October 17, 2011

Twins Notes: Roster trimming, old friends, minor awards, and 10-5-2004

• Most teams prepare for the offseason by trimming at least a handful of lesser players from the margins of their 40-man roster and the Twins' initial purge included Anthony Slama, Matt Tolbert, Jason Repko, and Rene Rivera. All four players were outrighted off the 40-man roster and went unclaimed on waivers before being assigned to Triple-A. In order to call any of them up to the majors next season the Twins would first have to re-add them to the 40-man roster.

Slama is the one questionable cut, as his minor-league track record has long screamed out for an opportunity that the Twins simply never seemed interested in giving him. He likely would've finally gotten an extended shot in the majors during the second half because of all the Twins' injuries, but Slama missed the final two months of the season with an elbow injury of his own. If healthy he's capable of being a solid middle reliever, but at age 28 time is just about up.

Tolbert is the epitome of a replacement-level infielder and the Twins realizing that's not worth 40-man roster space is encouraging considering they gave him at least 100 plate appearances in each of the past four seasons. I've called Tolbert a poor man's Nick Punto, but that actually might short-change Punto. Tolbert is 29 years old, doesn't offer anything special defensively, and has hit just .230/.288/.319 in 680 plate appearances as a big leaguer.

Rivera entered this season as a 27-year-old with 159 plate appearances in the majors, but the Twins gave him 35 starts and 114 plate appearances because Joe Mauer wasn't healthy and they had embarrassingly little catching depth behind him. Just as Tolbert is the definition of a replacement-level infielder, Rivera is a prime example of a replacement-level catcher. He's solid defensively, but Rivera has hit .193 in the majors and .254/.297/.421 in 186 games at Triple-A.

Repko's best fit is as a fifth outfielder who starts against left-handed pitching, but that role is pretty limited to begin with and Ron Gardenhire never utilizes a platoon anyway. When put in a more traditional fourth outfielder role Repko doesn't hit enough to be a reasonable fill-in and mostly just wastes a bench spot, which the Twins can't afford when combined with the 12-man pitching staff Gardenhire prefers. He'll likely be in another organization next season.

• Old friends Pat Neshek and Jose Morales were also dropped from 40-man rosters in similar house cleanings by the Padres and Rockies. Neshek split this year between Triple-A and San Diego, but struggled in both places as his fastball topped out in the high-80s following elbow surgery in November of 2008. Morales missed most of the season with a broken thumb, hitting .267/.352/.317 in 22 games as the Rockies' backup catcher. They'll both likely be free agents.

• Rochester is plenty frustrated with the Triple-A team after back-to-back 90-loss seasons, so the Twins re-signed minor-league free agents Aaron Bates, Ray Chang, and Mike Hollimon to begin stockpiling some depth. All three guys are closing in on 30 years old with basically zero chance of being called up to Minnesota, but Bates is a first baseman who hit .316/.408/.439 in 106 games for Rochester this season and Chang and Hollimon are useful infielders at Triple-A.

Brian Dozier was named the Twins' minor league player of the year, which is both a tribute to how well he played this season and an indictment of how poorly the rest of the farm system fared. Dozier was an afterthought coming into this season, as the Twins assigned him to high Single-A as a 24-year-old and only promoted him to Double-A after the 2009 eighth-round pick hit .322/.423/.472 in 49 games at Fort Myers.

Dozier was just as productive at Double-A, hitting .318/.384/.502 in 73 games, but he currently projects as more of a utility man than a strong everyday player and won't be anywhere close to cracking any top prospect lists for 2012. Depending on how the Twins address their woeful middle infield depth this winter Dozier may get a chance to force his way onto the Opening Day roster, but more likely he'll begin next season in Rochester at age 25.

Liam Hendriks got the nod as the Twins' minor league pitcher of the year after throwing 139 innings with a 3.36 ERA and 111-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio between Double-A and Triple-A. Hendriks is two years younger than Dozier and a step or two above him as a prospect, looking like a future middle-of-the-rotation starter. He ranked No. 8 on my list of the Twins' prospects coming into this season and got his feet wet in the majors with four September starts.

Here are the Twins' recent minor-league award winners:

YEAR     PLAYER              PITCHER
2011     Brian Dozier        Liam Hendriks
2010     Joe Benson          Kyle Gibson
2009     Ben Revere          David Bromberg
2008     Ben Revere          Anthony Slama
2007     Brian Buscher       Kevin Slowey
2006     Alexi Casilla       Matt Garza
2005     David Winfree       Francisco Liriano
2004     Jason Kubel         Scott Baker
2003     Joe Mauer           Jesse Crain
2002     Lew Ford            J.D. Durbin

Certainly a mixed bag, to say the least.

• How far has Aaron Hicks' prospect stock fallen? According to Baseball America at least, a ton. On their annual preseason prospect list they ranked him No. 19 for 2010 and No. 45 for 2011, but on their recently released postseason list of top prospects by league Hicks ranked No. 18 ... in the Florida State League. Seems like a safe bet that he won't crack Baseball America's top 100 for 2012. In fact, Miguel Sano may be the only Twins prospect who does.

• Speaking of Hicks, this out of context quote amused me: "I was pretty much going down the same road as Tiger Woods."

John Ourand of Sports Business Journal crunched the numbers on local television audiences across baseball and the Twins' viewership declined 28 percent compared to last year, dropping from 152,000 to 109,000 viewers per game. That decline of 43,000 viewers per game was the largest drop of any MLB team, although based on percentage of viewers lost the Twins' drop was only the fifth-highest. Whatever the case, FSN had an ugly season along with the Twins.

• How long has it been since the Twins won a playoff game? Their last postseason win came on October 5, 2004 against the Yankees, as Johan Santana tossed seven shutout innings and Jacque Jones homered off Mike Mussina in a 2-0 victory. New York's lineup that day included Gary Sheffield, Bernie Williams, John Olerud, and Ruben Sierra, all of whom are retired. And here was the Twins' lineup:

1. Shannon Stewart, LF
2. Jacque Jones, RF
3. Torii Hunter, CF
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Corey Koskie, 3B
6. Lew Ford, DH
7. Cristian Guzman, SS
8. Michael Cuddyer, 2B
9. Henry Blanco, C

Wow. Lew Ford at designated hitter, Corey Koskie at third base, Henry Blanco at catcher, and Justin Morneau in the cleanup spot as a 24-year-old rookie, not to mention a double-play duo of Cristian Guzman at shortstop and Michael Cuddyer at second base ... with Cuddyer batting after Guzman. I was still in college at the time, Sano was 11 years old, and on that same day Dick Cheney and John Edwards had their vice presidential debate.

• I wrote an article for MinnPost attempting to make sense of Delmon Young's playoff power.

August 23, 2011

Twins Notes: Thome, Oliveros, Blackburn, Swarzak, Neshek, and Hardy

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Twins placed Jason Kubel and Jim Thome on revocable waivers yesterday, which is no surprise and doesn't necessarily mean anything. Both impending free agents will likely be claimed, at which point the Twins can either work out a trade with the claiming team or pull them back for the rest of 2011. They won't have options or leverage, but trading Thome and to a lesser extent Kubel could still be worthwhile.

• It took the Twins about 72 hours to choose Lester Oliveros as the player to be named later in the Delmon Young trade and then less than a week to call him up, adding the 23-year-old to the bullpen while placing Nick Blackburn on the disabled list with a forearm strain. Oliveros' fastball velocity and minor-league strikeout rates make him intriguing, but his awful control is a big hurdle to get over if he's going to become a useful late-inning option.

• For the second straight season Blackburn has pitched horribly before revealing an arm injury. Last year he earned a late-July demotion to Triple-A by throwing 104 innings with a 6.66 ERA, returned a month later to pitch well down the stretch, and then had elbow surgery. This year he was very good through mid-June, posted a 7.01 ERA and .366 opponents' batting average in his next 11 starts, and exited Sunday's game with "sharp pain" in his forearm.

Anthony Swarzak will step into the rotation for Blackburn, which is a perfect opportunity for Swarzak to convince the Twins that he's more than just a long reliever. His miniscule strikeout rate and mediocre minor-league track record suggest he's been pitching over his head and will be overmatched as a full-time starter, but Swarzak has certainly earned the chance to prove the numbers are wrong with a rubber-armed 3.12 ERA in 66 innings.

J.J. Hardy going deep last night might have been the most inevitable homer of all time or at least the most inevitable homer since Young's first post-trade swing last week. Hardy now has 24 homers for the Orioles, which is the most by an AL East shortstop since Miguel Tejada back in 2006. Hardy has 24 homers in 383 at-bats while the Twins' entire infield, including everyone to play first base, second base, shortstop, or third base, has 37 homers in 2,328 at-bats.

• Gardenhire claimed yesterday that Hardy "was probably going to be non-tendered" by the Twins if they hadn't traded him to Baltimore, except they actually tendered Hardy a contract on December 2 and didn't trade him until December 9. Perhaps they already had the framework of a deal in place, in which case Gardenhire is telling the truth about their misguided plan to cut Hardy for nothing. Ultimately the only difference is the degree of the Twins' ineptitude.

• On other hand, Gardenhire saying that the Twins planned to non-tender Young this winter if they hadn't traded him to the Tigers is totally believable and equally justified. Much like with Hardy they got whatever modest return they could for Young rather than simply cut him loose for nothing, but the fact that they apparently viewed Hardy then and Young now in the same light is pretty discouraging from a player evaluation standpoint.

• Also discouraging was Hardy strongly hinting that the Orioles' training staff has done a much better job than the Twins' training staff, which unfortunately isn't difficult to believe given the Twins' incredible number of injuries and failures to meet recovery timetables this year.

• Old friend Pat Neshek has been designated for assignment by the Padres after throwing 25 innings with a 4.02 ERA and more walks (22) than strikeouts (20). Neshek has been hard to hit with a .216 opponents' batting average, but between the hideous strikeout-to-walk ratio and an average fastball velocity of 86.4 miles per hour he hasn't made the Twins regret letting him go for nothing during spring training.

Jim Callis of Baseball America crunched the numbers for the past five drafts and reports that the Pirates and Nationals led all MLB teams in spending at $52 million and $51 million while the White Sox were last in spending at $18 million. During the five-year span the Twins were 25th in spending at $24 million, which is largely due to having just one top-20 pick and zero top-10 picks from 2007 to 2011.

• Speaking of the draft, after last night's loss the Twins are in line for the No. 5 pick next year. Last time they picked higher than 14th was in 2001, when they took Joe Mauer first overall.

Jeff Sullivan of SB Nation reviewed Mauer's first career appearance in the outfield and found that playing right field seems pretty damn easy most of the time.

Ron Gardenhire's history with umpire Hunter Wendelstedt trumped his history with Danny Valencia last night, so hopefully the manager and his third baseman at least cracked a couple beers together in the clubhouse after their dual ejections.

Ben Revere's iffy routes, weak arm, and six errors in just 60 games in center field have been frustrating, but last night he made one of the best, most spectacular catches I've ever seen.

John Bonnes and I are slated to record the second episode of our "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast tonight, so hopefully you'll be able to download it here or on iTunes in the morning. If you'd like to ask us questions to be answered on the show or want podcast-related updates, follow @GleemanAndGeek on Twitter.

This week's content is sponsored by PosterBurner.com, where you can turn your photographs into high-quality custom posters.

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.

April 25, 2011

Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you

Catching up with old friends in new places ...

Matt Guerrier signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Dodgers and got off to a great start in Los Angeles with 11 straight scoreless innings before coughing up five runs Saturday. Guerrier has filled largely the same role with the Dodgers that he did with the Twins, working the seventh and eighth innings setting up closer Jonathan Broxton while recording more than three outs in five of his first 10 appearances.

Brian Fuentes has been filling in for the injured Andrew Bailey as the A's closer, converting six of seven save chances with a 4.09 ERA and 10-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings. He was unable to find a full-time closing opportunity as a free agent and settled for a two-year, $10.5 million deal at age 35. Bailey is due back early next month, at which point Fuentes will slide into a setup role alongside former Twin and original AG.com favorite, Grant Balfour.

Jon Rauch also stumbled into a brief stint filling in as Toronto's closer with Frank Francisco sidelined to begin the season. Just as he did for the Twins last year Rauch did a perfectly solid job in the role, converting all three save chances before Francico returned 18 games in, and he has a 2.25 ERA and 6-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings overall. Dating back to last year Rauch has converted 24-of-28 saves with a 2.98 ERA and 52/18 K/BB ratio in 66 innings.

• Obviously the three-year, $13 million contract helped, but Jesse Crain also talked about the opportunity to be in the mix for saves as one of the reasons for signing with the White Sox. Chicago's bullpen has been a mess, with closer Matt Thornton blowing four saves already and manager Ozzie Guillen trying all kinds of different combinations late, but Crain has yet to get a crack at closing duties despite a 1.93 ERA and 11-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings.

Orlando Hudson got off to strong start in San Diego while oddly batting third in the Padres' lineup, but a recent slump has knocked his overall line down to .229/.349/.271 in 21 games. Of course, even that .620 OPS is still much higher than the Twins have gotten from Alexi Casilla (.485), Matt Tolbert (.469), Luke Hughes (.448), and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.519) in the middle infield and Hudson is playing half his games in the majors' most pitcher-friendly ballpark.

• I didn't like the Twins' decision to trade J.J. Hardy after he was above par offensively among shortstops and outstanding defensively in the 101 games he was healthy enough to be in the lineup, but they have to be smiling after he lasted just six games with the Orioles before being placed on the disabled list. Hardy is out until mid-May with a strained oblique and one of the two minor-league relievers the Twins got for him, Jim Hoey, has been thrust into a setup role.

Brendan Harris was also traded to Baltimore in the Hardy swap or more accurately dumping $1.25 million of his $1.75 million salary on the Orioles was part of the Twins' side of the deal. No one will ever be able to explain why the Twins handed Harris a two-year, $3.2 million deal last January, but after spending most of last season at Triple-A he failed to make the Orioles out of spring training and is once again struggling in the International League.

Wilson Ramos has overtaken Ivan Rodriguez as Washington's starting catcher and all of a sudden articles have popped up explaining how the Twins don't regret trading a 22-year-old top catching prospect for the right to pay $10 million for one-and-a-half years of Matt Capps. I'm sure the timing is purely coincidental. Ramos is hitting .351 with surprisingly decent plate discipline early on, giving him a .302/.347/.414 career line through 34 games.

Dealt for Single-A reliever Paul Bargas in December after the Twins settled on Drew Butera as their preferred backup catcher, Jose Morales is now backing up Chris Iannetta in Colorado and playing sparingly in the early going. He owns a career line of .295/.374/.358 in 81 games, but the Twins never trusted his glove. Bargas unfortunately has been hospitalized due to a neurological condition, with general manager Bill Smith describing him as "very sick."

Nick Punto's one-year, $750,000 contract with St. Louis got off to a rough start when he underwent hernia surgery within days of reporting to spring training, but he's healthy now and already starting regularly in place of injured second baseman Skip Schumaker. I thought the Twins should have re-signed Punto as long as the money was no more than $1 million and the projected role was minor. For all his faults, he'd be their best middle infielder right now.

Pat Neshek not only won a spot in the Padres' bullpen out of spring training after being lost on waivers for nothing by the Twins, he threw eight innings with a 2.25 ERA and .222 batting average against. However, while I'm happy to see Neshek doing well and didn't understand cutting him loose, his 7-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio is anything but impressive, his average fastball has clocked in at just 85.6 miles per hour, and now he's been optioned to Triple-A.

• Traded to the Braves for Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond last month in one of the most confusing Twins moves in a long time, Billy Bullock has struggled at Double-A with a 12.15 ERA through 6.2 innings. He thrived at Double-A in the second half of last season, but his shaky control has been a big problem with six walks. Diamond, meanwhile, has a 3.48 ERA and 13-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in three starts at Rochester.

Rob Delaney was lost on waivers to Tampa Bay in late January when they Twins dropped him from the 40-man roster to make room for Dusty Hughes. Delaney failed to make the Rays out of spring training, but has a 2.45 ERA and 14-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings at Triple-A and will likely get a chance in Tampa Bay at some point this season. Hughes has been a mess so far, living up to his mediocre track record by allowing seven runs in seven innings.

Ron Mahay left the Twins as a free agent, signed a minor-league deal with the Dodgers only to be released in the final week of spring training, and has latched on with the Diamondbacks at Triple-A, continuing a career-long pattern of having to prove himself anew seemingly every season despite consistently solid numbers. He might finally just be out of gas at age 40, but Mahay has a career ERA of 3.83 that includes a 3.49 mark in the previous five seasons.

Dennys Reyes beat out Hideki Okajima for the left-handed specialist role in the Red Sox's bullpen coming out of spring training, turning a minor-league deal into $900,000 in guaranteed money, and then got demoted to Triple-A one week into the season after four shaky outings. Reyes cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Pawtucket, but the $900,000 salary is locked in whether "Big Sweat" gets called back up to Boston or not.

Yohan Pino, a right-hander the Twins swapped to the Indians for Carl Pavano in mid-2009, was traded to the Blue Jays last week for cash considerations. Pino was a mid-level prospect when the Twins dealt him, posting standout numbers in the minors despite mediocre raw stuff, and now he's organizational filler at age 28. Pavano was an impending free agent back then, but went on to re-sign with the Twins twice and has a 4.09 ERA in 326 innings since the trade.

March 23, 2011

Twins Notes: Fifth starters, old friends, bullpens, and short shelf lives

Ron Gardenhire announced yesterday that Scott Baker will be in the rotation alongside Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, and Brian Duensing, which means Kevin Slowey is bullpen bound despite a 39-21 record and 4.42 ERA in 82 career starts. Winning percentage is a mostly useless stat, but it's still notable that Slowey is headed to the bullpen with a .650 mark that ranks second to Johan Santana in Twins history among pitchers with 50 decisions.

I'm of the belief that both Baker and Slowey deserved rotation spots ahead of Blackburn, but with Gardenhire awarding Blackburn a starting job weeks ago that was clearly never an option and short of that Baker over Slowey is the right call. Baker is the longest-tenured member of the rotation and has a 4.33 ERA in 138 career starts, including a 4.49 mark in 29 outings last season after drawing the Opening Day assignment. He's a perfectly solid mid-rotation starter.

Slowey fits that description as well, but his durability has been in question since returning from late-2009 wrist surgery and there's been various speculation that the Twins aren't thrilled with his demeanor. It also likely didn't help Slowey's cause that he's not signed to a multi-year deal and is owed $2.7 million this season, whereas Baker is under contract for $11.5 million through 2012. To his credit, Slowey apparently took the demotion to the bullpen in stride yesterday.

Whether he'll be an effective enough reliever to gain Gardenhire's trust in a high-leverage role is unclear. Slowey has all of four career relief appearances, half of which came when he was a 23-year-old rookie in 2007, but has a 2.74 career ERA in the first inning and like most relievers the short appearances should help lessen the importance of his mediocre secondary stuff. As a reliever Slowey can focus on his fastball and slider while leaning less on his iffy changeup.

Of course, Slowey may not be long for the bullpen anyway. Rarely do teams make it through a 162-game season using just five starters, leaving Slowey just an injury away from being called back into rotation duty, and it wouldn't be surprising if teams have expressed trade interest in an affordable 27-year-old mid-rotation starter under team control through 2013. Shopping him seems natural, especially if they think No. 1 prospect Kyle Gibson will be ready by midseason.

• Dumped by the Twins and claimed off waivers by the Padres earlier this week, Pat Neshek flew from Florida to Arizona and tossed a perfect inning with two strikeouts yesterday. His first strikeout victim? None other than Carlos Gomez. Neshek is reunited with Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson, the latter of whom is already annoying new teammates with the same motor mouth that reportedly helped guarantee his departure from the Twins after one season.

Alex Burnett was seemingly never viewed as a strong Opening Day bullpen option thanks to last year's second-half fade and he's been assigned to Triple-A. He jumped all the way from Double-A to the majors and then struggled in 14 appearances following a midseason demotion to Rochester, so some more time there at age 23 is probably a good thing. I'm still convinced Burnett can eventually be a solid bullpen contributor, perhaps this season.

• Burnett returning to Triple-A, Neshek going to San Diego, and Slowey moving to the bullpen did a lot to clear up the relief picture. Slowey joins Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, and Jose Mijares as locks, with Dusty Hughes and Glen Perkins looking like clear favorites to serve as second and third lefties behind Mijares. That would leave just one open spot, presumably for a righty, with Jeff Manship, Jim Hoey, Kyle Waldrop, and perhaps Carlos Gutierrez as candidates.

Trevor Plouffe entered camp with at least an outside chance of pushing Matt Tolbert for the utility man job, but was 7-for-34 (.216) with seven strikeouts versus just one walk at the plate and was an absolute disaster defensively, making six errors in 16 games. He'll head to Triple-A for the fourth straight season, leaving Tolbert and Luke Hughes to duke it out for the backup infielder gig. For whatever it's worth, Hughes is in a 0-for-13 slump following a hot start.

• Last week I linked to a study showing that the Twins promote their position player prospects through the minors slower than every other organization and the first round of spring training cuts included a couple assignments that will add to those numbers. Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson were sent back to Double-A after playing 111 and 103 games there last year. Benson led New Britain in homers and OPS, so his repeating the level is the epitome of that study.

Ben Revere spent last year alongside Benson in New Britain's outfield, but he was assigned to Rochester in a move that makes it very clear he'll be the first outfielder called up if needed. Obviously no surprise after Revere spent most of September with the Twins last year, but his moving up the ladder while Benson stays behind is interesting given that Benson topped his OPS by 128 points at Double-A. Revere is more polished than Benson, but has far less upside.

• There's been very little talk about left-hander Scott Diamond potentially making the Opening Day roster and Rule 5 picks must be sent back to their original team if they aren't kept in the majors all season, but the Twins reportedly may try to work out a deal with the Braves to keep him without the Rule 5 restrictions. He hasn't been impressive this spring, but Diamond has a chance to be a useful back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever at some point.

• Injuries to Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel mean Jon Rauch looks likely to start the year as the Blue Jays' closer and the Twins kick off the season with a three-game series in Toronto.

• It was fun while it lasted, but Gardenhire is already too in on the whole "just fire it through the internet" thing for the humor to really continue much longer. Based on various beat writer accounts of his media briefings the past couple days, Gardenhire has been jokingly mentioning the internet, blogs, and Twitter seemingly every other sentence and has apparently also come up with his own set of accompanying sound effects. We'll always have the t-shirt, at least.

• Speaking of beat writers, Jon Marthaler of Twinkie Town put together some brilliant advice for Rhett Bollinger as he replaces Kelly Thesier at MLB.com.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »