June 3, 2015

Alex Meyer and the familiar path of starter prospects moving to the bullpen

Alex Meyer Twins

Alex Meyer was considered a potential top-of-the-rotation starter when the Twins acquired him from the Nationals in exchange for center fielder Denard Span in November of 2012. At the time he was a 22-year-old former first-round pick coming off a strong season at Single-A and rated as a consensus top-100 prospect. Meyer made his Twins debut at Double-A in 2013 and pitched well, but was limited to 13 starts by arm problems.

Meyer moved up to Triple-A last season and again pitched well, leading the International League in strikeouts, but shoulder problems caused him to miss a few starts and kept him from getting a September call-up to the Twins. This spring he was in the mix for an Opening Day rotation spot, but only technically, as the Twins clearly viewed Trevor May as the lone viable option among the prospects in camp and sent Meyer back to Triple-A well before final cuts.

His second go-around at Triple-A has been a mess. Meyer walked six batters in his first start of the season and walked five batters while failing to make it out of the fourth inning in his second start. He had a great third start, striking out 11 in six shutout innings, but then followed that up by allowing 25 runs in 25 innings in his next five starts. And those may prove to be his final five starts, because the Twins have shifted Meyer to Rochester's bullpen.

As a 6-foot-9 right-hander with a mid-90s fastball and shaky control Meyer being moved to the bullpen shouldn't shock anyone and in fact when the Twins traded for him there were already some prospect analysts who doubted he'd remain a starter long term. What makes the move so disappointing now is that Meyer overpowered Double-A and Triple-A hitters as a starter in 2013 and 2014, racking up 237 strikeouts in 200 innings, and was on the verge of the majors.

What also makes the move so disappointing is that Meyer represented the Twins' best chance to develop a young, top-of-the-rotation starter with powerful, bat-missing raw stuff in a depressingly long time. It was supposed to be a lineup built around Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano with a rotation built around Meyer. It's still possible that Meyer will wind up starting again, but for now his upside should be recalibrated from top-of-the-rotation starter to late-inning reliever.

And there's no shame in that. Part of the problem with pinning a team's hopes and dreams to the successful development of prospects is that half of them don't pan out at all and the half that do pan out often do so in different roles. Slick-fielding shortstop and center field prospects often turn into third basemen and left fielders. Power-hitting catcher prospects often turn into first basemen. And hard-throwing starting pitcher prospects often turn into relievers.

Across baseball the majority of the relievers in nearly any bullpen began their professional careers as starters and many of them have spent more of their careers as starters than as relievers. With any young pitcher the preference would be for them to thrive as a starter, but some combination of performance, durability, and temperament mean that many of those pitchers are more valuable succeeding in a 70-inning role rather than struggling or getting injured in a 200-inning role.

The greatest relief pitcher of all time, Mariano Rivera, spent five seasons starting in the minors and made his MLB debut starting for the Yankees as a 25-year-old. Rivera started 10 games with a 5.94 ERA, got moved to the bullpen, and turned out just fine. And if any team should know how well starters becoming relievers can go it's the Twins. There are six relievers in Twins history with 100 or more saves and all six of them--including their current All-Star closer--were starters.

Glen Perkins was a first-round draft pick after starring as a college starter at the University of Minnesota. He was exclusively a starter in the minors, twice cracking Baseball America's top-100 prospects list. Perkins got his feet wet in the majors as a reliever, but joined the rotation full time at age 25 and started 43 games between 2008 and 2009. He went 18-12 as a starter, but it came with an ugly 5.02 ERA and some injuries, leading to a permanent move to the bullpen in 2011.

Joe Nathan was a shortstop at Stony Brook University and became a pitcher in the minors before debuting with the Giants as a starter at age 24. He made 29 starts between 1999 and 2000 with a 4.60 ERA and more walks than strikeouts. Then he blew out his elbow, undergoing Tommy John surgery. Nathan returned in 2003 as a reliever, got traded to the Twins in 2004, and went on to save 377 games and make six All-Star teams while earning nearly $100 million.

Rick Aguilera was a starter at BYU, worked strictly as a starter in the minors, and spent his first three years in the majors starting for the Mets with a 31-17 record and a 3.59 ERA through age 25. Elbow problems in 1988 and a trade to Minnesota in 1989 led to him being moved to the bullpen and Aguilera had two successful stints as the Twins' closer separated by a trade to the Red Sox and a one-year experiment as a starter. He had MLB's second-most saves from 1990-2000.

Eddie Guardado made 73 appearances in the minors while coming up through the Twins' farm system and 72 of them were starts. He debuted at age 22 as a starter, but went 3-15 with a 6.95 ERA in 25 starts and was moved to the bullpen at age 24. In his first full season as a reliever he led the league in appearances with 83, earning the "Everyday Eddie" nickname, but it took him five years to progress from lefty specialist to setup man to closer at age 30.

Jeff Reardon was drafted out of high school by the Mets as a starter and spent his first two pro years starting, with decent results. He was shifted to the bullpen in his third pro season and after 30 relief appearances at Triple-A the Mets called him up at age 23. Reardon never started a game in the majors, making all 880 of his appearances out of the bullpen and saving 367 games to rank second in MLB history behind only Lee Smith at the time of his retirement.

Ron Davis was drafted by the Cubs as a starter and spent his first two-and-a-half pro seasons starting. He was traded to the Yankees while at Double-A and never started again, debuting later that season. He spent three years as a Yankees setup man, making the All-Star team at age 25, at which point the Twins traded Roy Smalley for Davis and made him their closer with painful results. Davis saved 108 games for the Twins, but it came with a 4.51 ERA and 19-40 record.

And if the above six closers with 100-plus saves in Minnesota aren't enough, the list of prominent Twins relievers who began their careers as starters also includes Matt Guerrier, Juan Rincon, J.C. Romero, Mike Trombley, Al Worthington, LaTroy Hawkins, and Brian Duensing. In fact, of the 14 pitchers in Twins history to make at least 250 appearances as relievers all but one of them started before they relieved, with Jesse Crain being the lone exception.

Whether they're making the right call at the right time with Meyer is uncertain, as is whether he'll thrive in that 70-inning role. As a 25-year-old with a history of arm issues and career-long control problems Meyer is no sure thing to stay healthy and thrive regardless of the role, but the Twins have been skeptical of his ability to develop into a valuable starter for a while now and there isn't much imagination required to envision him shutting down hitters out of the bullpen.


Check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode for talk about May's new approach, Oswaldo Arcia's role once he's healthy, and what happened to the Twins' pitching depth.

May 14, 2015

Appreciating the greatness of Glen Perkins

Glen Perkins Twins

Glen Perkins struggling in September before being shut down with forearm and elbow injuries last season was the rotten cherry on top of a rancid Twins sundae, turning one of the team's few bright spots into a question mark at the end of a fourth straight 90-loss season. Perkins had been his usual brilliant self through late August, converting 32 of 36 saves with a 2.44 ERA and 64/9 K/BB ratio in 55 innings. And then things fell apart.

In eight appearances from August 26 to September 16 he allowed 10 runs and struck out just two of the 32 batters he faced. And in the surest sign of something being very wrong, he served up five home runs in 6.1 innings after giving up a grand total of five home runs in his previous 102.1 innings dating back to 2013. Perkins was finally shut down for the final two weeks of the season after allowing runs in four consecutive games.

All offseason Perkins and the Twins insisted he was healthy, but a strained oblique muscle early in spring training further complicated his comeback and left doubts heading into Opening Day. Those doubts have now vanished, to say the least. Perkins has been nearly flawless, converting all 11 of his save chances with a 1.17 ERA and 14/0 K/BB ratio in 15.1 innings while holding opponents to a .193 batting average and zero home runs.

His fastball velocity is back to where it was before the late-season arm issues, he's inducing the least "hard contact" and second-most "soft contact" of his career, and his swinging strike rate is right in line with his career norms as a reliever despite throwing a career-high 60 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. Perkins combines good raw stuff and command with intelligence and an interest in analytics, and the result is pretty close to a perfect pitcher.

He pounds the strike zone and rarely walks anyone, yet still manages to miss plenty of bats and give up very few home runs while being nearly as effective against righties as lefties. Perkins will go through rough patches at some point this season, because that's just how baseball works, but aside from a brutal two-week stretch in which he was clearly playing through an injury he's been an elite reliever since moving to the bullpen full time in 2011.

During that span he has a 2.65 ERA and .227 opponents' batting average in 275 appearances, striking out 300 and walking 68 in 272 innings. He's also been difficult to run on, allowing seven steals compared to seven caught stealings, which is a nice bonus skill to have in the ninth inning. Oh, and Perkins has converted 88 percent of his save chances since replacing Matt Capps as the Twins' closer in mid-2012. By comparison, Mariano Rivera had a career save rate of 89 percent.

Expected Fielding Independent Pitching is a metric that attempts to remove defense and luck from the mix to judge pitchers based strictly on what they can control and since 2011 the only relievers with 250 or more innings and an xFIP under 3.00 are Perkins, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, David Robertson, Greg Holland, and Mark Melancon. In five seasons as a full-time reliever his xFIP has never been higher than 3.13.

As for his rank among the best relievers in Twins history, it's important to note Perkins is pitching as well as ever at age 32 and is under team control through 2018. With that disclaimer, he already ranks fourth in Win Probability Added behind Joe Nathan, Eddie Guardado, and Rick Aguilera, and by the end of this year he'll likely trail only Nathan and Aguilera in saves. Here are the Twins' strikeout, walk, and strikeout-to-walk ratio leaders among relievers with at least 200 innings:

                 SO/9                      BB/9                      K/BB
Joe Nathan       10.9     Carl Willis       2.0     GLEN PERKINS      4.3
Tom Hall         10.1     Jeff Reardon      2.2     Joe Nathan        4.2
GLEN PERKINS      9.4     GLEN PERKINS      2.2     Jeff Reardon      3.3
Eddie Guardado    8.6     Bob Wells         2.3     Rick Aguilera     3.2
Juan Rincon       8.5     Rick Aguilera     2.4     Carl Willis       2.8

Perkins ranks third in strikeout rate behind Nathan and Tom Hall, third in walk rate behind Carl Willis and Jeff Reardon, and is the only Twins reliever to crack the top five of both categories. All of which adds up to Perkins boasting the best strikeout-to-walk ratio by a reliever in Twins history at 4.3 whiffs per walk, edging out Nathan, Reardon, and Aguilera. And last but not least Nathan is the only Twins reliever to allow fewer baserunners per nine innings than Perkins.

Perkins was a first-round pick at the University of Minnesota, a top prospect in the Twins' farm system, and a decent starter in the Twins' rotation, but moving to the bullpen enabled him to add 3-4 miles per hour to his fastball and he's complemented that added velocity with an increasingly smart approach to pitching to become an absolute stud. By the time he hangs up his cleats, zips his fly, and shaves his neck beard he'll be one of the 2-3 best relievers in Twins history.

Glen Perkins, Proven Closer.


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."

August 15, 2011

Twins Notes: “Psst. It’s Over.”

• To put the Twins' current 11.5-game AL Central deficit into context consider that they're 15.0 games ahead of the Astros for the worst record in baseball. They're also just 3.0 games ahead of the Royals for last place in the AL Central and 5.5 games ahead of the Orioles for the worst record in the AL. There are 43 games remaining and the Twins would have to go 29-14 just to finish .500. In their last 43 games the Twins are 20-23.

Alexi Casilla spent two weeks on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring and then aggravated the injury in the seventh inning of his first game back Friday, immediately returning to the DL. Trevor Plouffe, who was optioned to Triple-A to clear a roster spot for Casilla, was called right back up and will hopefully get more of an opportunity than last time, when he often found himself on the bench in favor of Matt Tolbert.

Plouffe has plenty of flaws and is hardly guaranteed to become a solid big leaguer, but if ever there was a time for the Twins to find out it's when the division title is out of reach and their primary alternative is a 29-year-old career .235/.291/.326 hitter. Using the final six weeks to see if Plouffe can be a part of the team's plans in 2012 and beyond is far more valuable than giving Tolbert more time to cement his status as the definition of a replacement-level player.

Kevin Slowey's long-awaited return to the Twins' rotation technically never happened, as he allowed one run in two innings yesterday before the game was washed away by rain.

Denard Span is 2-for-35 (.057) with nine strikeouts versus three walks since spending two months on the disabled list, telling LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he's still having post-concussion symptoms and is struggling with new medication. Not good.

Justin Morneau returned to the lineup six weeks after surgery to remove a herniated disk fragment from his neck, but told Neal that he still doesn't have feeling in his left index finger because of nerve damage. Despite that Morneau went 11-for-30 (.367) with a homer and four doubles in seven games rehabbing at Triple-A.

Joe Nathan became the Twins' all-time saves leader Wednesday with his 255th since joining the team in 2004, moving past Rick Aguilera. Nathan is definitely the most dominant closer in Twins history--and one of the most dominant in baseball history, for that matter--but his save total and Aguilera's save total isn't an apples-to-apples comparison. Here's an explanation of the differences from my write-up of Aguilera as the 18th-best player in Twins history:

It's important to note that Tom Kelly used Aguilera much differently than Ron Gardenhire has used Nathan. Nathan has inherited a grand total of 54 runners in seven-plus seasons with the Twins, which works out to one per eight innings. Aguilera inherited 38 runners in his first year as closer, and then saw 37 and 40 more in the next two years. In all, Aguilera inherited 207 runners during his time in Minnesota, which works out to one every 2.5 relief innings.

The vast majority of Nathan's saves involved starting an inning with a clean slate, but Aguilera often saved games he entered with runners on base. That goes a long way toward explaining his seemingly mediocre save percentage and Aguilera also deserves credit for stranding more than three-fourths of the runners he inherited.

In addition to being more difficult than Nathan's saves, on average, Aguilera's saves were also longer, as he recorded 55 more outs in his 254 saves than Nathan has in his 255 saves.

Glen Perkins might be wearing down in his first full season as a reliever. He allowed eight runs in 43 innings through August 5, including 37 scoreless appearances in 45 total outings, and never gave up more than one run in a game. And now Perkins has allowed six runs in his last four innings, including four straight outings with a run and multiple runs in two of them. David Ortiz's homer was the first served up by Perkins in 178 plate appearances this year.

Amelia Rayno of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote an interesting article about the pitcher-catcher relationship and specifically Carl Pavano picking Drew Butera as his personal catcher. Near the end of the article she noted Pavano's respective ERA with different catchers, but it's worth repeating: Pavano has a 4.26 ERA in 35 starts with his preferred catcher, Butera, and a 4.09 ERA in 31 starts with Joe Mauer. And this year's numbers skew further in Mauer's favor.

• MLB suspended Twins minor leaguer Kennys Vargas for 50 games after he violated the drug prevention and treatment program by reportedly testing positive for phentermine, which can be used to speed metabolism for weight loss. Vargas is 6-foot-5 and Seth Stohs notes that his weight has been an issue. Vargas, a 20-year-old first baseman who was signed out of Puerto Rico in 2009, was hitting .322/.377/.489 in 44 games at rookie-level Elizabethton.

Ted Uhlaender is the only outfielder in Twins history to get 200-plus plate appearances in a season with an on-base percentage below .300 and a slugging percentage below .300, hitting .226/.280/.286 in 403 plate appearances in 1966. Ben Revere is hitting .245/.294/.285 in 298 plate appearances. And his noodle arm was in right field Wednesday because Ron Gardenhire refuses to move Delmon Young there. Don't mess with success. Or something. How silly.

Jim Thome has faced three pitchers at least 70 times in his career. One is Tim Wakefield, whom he faced last week, and the other two are Roger Clemens and Brad Radke. Thome has hit just .185 off Wakefield and .225 (with good power) off Radke, but crushed Clemens to the tune of .355/.438/.855 with eight homers and seven doubles in 62 at-bats. Among all hitters Clemens faced at least 50 times Thome is the only one to top a 1.000 OPS. And he's at 1.293.

• Tonight is the deadline for MLB teams to sign draft picks and the Twins' first-rounder, North Carolina junior shortstop Levi Michael, remains unsigned, as do supplemental first-round picks Travis Harrison and Hudson Boyd. Their next six picks are all signed.

• While watching Tom Kelly fill in for Bert Blyleven during one of the recent FSN broadcasts I looked up his old minor-league numbers and the former manager hit .272/.406/.436 with more walks (538) than strikeouts (429) in 782 games at Triple-A. Of course, he was a first baseman, which is why Kelly spent 13 seasons in the minors and 47 games in the majors. Offensively at least he was a poor man's Doug Mientkiewicz.

• Why was Chuck Knoblauch a no-show at the 1991 team's reunion last week? Because "he's considerably out of shape," according to Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Which is smart, because Kent Hrbek would have really goofed on him.

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

July 27, 2011

Twins Notes: Span, Mijares, Cuddyer, Nathan, Aguilera, and Gibson

Amanda Comak of the Washington Times writes that Denard Span "is high on the Nationals' list of targets" and Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the two sides "have talked." Whether that means the Twins actually engaged in negotiations is unclear, but the Nationals are looking for a long-term solution in center field and Rosenthal speculates that shortstop Ian Desmond and one of Washington's relievers could interest the Twins.

Rosenthal specifically mentions Tyler Clippard, who's been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball since moving to the bullpen full time in 2009, posting a 2.59 ERA and 251 strikeouts in 209 innings while holding opponents to a .184 batting average. However, he also says the Nationals are "reluctant" to trade the 26-year-old Clippard and "unwilling" to move 23-year-old closer Drew Storen, in which case the Twins shouldn't even be engaging in talks for Span.

As a 25-year-old shortstop Desmond fills a Twins need in theory, but aside from hitting .355 for two months at Triple-A in 2009 he simply hasn't been any good. Desmond hit .259/.326/.388 in 638 total games as a minor leaguer and has hit .254/.296/.377 in 269 games for the Nationals. He's also committed 54 errors with an Ultimate Zone Rating of -7.5 in 259 games at shortstop. Clippard is very intriguing, but Desmond as the centerpiece of a Span trade would be awful.

Of course, with Span still on the disabled list nearly two months after a concussion and taking back-to-back days off while rehabbing at Triple-A it's probably a moot point anyway.

• On a related note, can you imagine the look of pure joy on Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo's face when his phone rings and "Bill Smith" appears on the caller ID? Actually, after the Wilson Ramos-for-Matt Capps swap last year Rizzo is probably the one calling Smith.

According to ESPN.com's Buster Olney the Twins have "been looking to trade" Jose Mijares, so Monday's five-run appearance probably didn't do much for his value. Criticism of Mijares has never matched his 3.09 career ERA, but this year's performance clearly deserves to be ripped. He has a 5.47 ERA and 21 walks in 26 innings compared to 32 walks in 105 innings coming into the season. I can't imagine the Twins getting much for him, though, so I'd probably hold on.

• Local and national reporters continue to insist Michael Cuddyer won't be traded despite his being linked to just about every contending team looking for a right-handed hitter. There are also doubts about whether the Twins will look to sell anyone, although my guess is that Kevin Slowey will be moved whether they're in sell mode or buy mode going into Sunday's deadline and my hope is that they're shopping (in vain, perhaps) Capps and Delmon Young either way.

• No word yet on how many teams are interested in Cuddyer as a pitcher after Monday night's scoreless inning versus the Rangers, but he averaged 87.3 miles per hour with his fastball. By comparison, Carl Pavano has averaged 89.1 mph with his fastball this year. In addition to his mid-80s heat Cuddyer also threw an assortment of off-speed pitches, producing the following strike zone chart:

It wasn't pretty, but Cuddyer mopped up with a scoreless eighth inning after Nick Blackburn, Chuck James, Phil Dumatrait, Alex Burnett, and Mijares combined to allow 20 runs on 25 hits in the first seven frames. He's the first Twins position player to pitch since John Moses in 1990.

• Last night Joe Nathan tied Rick Aguilera for the Twins record with his 254th save and once again looked very good in the process, striking out two left-handed hitters to preserve a 9-8 win with a scoreless inning. Since coming off the disabled list in late June he's now thrown 12 innings with a 1.46 ERA and 10-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio while holding opponents to a .159 batting average. And his overall ERA is finally under 5.00 for the first time since April 12.

• Prior to coming off the bench to deliver the game-winning double last night, Joe Mauer was 6-for-35 (.171) as a pinch-hitter in his career.

Kyle Gibson probably would've needed to dominate the International League for the Twins to have called him up already, but instead the 2009 first-round pick had a nice first two months at Triple-A and has struggled of late. Gibson was 0-4 with a 5.17 ERA in June and then took 17 days off before coughing up 13 runs in two July starts, including a career-high five walks last time out. And now Rochester will skip his next turn in the rotation because of elbow soreness.

Gibson's ugly win-loss record and mediocre ERA overstate how much he's struggled overall this season, as a 91-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 95 innings is plenty impressive and he's done a decent job keeping the ball in the ballpark. However, there's no getting around the fact that his recent performance and health are worrisome. Through the end of May he had a 3.60 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 55 innings, but in 40 innings since he has a 6.47 ERA and 32 strikeouts.

Between the Twins' rotation depth and tendency to move prospects along slowly thoughts of Gibson being in Minnesota by June were perhaps misguided to begin with, but expecting him to be knocking on the door to the majors by now was certainly reasonable. Instead he's taken a step backward and has looked a lot more like a future mid-rotation starter than the potential second-tier ace Twins fans were dreaming on following his strong pro debut.

Jim Callis of Baseball America reports that Twins signed Vanderbilt southpaw Corey Williams for $575,000, which is double the MLB-recommend "slot" bonus for a third-round pick. Always good to see the Twins spending in the draft and August 15 is the deadline to sign other picks.

Justin Morneau's lengthy list of health issues now includes migraine headaches, which could threaten his goal of returning from neck surgery in mid-August.

Tyler Mason of FOXSportsNorth.com did an enjoyable "where are they now?" piece on Marty Cordova, although he neglected to mention the former Rookie of the Year's frequent cameos in UFC president Dana White's travel videos.

• Last and least, just a reminder/plug: I'll obviously have analysis here of any moves the Twins make, but in the meantime you can read my thoughts on all the rumors and trades throughout baseball each day at Hardball Talk on NBCSports.com. It's good stuff, I promise.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota baseball apparel maker DiamondCentric, whose "Thome Is My Homey" t-shirt I wear proudly.

May 23, 2011

Twins Notes: Perkins, James, Hughes, Thome, Revere, Capps, and Mauer

Glen Perkins emerged as one of the few bright spots for the Twins in this miserable season, escaping the doghouse with a 1.59 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 23 innings, so naturally he injured his oblique muscle Saturday night and is expected to miss at least three weeks. Normally that would give Jose Mijares an opportunity to step forward and prove himself in a higher leverage role, except he's already on the disabled list with an elbow injury.

You'd think that losing their two main left-handed relievers would motivate the Twins to call up Chuck James, a former Braves top prospect signed as a minor-league free agent after injuries derailed his career. James has thrived in the Triple-A bullpen with a 1.75 ERA, .177 opponents' batting average, and 35-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26 innings, but because he's not on the 40-man roster the Twins opted instead to bring back Dusty Hughes.

Hughes was demoted to Triple-A just two weeks ago after allowing 12 runs in 11 innings as opponents hit .356/.434/.622 off him and didn't even fare particularly well in five appearances at Rochester. From a roster management perspective turning to Hughes again is much easier than giving James a shot, but from a trying to actually win some games perspective it looks like the Twins are content to just shuffle through the same replacement-level players.

Ron Gardenhire's left-handed relief options are now Hughes, who never deserved an Opening Day job to begin with and pitched his way to Triple-A just 15 days ago, and Phil Dumatrait, a 29-year-old journeyman owning a 6.95 ERA in 113 innings. And three of his five right-handed options are Alex Burnett and Anthony Swarzak, who shouldn't be trusted in anything close to an important spot, and Kevin Slowey, a career-long starter struggling to adjust to relief work.

At this point the seven-man bullpen consists of one mediocre closer, one formerly great closer coming back from elbow surgery, one mid-rotation starter not well suited for relieving, and four guys who should be at Triple-A. There's no "risk" to losing replacement-level arms like Hughes, Dumatrait, and Eric Hacker on waivers, but the Twins predictably avoid 40-man changes and no one in Rochester's bullpen besides James is pitching well enough to really force the issue.

Heading into the season the Twins' two biggest non-injury question marks were the bullpen and middle infield, as guys like me wondered all offseason why they did so little to address the lack of depth in both areas. Injuries have magnified that lack of depth while also wrecking the Twins in other areas, but through 45 games they rank dead last among AL teams in bullpen ERA and middle infield OPS. Sometimes big question marks turn into big problems.

• As expected, after yesterday's game the Twins activated Jim Thome and Jason Repko from the disabled list and sent Luke Hughes and Ben Revere back to Triple-A. Matt Tolbert sticks around instead of Hughes for the same reason he beat out Hughes for an Opening Day roster spot, which is his ability to play shortstop. Hughes struggled in his first extended taste of the majors, hitting .211/.253/.296 with a 17-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 75 plate appearances.

Revere was on the roster for 17 games, but started just six times and made his lone start in center field yesterday afternoon, misplaying a double into a triple ahead of what proved to be the game-winning run for Arizona. Revere also hauled in a fantastic over-the-shoulder catch in the same inning and made several impressive grabs while playing left field, but his lack of arm strength and limited offensive potential were both on full display.

Gardenhire hinted that he may have pushed the front office to keep Revere instead of bringing back Repko, saying he "really enjoyed Ben" and "told Billy [Smith] ... Rep hasn't swung the bat great down there." Repko "hasn't swung the bat great" anywhere, really, and the fact that he's a right-handed hitter backing up the left-handed-hitting Denard Span and Jason Kubel is rendered nearly meaningless by Gardenhire's refusal to platoon anyone.

Because he rarely starts, even versus lefties, Repko's main duties are coming in as a defensive replacement and pinch-running, both of which Revere could handle. Of course, it doesn't make much sense to keep Revere in the majors as a bench player and with Thome returning to the lineup the outfield playing time will be even harder to come by. Repko is very expendable, but Revere will benefit more from starting at Triple-A than sitting on the Twins' bench.

• I've written plenty about how closing is a role rather than a skill and about how closers are made rather than born. Matt Capps showing that the "proven closer" label is silly while Wilson Ramos thrives with the Nationals has brought the topic to the forefront, but posting the Rick Aguilera installment of my ongoing "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series caused me to think about the issue in terms of Twins history.

Prior to becoming the Twins' all-time leader in saves Aguilera wasn't a closer. In fact, he didn't even want to be a reliever. Yet the Twins thought he had the raw stuff for the job and gave him a role he'd never filled before rather than give up assets to acquire an experienced closer. Nathan joins Aguilera as the only pitchers with more than 150 saves in a Minnesota uniform, yet when the Twins acquired him from the Giants he was a 29-year-old with one career save.

Eddie Guardado has the third-most saves in Twins history, but he was given the job almost by default in mid-2001 and at the time had a grand total of 18 career saves in eight seasons. Not every successful Twins closer lacked prior experience, as Ron Perranoski and Jeff Reardon racked up saves elsewhere before arriving in Minnesota. And not every good reliever pans out at closer, as Guardado only got his chance to close after LaTroy Hawkins flopped in the role.

Players can sink or swim at closer just like every other role, but logic, history, and specifically Twins history all show that paying a premium for experience accumulating saves is misguided. Judging from the bullpen's current state the Twins may have to go outside the organization for their next closer, but my hope is that they learn a lesson from Ramos-for-Capps and focus on ability instead of previous save totals. Aim for the next Aguilera or Nathan, not the next Capps.

• During his weekly radio show on 1500-ESPN yesterday Gardenhire explained that the plan is for Joe Mauer's first game action since April 12 to come today or tomorrow at extended spring training. That doesn't necessarily mean Mauer is close to returning from the DL, as he'll likely start out as a designated hitter and work his way back into playing shape, but at least there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Tsuyoshi Nishioka may also get into a game there this week.

Justin Morneau revealed that he got cortisone injections for neck and shoulder pain on May 12. Obviously after missing nine months with a concussion Morneau had enough on his plate without new health problems, but those injuries perhaps help explain his early struggles and altered hitting mechanics. His season totals are still ugly, but since getting the shots Morneau is 12-for-40 (.300) with one homer and three doubles.

• Each season when the Twins travel to National League ballparks for interleague games Dick Bremer asks Bert Blyleven about his career batting average and the FSN announcing crew jokes about his hitting. Blyleven hit more or less like most pitchers do, batting .131 with a .290 OPS in 514 career plate appearances. So far this year Drew Butera is hitting .110 with a .288 OPS in 85 plate appearances. Not quite as funny without the Hall of Fame pitching attached.

• I've seen some confusion about whether Michael Cuddyer has the ability to veto trades as a 10-and-5 player. That requires 10 full seasons of MLB service time, including five seasons with the same team. Cuddyer has the latter and this is his 11th year in the majors, but they aren't full seasons. He got merely a September call-up in 2001 and spent much of 2002 and 2003 in the minors, totaling just 76 games with the Twins in those two seasons. He can be traded.

• Perkins' injury left the Twins in a bind Saturday and put Capps into a two-inning save chance that he blew before recording two outs, but Edward Thoma of the Mankato Free Press explains why Gardenhire not making a double-switch while playing under NL rules cost the Twins twice.

Tom Brunansky's son, Terry Ryan's son, Mickey Hatcher's nephew, and Tyler Robertson's brother are among the 2011 draft prospects with relatives in baseball.

• Between the injuries and bullpen shuffling the Twins have already used 36 different players through 45 games. In the previous five seasons they used 42, 42, 40, 42, and 39 players, and that includes September call-ups.

• Since winning two of three games from the first-place Indians in mid-April the Twins are 6-18, with a pair of three-game winning streaks surrounded by losing streaks of nine, six, and now three games. Overall they're 15-30, which is the worst record in baseball and puts the Twins on pace to go 54-108 for the worst record in team history. Their current winning percentage is .333 and the only sub-.400 seasons so far (1981, 1982, 1995, 1999) were all above .370.

Older Posts »