst hitter of the past three decades, so any deal would get the "great trade ... who'd we get?" treatment, but this is a nice haul.
• Parting with Butera is the only move the Twins made before the July 31 deadline, but trades can also happen in August via the waiver wire system and they swung another deal by sending Jamey Carroll to the Royals for the familiar player to be named later or cash considerations. If the Twins get anything decent in return for Carroll that would be even more shocking than the Butera deal, because as a 39-year-old impending free agent he had zero value to them beyond this season.
Carroll didn't work out quite as well as the Twins hoped when they signed him as a free agent in November of 2011, but the reasoning behind the two-year, $6.5 million contract made sense. As usual the Twins' infield options were severely lacking and Carroll was a good, versatile defender with strong on-base skills. He did what he was supposed to do in 2012, drawing the third-most walks on the team to get on base at a .343 clip and starting 30-plus games at three positions.
When signing a 37-year-old to a multi-year deal rapid decline is always a risk and unfortunately this season Carroll's usually outstanding strike-zone control vanished and the Twins no longer trusted him to play shortstop at age 39. He was a worthwhile pickup who couldn't hold off father time long enough to provide a great return on a fairly modest investment. And yet among all the middle infielders in Twins history to appear in 150 games only 10 had a better OBP than Carroll.
• As expected, Justin Morneau passed through waivers unclaimed because he's a 32-year-old impending free agent first baseman with a $14 million salary and a .430 slugging percentage. At this point it's unclear if any contending teams are interested in Morneau, but at the very least no teams were interested in Morneau and the possibility of being stuck with the remaining $4 million on his contract.
Clearing waivers means Morneau can be traded to any team, with August 31 as the deadline for postseason eligibility. However, don't expect much if he's moved. Despite a confusing number of fans and media members continuing to act as if Morneau is an impact player he's been a below-average first baseman since the 2010 concussion, batting .257/.317/.409 in 320 games. This year there are 216 major leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances and he ranks 115th in OPS.
• Josh Willingham returning from knee surgery followed by Ryan Doumit coming back from a concussion left the Twins with a roster crunch and they decided to make room by demoting Chris Colabello back to the minors. It's a shame, because Colabello's monstrous Triple-A production warranted an extended opportunity at age 29 and he was just starting to show some promise by hitting .286/.397/.551 with four homers and nine walks in his last 16 games.
Most of the talk surrounding a possible Morneau trade centers on what the Twins might get in return and whether they should try to keep him past this season, but one side effect is that not trading him takes at-bats away from guys like Colabello who could prove useful on a minimum salary for 2014 and beyond if given a chance. Instead, after hitting .354/.432/.652 at Triple-A he got a grand total of 96 plate appearances in the majors.
UPDATE: Well, the good news is that Colabello has already been called back up. Unfortunately it's because Joe Mauer was placed on the concussion disabled list after taking multiple foul tips to the mask Monday. Mauer was dizzy during batting practice Tuesday, which is an awfully scary thing to write following several paragraphs about Morneau being a shell of his former self since a concussion. Brain injuries are impossible to predict, so it's breath-holding time.
• Fort Myers manager Doug Mientkiewicz got into a brawl with the opposing manager Saturday, video of which you can see below courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press:
Because the beginning of the brawl wasn't captured on video it's tough to tell exactly what went on, but by all accounts Mientkiewicz escalated the situation in a huge way by running out of the dugout to tackle the other manager. Twins minor league director Brad Steilissued a statement saying "that's not the example we want him to set for our players" and "he realizes that's not how we want him to represent the Minnesota Twins."
However, general manager Terry Ryanexplained that the Twins left any discipline to the Florida State League, saying: "Doug was apologetic. I think it's taken care of." And the FSL merely fined him, providing quite a contrast to the Twins allowing Double-A manager Jeff Smith to bench Miguel Sano four games for showboating on a homer and reacting poorly to being scolded. It's obviously apples and oranges, but imagine Sano tackling another player and only being fined.
• Francisco Liriano is 14-5 with a 2.53 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 121 innings for the first place Pirates, allowing two or fewer runs in 15 of 19 starts while throwing fastballs far less often than he ever did with the Twins. Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote a lengthy, quote-filled article about Liriano's post-Twins turnaround, including this comment from Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage:
Because that's Frankie. If I try to make Frankie pitch like [someone else], we wouldn't have what we got. That's force-feeding him to do something that he's not comfortable doing. Frankie does pitch the way he pitches. So just let him be him. That's what we did.
Maybe he simply needed a fresh start somewhere else, but "just let him be him" certainly isn't something Twins coaches said often about Liriano and his improvement can be linked to a clear change in approach that runs counter to what the Twins preached regarding fastball usage. He's averaged 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings for the Pirates, whereas the Twins have used 10 different starters this year and none have averaged more than 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
• Whatever slim chance Nick Blackburn had of pitching for the Twins again is over following season-ending knee surgery. Blackburn's contract still includes an $8 million team option for next season, but that will obviously be declined. In signing Blackburn to a misguided long-term deal in March of 2010 the Twins ended up paying $14 million for 408 innings of a 5.56 ERA from a guy who would have been under team control through 2013 even without the guaranteed contract.
• Darin Mastroianni wound up spending four months on the disabled list with an ankle injury that was initially deemed so minor that the Twins let him play through the pain for several weeks. He eventually underwent surgery, but now that Mastroianni is healthy again the Twins activated him from the disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A. In other words, Mastroianni lost his job because of the injury. And his 40-man roster spot might be in danger this offseason.