December 9, 2011

Twins Notes: Slowey, Turpen, Doyle, Hunt, Popham, Florimon, and Cuddyer

Kevin Slowey and the Twins have been headed for divorce since they demoted him from the rotation in favor of Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn during spring training and he reacted poorly to the idea of becoming a reliever. He lasted much longer than I ever expected, making it through the season with a team that grew to despise him, but the two sides finally parted ways as the Twins traded him to the Rockies for a marginal reliever prospect in Daniel Turpen.

Slowey absolutely deserves plenty of criticism, both for his attitude and performance, but the Twins also created the ugly situation by dumping a 27-year-old career-long starter with a 4.41 ERA from the rotation and trying to force him into a role he was unwilling or unable to accept. Duensing and Blackburn combined for a 4.87 ERA in 54 starts while Slowey's stock plummeted so far that the Twins dumped him for a reliever who won't crack my top 40 prospects list.

No one should come off looking good, yet the local media focused on portraying Slowey in the worst possible light while freeing the Twins of any responsibility. He was ripped for refusing to accept an understandably upsetting demotion and for supposedly faking arm issues, and once it became clear the Twins no longer wanted anything to do with Slowey the criticism became absurdly personal. Following the trade, Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote:

Slowey, we hardly knew ye. Oh, wait, yes we did. That's why Twins traded the jerk for a boiled hot dog and a used spit cup.

Terry Ryan made the deal of winter meetings. Traded Slowey for a human.

That's just the culmination of his season-long bashing and while Souhan is the most extreme example he was hardly alone. I'm not defending Slowey's pitching or behavior, but the media coverage was laughably one-sided and the personal attacks were both pathetic and plentiful. Slowey showed how not to handle a demotion, the Twins showed how to squander an asset, and the local media showed how willing they are to rip a guy to shreds if given the go-ahead.

• In trading Slowey to the Rockies the Twins sent him to the worst possible place for a fly-ball pitcher and calling Coors Field home makes it far less likely he'll come back to haunt them. In a neutral environment Slowey remains capable of throwing 150-175 innings with a 4.50 ERA and great strikeout-to-walk ratios, but the odds are heavily stacked against a control pitcher with a high-80s fastball and one of the highest fly-ball rates in baseball thriving at altitude.

Colorado targeting Slowey is weird, but the Rockies probably just saw a 27-year-old formerly decent mid-rotation starter under team control at reasonable salaries for two more years and figured why not pick him up for pennies on the dollar. Turpen was revealed as the player to be named later immediately after the Rule 5 draft was completed and the brief delay was due to the Twins not wanting to protect him from being selected by placing him on the 40-man roster.

Turpen was actually picked by the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft last winter, but didn't stick and is now with his fifth organization in five seasons. He spent this year at Double-A, where the side-arming righty threw 60 innings with a 4.82 ERA and more walks (35) than strikeouts (33). Turpen's previous track record was somewhat better and he's a ground-ball pitcher with good velocity, but as a 25-year-old reliever yet to reach Triple-A he's a long shot to be useful.

• With the No. 2 pick in the Rule 5 draft the Twins selected right-hander Terry Doyle from the White Sox. Doyle's strong performance in the Arizona Fall League got the Twins' attention, but that involved just eight starts and he split the regular season between Single-A and Double-A despite being a 25-year-old drafted out of college in 2007. He fits the Twins' mold with good control and a low-90s fastball, throwing 173 innings with a 3.07 ERA and 122/33 K/BB ratio.

Rule 5 picks must remain in the majors all season or be offered back to the original team. Last year the Twins took Scott Diamond from the Braves and rather than keep him on the roster traded former second-round pick Billy Bullock for the ability to stash him in the minors. I hated the move, as Bullock had far more upside as a hard-throwing reliever with big strikeout totals, and the Twins ended up promoting Diamond to the majors in July anyway.

Presumably by passing on various higher-upside arms to take Doyle with the No. 2 pick they're willing to simply keep him in the majors as a long reliever and mop-up man. Vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff told John Manuel of Baseball America that the Twins think Doyle "has got the ability to be a fourth or fifth starter" with velocity that ranges from "marginal" to "average." Not exactly what I'd target atop the Rule 5 draft, but he's not without potential.

• Despite leaving some decent prospects unprotected the Twins lost no one in the big-league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Shooter Hunt was taken by St. Louis in the minor-league phase, but the 2008 first-round pick's complete inability to throw strikes took him off the prospect radar long ago. Hunt once projected as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter, but he's yet to move beyond Single-A and has a 6.85 ERA with 236 walks in 193 career innings.

They also selected right-hander Marty Popham from the Indians in the minor-league phase and unlike Doyle he can remain in the minors. Popham is another strike-thrower with low-90s velocity and the former 20th-round pick tossed 112 innings with a 4.58 ERA and 106/25 K/BB ratio between high Single-A and Double-A as a 23-year-old. Major-league Rule 5 picks rarely pan out and minor-league Rule 5 picks almost never pan out, so he's likely just Triple-A depth.

• Baltimore trimmed Pedro Florimon from the 40-man roster after an abbreviated September call-up and the Twins claimed the 24-year-old shortstop off waivers. Prior to making his debut Florimon spent the year hitting .267/.344/.396 in 133 games at Double-A. Those numbers are mediocre enough for any 24-year-old at Double-A, but also include a poor 114-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio and actually represent the best performance of Florimon's six-season career.

In other words he can't hit, but Florimon has a reputation as a good defensive shortstop and the other middle infielders on the 40-man roster were Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, and Luke Hughes. There isn't a standout defensive shortstop in the bunch and even "middle infielder" is a stretch in some cases, so for now at least a good-glove, no-hit guy is worth adding to stash in the minors even if Florimon's upside is utility man.

• It sounds like the Twins' primary competition for Michael Cuddyer is the Rockies, so he might be reunited with Slowey if they top the Twins' reported three-year, $25 million offer.

• Old friend Jose Morales signed a minor-league contract with the Pirates. Morales was traded to the Rockies last offseason when the Twins opted for Drew Butera as their backup catcher and ended up missing most of the season with a broken thumb.

• I'm assuming ESPN.com chose this picture to accompany Jerry Crasnick's article about Terry Ryan because it features a Phil Mackey cameo.

• Speaking of which, Twins baseball communications manager Dustin Morse shared a photo of Mackey, John Shipley, and Rhett Bollinger grilling Ron Gardenhire at the winter meetings.

Dan Szymborski released his annual ZiPS projections over at Baseball Think Factory and the Twins' numbers ... well, they aren't pretty.

• This week's podcast features lots of talk about Cuddyer, Slowey, Matt Capps, Jason Kubel, and the winter meetings, plus various other beer-fueled randomness, so give it a listen.

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 14, 2011

Twins Notes: Pitching to contact, Hunt scares, upped usage, and Gatsby

• Prior to yesterday's game Ron Gardenhire reiterated something he's been saying for a while now, which is that the Twins want Francisco Liriano to "pitch to contact" rather than focusing on strikeouts. That can be a positive thing, as Liriano would definitely benefit by improving his control and going deeper in games, but it seems like an odd stance to take following a season in which he had 201 strikeouts and a team-best 3.62 ERA. Here's what Gardenhire said:

We've told him forever that he's a strikeout pitcher. We understand that he can strike people out, but if he really wants to become a pitcher, pitch to contact. Use that two-seamer and use that slider down and in every once in a while, and that changeup, but pitch to contact early. That'll get him deep into games.

Because his stuff is so good. There's times when you need to go for the strikeout. That's when you save your Mr. Nasty, as they say. You throw the nasty pitches then. But those other times you need to pitch to contact to get you deeper into games. When you want that big strikeout, maybe with a man on second, and you've got an open base, take your shot with your stuff.

Liriano followed those orders against the Royals, throwing 68 percent strikes and walking just one batter, admitting afterward: "I was throwing more fastballs than I used to. I just wanted them to put the ball in play, not try to strike out a lot of people." In doing so he also showed the downside of asking a strikeout pitcher to adopt the "pitch to contact" approach. He cruised through the first three innings, but then this nightmare unraveled in the fourth inning:

Single

Single

Single

Single

Single

Double

Ground out

Single

Caught stealing

Single

Strikeout

Six runs on eight hits and at most three of them were well-struck. Even the double came on a ground ball. And he needed a strikeout just to escape all the bloopers falling in and grounders getting through. Last year no defense in the league turned a lower percentage of balls in play into outs than the Twins did behind Liriano and yesterday was the same story, as a defense with Michael Cuddyer at second base and the usual lack of outfield range did him no favors.

To be clear, Liriano has not pitched well through three starts. However, he was very good last year largely because of his ability to rack up strikeouts and I'm just not sure about the wisdom of trying to force the guy with the best raw stuff on the staff into the Twins' preferred pitching mold, particularly when the defense behind him is ill-suited to actually make that approach look good. Why should Liriano trust a sub par defense more than his ability to get strikeouts?

Obviously the Twins have shown that pitching to contact can be successful, but most pitchers adopt that approach because they aren't capable of missing bats like Liriano and MLB hit .325 with a .508 slugging percentage when not striking out in 2010. Strikeouts are good, relying on the defense can often be bad, and forcing a uniquely square peg into a round hole brings back bad memories of the Twins trying to change David Ortiz into something other than a slugger.

Alex Wimmers was the Twins' first-round pick last June after winning back-to-back Big Ten pitcher of the year awards at Ohio State and ranked No. 5 on my annual list of the Twins' top prospects. After signing Wimmers debuted with a 0.57 ERA and 23-to-5 strikeout-to-walk in 16 innings at high Single-A, but his first start back at Fort Myers this year couldn't have gone any worse, as he walked the first six batters before being yanked with no outs in the first inning.

Wimmers was a strike-throwing machine in college and his pro debut, but clearly this goes well beyond simple control issues. He threw just four of 28 pitches for strikes, uncorked three wild pitches in addition to the six walks, and was immediately placed on the minor-league disabled list with "flu-like symptoms" after the disastrous start. Wimmers isn't actually sick, but that's a way for the Twins to shut him down without the presence of an injury.

He's been pulled from Fort Myers' rotation and sent to extended spring training to work on his mechanics, as the Twins don't want to let things snowball after watching what happened to 2008 first-round pick Shooter Hunt when his control suddenly abandoned him following a good pro debut. Hunt has 145 walks in 104 innings since 2009, falling off the prospect map. There's no reason to assume Wimmers is destined for the same fate, but it's an awfully scary red flag.

• Now that Matt Capps has been freed from the misguidedly rigid usage patterns of the closer role Gardenhire is using him far more often. Capps threw 27 innings in 60 games on the Twins' roster last season, which is a 73-inning pace. So far this season he's logged 6.2 innings in 11 games, which is a 98-inning pace. Not only is Capps working the eighth inning in front of Joe Nathan, he's pitched in the seventh inning twice after doing so zero times from 2008-2010.

He's unlikely to stay on a 98-inning pace, which would be a 30 percent increase from last year, but given the middle relief question marks having Capps for, say, 20 percent more action than he'd get as a closer can make a big impact. There's risk of breaking down physically with that much work, but Capps was very durable prior to becoming a closer and as an impending free agent likely to seek big money as a closer the Twins have less reason to worry beyond 2011.

• Rather than trade Kevin Slowey during spring training the Twins shifted him to the bullpen and now his landing on the disabled list with a shoulder injury has put any trade talk on hold, but Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com speculates that the Twins could renew their efforts to deal Slowey once he's healthy and with top prospect Kyle Gibson close to being MLB-ready it would make plenty of sense.

Last month most reports had the Twins shopping Slowey for bullpen help, but Morosi correctly notes that the middle infield is now a much bigger area of concern with Tsuyoshi Nishioka out with a fractured fibula and Alexi Casilla predictably struggling on both sides of the ball. Morosi mentions the Red Sox as a possible suitor and they have shortstop depth to spare with Marco Scutaro backed up by Jed Lowrie and slick-fielding prospect Jose Iglesias at Triple-A.

• Gardenhire talked of giving Luke Hughes some action at shortstop, which is a bad idea when he last played shortstop at Single-A in 2006 and doesn't even get strong reviews for his glove at second base. Plus, in what scenario might that make sense? Hughes isn't going to be the shortstop if Casilla or Matt Tolbert are in the lineup. He may get the nod there if Cuddyer is at second base, but then the game would be canceled when the pitcher refuses to take the field.

Trevor Plouffe is off to a great start at Triple-A, hitting .348 with three homers in six games, but before anyone gets too excited remember that he played his way out of the middle infield mix during spring training by performing horribly and came into the season with a career line of .255/.306/.417 in 1,200 plate appearances at Triple-A. Plouffe hitting well is nice to see, but a good week in his fourth go-around at Rochester shouldn't change anyone's view of his future.

• So far so good with Denard Span's mechanical adjustments following his disappointing 2010. While the Twins' lineup as a whole has hit just .236/.283/.306 for a .589 OPS that ranks dead last in the league, Span has hit .333/.375/.422 through 11 games. Not only is that a massive improvement compared to last year's .275/.326/.375 line, it's very close to the .305/.390/.422 line he posted between 2008 and 2009. If he keeps that up, the lineup will click soon enough.

Parker Hageman at Over the Baggy passes along this shot of the new right field scoreboard at Target Field displaying Delmon Young's "favorite book." This whole time I had him pegged as more of a Tender Is The Night kind of guy.

May 10, 2010

Minor League Monday: Gibson, Revere, Hicks, Hunt, and Valencia

Kyle Gibson had a rough pro debut at high Single-A, but since then the 2009 first-round pick has thrown 33 innings with a 1.36 ERA and 25-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio, including a one-hit shutout in which Gibson allowed just one infield single and one walk, immediately erasing both runners with a pickoff and a double play. Gibson faced the minimum of 27 batters on just 91 pitches while finishing with six strikeouts and 16 ground-ball outs.

He fell to the Twins with the 22nd pick last June because of a short-term injury and high bonus demands, but Gibson was widely considered a top-10 talent and he's certainly showing why after skipping rookie-ball and low Single-A, with a 1.96 ERA, .214 opponents' batting average, and 32-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36.2 innings. Better yet, he's induced four grounders for each fly ball and his ground-ball rate of 67 percent would've led MLB by a wide margin in 2009.

UPDATE: Gibson has been promoted to Double-A.

• In addition to non-existent power making his offensive upside appear more or less like Juan Pierre, one of the other reasons I'm skeptical of Ben Revere developing into an impact player is that his defense draws mixed reviews. His awful throwing arm has been a talking point since Revere was drafted back in 2007 and during spring training the Twins uncharacteristically went public with criticism of his routes and overall outfield defense. Here's a Ron Gardenhire quote:

I like him. I think he could go out there in the big leagues and get some hits. Can he play defensively? No. He's got some things to learn. He can run and can outrun some of his mistakes. There's a lot to learn but he's not that far out. Everyone is not blessed with the greatest arm strength. You have to learn how to get rid of the ball quicker.

And here's a quote from Ben Badler of Baseball America:

Revere ... still has a ways to go to become a plus defender in the outfield. Revere's arm strength is below-average at best, but his speed alone should translate to better outfield play than he showed this spring. One scout who watched Revere for a week liked Revere's speed and short, quick stroke, but came away disappointed with his outfield instincts and reads off the bat.

None of which is to suggest that Revere isn't a good player, as he ranked No. 5 on my annual list of the Twins' prospects. However, a huge part of his long-term value depends on defense and for now at least the assumption that he'll have a great glove simply because he has great speed is an iffy one. Offensively, he's batting .287/.367/.319 with three extra-base hits, nine steals, and a 16-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 games at Double-A as a 22-year-old.

Aaron Hicks is somewhat surprisingly repeating low Single-A after the 2008 first-round pick hit a relatively disappointing .251/.353/.382 in 67 games at Beloit last season. He got off to a brutal 1-for-30 start, but is 29-for-69 (.420) with nine extra-base hits, 16 walks, and five steals since to raise his overall line to .303/.425/.455. Much of his game is still a work in progress, but drawing 89 walks in 622 career plate appearances is great to see from a toolsy 20-year-old.

• Hicks' dramatic early season turnaround actually qualifies as merely the second-largest by a prominent Twins prospect. After imploding last year with 58 walks, 15 wild pitches, and seven hit batters in 33 innings Shooter Hunt began this season heading down the same dangerous path, walking three and allowing five runs without recording an out in his debut at Fort Myers. However, since then he has a 2.20 ERA and 23-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16.1 innings.

• Many fans wanted Danny Valencia on the Opening Day roster, but he's hit .275/.318/.363 in 26 games at Triple-A and now has a .283/.309/.429 line with a 55-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 97 total games at Rochester. He's also four months from his 26th birthday and gets worse reviews for his defense than Revere, so Valencia's window of opportunity could be closing. I'll be surprised if he spends major time in Minnesota this year unless an infielder has a big injury.

Anthony Slama keeps dominating at Triple-A and keeps being bypassed for call-ups because the front office doesn't believe he's for real and refuses to place him on the 40-man roster. He has a 1.77 ERA, .121 opponents' batting average, and 25 strikeouts in 20 innings at Rochester while the rest of the Triple-A staff has a 5.66 ERA. Slama is 26 years old with a 1.85 ERA and 296 strikeouts in 204 pro innings, yet the Twins won't even give him a look as a middle man.

• For whatever it's worth after one month, some other prominent Twins prospects off to good starts: Rene Tosoni, David Bromberg, Angel Morales, Deolis Guerra, Trevor Plouffe, Robert Delaney, Tom Stuifbergen, Dustin Martin, Daniel Osterbrock, Liam Hendriks. And some off to poor starts: Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson, Carlos Gutierrez, Danny Rams, Josmil Pinto, Reggie Williams, Juan Portes, Steve Singleton, Deibinson Romero, Estarlin De Los Santos.

• He no longer qualifies as a prospect and his performance at Triple-A goes well beyond a poor start, but Glen Perkins is 0-3 with a 10.90 ERA and .388 opponents' batting average through five outings. Unless he just forgot how to pitch at age 27 and with a 4.73 ERA in 281.2 innings as a major leaguer, it seems fairly likely that Perkins is still hurt. Either way, he's gone from the doghouse to the outhouse and the Twins' odds of finding a decent trade for Perkins look slim.

April 26, 2010

Twins Notes: Hughes, Walks, Slama, Shooter, and Snoop

• After playing short-handed for a week the Twins finally placed Nick Punto on the disabled list Friday, calling up Luke Hughes from Triple-A to fill his roster spot. In the past Punto has often tried to play through injuries, resulting in the odd combination of a horrible performance being praised, but this time he at least managed to stay out of the lineup with a strained groin while Brendan Harris filled in at third base.

Danny Valencia is a better prospect than Hughes, but the Twins think he needs more work on defense and he's hitting just .176 at Triple-A. Plus, because Punto may not miss a ton of time Hughes makes more sense in much the same way Drew Butera filling in for the injured Jose Morales makes more sense than calling up Wilson Ramos to back up Joe Mauer. Valencia isn't as promising as Ramos, but if the Twins do call him up they'll want it to be for years not weeks.

None of which is to suggest that Hughes is any more ready than Valencia to be a starting third baseman in the majors, because his glove generally receives even worse reviews and his bat projects similarly. However, he's a better candidate to sit on the bench for a couple weeks and Ron Gardenhire would stick with Harris at third base until Punto returns no matter the call-up. I'd like to see Hughes get some starts at designated hitter or left field against lefties.

For more on Hughes, see my write-up ranking him as the No. 23 prospect in the Twins' system.

Kelsie Smith of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes that the Twins' league-leading walk total has them on pace to draw 70 percent more walks than in 2005. The change began last year, when they ranked fourth in walks after years of being among the league's worst, but the additions of Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson combined with Denard Span's continued development and sudden walk rate spikes by Jason Kubel and Justin Morneau have taken things to new levels.

Homers are nice, but getting on base and working counts to knock starting pitchers out early is an ideal recipe for putting runs on the board and it's great to see the lineup evolve from a free-swinging Jacque Jones approach to an ultra-patient Mauer approach. Span put it best: "If they throw it over the plate we're going to swing, but if not we're going to take pitches until we get what we want." Amusingly, he then called Delmon Young "the guy who never walks."

Jon Rauch blew his first save Saturday and not only didn't the world end, the Twins actually won the game. Aside from the fact that he's helping the team, the best part of Rauch going 6-for-7 in save opportunities so far is that it keeps hyperbolic fans and media members from attaching the usual mythical importance to a role that has an 85 percent success rate. As long as Rauch keeps pitching like he always has as a setup man, he'll continue to be just fine.

• I've long speculated that the front office is behind Anthony Slama still being in the minors at age 26, because he's repeatedly been passed over for call-ups and isn't even on the 40-man roster yet despite Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson praising him as someone they would like to take a look at. As always he's putting up great numbers in the minors with a 1.80 ERA, .147 opponents' batting average, and 14 strikeouts in 10 innings at Rochester this year.

Combined over the past two years he now has a 2.57 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, and 126 strikeouts in 91 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Much like Pat Neshek back in 2005/2006, high-minors dominance like that simply warrants a shot regardless of skepticism or question marks, but as Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote recently the front office remains unwilling to call up Slama despite his being Gardenhire's "preferred pitcher."

David Brown of Yahoo! Sports recently chatted with Mauer and showed why he's one of the best interviewers in the business by actually getting the reigning MVP to say a few interesting things. Among them is that Mauer loves hip-hop music, which gives me an excuse to re-run this amusing photo from his high school days:

Obviously those Cretin-Derham Hall boys roll hard.

• Mauer went 5-for-6 in Saturday's extra-inning win over the Royals for his third career five-hit game, which ties him for the second-most in baseball history among catchers and puts him one behind all-time leader Ernie Lombardi, who's also the only other catcher with multiple batting titles. For all positions Pete Rose (10) and Tony Gwynn (9) are the five-hit leaders and Kirby Puckett (6), Rod Carew (5), and Tony Oliva (4) are the only Twins with more than Mauer.

Shooter Hunt was a mess last season with 58 walks, 15 wild pitches, and seven hit batters in 33 innings between rookie-ball and low Single-A, and the 2008 first-round pick allowed five runs without a recording an out in his 2010 debut at high Single-A. However, as LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune notes Hunt has allowed just one run in eight innings since then, including five shutout innings with nine strikeouts and zero baserunners in his last two games.

• Last winter there was talk of the Twins pursuing free agent reliever Juan Cruz, who posted a 2.88 ERA, .199 opponents' batting average, and 158 strikeouts in 112.1 innings the previous two years. They ultimately balked because signing him would have meant losing a first-round pick and Cruz got a two-year, $6 million deal from the Royals, who by virtue of their bad record only had to forfeit a second rounder. Cruz was released Friday after a 5.50 ERA in 56 innings.