December 5, 2012

Twins Notes: Guerra, Field, Oliveros, Butera, Allen, Appel, and Hendriks

• Last week the Twins filled the 40-man roster by adding eight new players, but they've already created four openings. One came by trading Denard Span to the Nationals for a 22-year-old pitching prospect, Alex Meyer, who doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster for several years, and the other three spots came by designating Deolis Guerra and Tommy Field for assignment and non-tendering Lester Oliveros.

Guerra passed through waivers unclaimed and was sent outright to Rochester, meaning the Twins keep him at Triple-A without taking up a 40-man spot. Once upon a time Guerra was a top prospect and arguably the centerpiece of the haul for Johan Santana, but at this point they'd be happy if he developed into a middle reliever. Field was claimed off waivers from the Rockies last month and when the Twins put him back on waivers the Angels claimed him.

Oliveros was acquired from the Tigers in the Delmon Young trade and the hard-throwing right-hander showed some promise between Double-A and Triple-A this year, logging 48 innings with a 2.42 ERA and 51-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Unfortunately he underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in August and won't be at full strength until 2014, but after being non-tendered Oliveros opted to re-sign with the Twins on a minor-league deal.

• As expected the Twins tendered contracts to all three arbitration-eligible players: Jared Burton, Brian Duensing, and Drew Butera. Non-tendering Butera and his .183 career batting average would have made sense, but the Twins have stuck with him for three seasons already. In other words, if they thought he was worth $450,000 then a raise to, say, $600,000 isn't going to sway their opinion. Obviously with Butera money isn't really the main issue.

Chad Allen, who played for the Twins from 1999-2001 after being their fourth-round pick in 1996, is the new hitting coach for Double-A New Britain at age 37. I'll always remember Allen hopping after a hit to the gap in Cleveland after tearing his ACL and somehow keeping speedster Kenny Lofton from an inside-the-park homer by getting the ball back into the infield before collapsing. He never played for the Twins again.

• With the Twins set to pick No. 4 overall in June's draft Baseball America's early player rankings have Stanford right-hander Mark Appel in the top spot, followed by Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea, Arkansas right-hander Ryan Stanek, North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran, and Florida right-hander Jonathan Crawford. They passed on Appel with the No. 2 pick this year and he went back to school rather than signing with the Pirates as the No. 8 pick.

Liam Hendriks underwent minor elbow surgery and won't pitch for Australia in the World Baseball Classic, but should be ready for spring training.

• Old friend Pat Neshek, who spent most of this year at Triple-A before thriving for the A's down the stretch, has signed a one-year, $975,000 deal with Oakland to avoid arbitration.

• Old friends Danny Valencia and Lew Ford might be teammates at Triple-A after the Orioles purchased Valencia from the Red Sox. Neither player is on the 40-man roster.

• As expected, Terry Ryan indicated that Chris Parmelee will be given every opportunity to be the starting right fielder following the Span trade, with Ben Revere shifting to center field.

• It turns out Span was born to play in Washington, D.C.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily analyzed Meyer's pitching mechanics, which are especially important for someone 6-foot-9.

• I'd bet on the Twins signing at least one of the five starting pitchers on this list.

• Target Field was supposed to solve a lot of the Twins' payroll issues, but things haven't gone as planned and the growing local television revenue chasm doesn't bode well for the future.

• For a lengthy discussion of the Span-for-Meyer trade, plus talk about prospects in general and the Twins' next offseason steps, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

November 7, 2012

Waiver wire wrap-up: Casilla, Deduno, Roenicke, and Field

Alexi Casilla made $1.375 million this year and was in line for at least $1.5 million in 2013 via his final season of arbitration eligibility, so my assumption was that the Twins would non-tender him by the end of the month. Instead they shopped him around for a trade, predictably found no takers, and placed Casilla on waivers where he was claimed by the Orioles. And so ends one of the more unproductive, frustrating tenures in recent Twins history.

During his first stint as Twins general manager Terry Ryan gained a reputation for plucking unheralded prospects from the low minors of other farm systems in trades and watching them develop into quality big leaguers. Casilla is an oft-cited example, as Ryan acquired him from the Angels in December of 2005 for setup man J.C. Romero, who'd worn out his welcome by struggling to throw strikes and being ineffective versus right-handed hitters.

At the time Casilla was 20 years old and no one's idea of a top prospect, but was coming off a season spent mostly at Single-A hitting .325 with 47 steals in 78 games and--because some things never change--the Twins were short on middle infield talent. I wrote a positive review of the trade on December 12, 2005, crediting Ryan for getting something of value in return for Romero and his undesirable contract while saying the following about Casilla:

Casilla is a switch-hitting middle infielder who has almost zero power, controls the strike zone, gets on base, and has a ton of speed. ... If Casilla develops well, he could step in at second base and the top of the order when [Luis] Castillo's contract is up in two years. If his development stalls a bit, he could turn into a solid utility man.

Well, sort of. Sure enough Casilla ended up replacing Luis Castillo at second base in mid-2007 and during the next six seasons he was given 1,764 plate appearances to show that he could be that speedy top-of-the-order asset. There were occasional flashes of that player, most notably in 2008, but more often than not Casilla was terrible while his age and experience were frequently overlooked by people focusing on his supposed potential.

For the most part Casilla's contact skills carried over from the minors, as he struck out in just 12 percent of his plate appearances, but despite being a ground-ball hitter with excellent speed his batting average on balls in play was a measly .282. He never developed any power and the good plate discipline he showed in the minors vanished, as he drew an average of just 37 walks per 550 trips to the plate.

Casilla's speed was as advertised and he became an extremely efficient basestealer with a career success rate of 89 percent. Unfortunately for whatever reason he never fully put that elite skill to proper use, attempting a grand total of 80 steals in 515 games. Defense proved to be his biggest strength, particularly at second base, and Casilla's glove is good enough that he doesn't have to hit much to be valuable.

Sadly even "doesn't have to hit much" was too high a standard for Casilla, as he cracked a .700 OPS twice in six seasons and hit .250/.305/.344 overall. Among the 320 major leaguers with at least 1,500 plate appearances from 2006-2012 he ranked 295th in on-base percentage, 311th in slugging percentage, and 313th in OPS. And in all of Twins history only Al Newman and Danny Thompson had a lower OPS in more plate appearances than Casilla.

• Two weeks ago I identified 11 "marginal players" on the 40-man roster who could painlessly be dropped to clear space for the offseason and less than 24 hours later the Twins dropped seven of them. They've now dropped an eighth player from that list, passing Samuel Deduno through waivers unclaimed and sending him outright to Triple-A. Deduno had the ability to leave the organization as a free agent, but decided to re-sign on a minor-league deal.

I spent most of Deduno's time with the Twins trying to explain why a poor track record, terrible control, and an awful strikeout-to-walk ratio made his initial success unsustainable. People looking for a reason to believe in Deduno came up with all sorts of theories on why he was different, but in the end he threw 79 innings with a 4.44 ERA that was both worse than the league average and right in line with a 4.73 xFIP based on his terrible 57/53 K/BB ratio.

For a team in desperate need of pitching there was an argument to be made for hanging onto Deduno for a while and that's perhaps why he wasn't among the initial 40-man cuts. On the other hand if the Twins are in position to need meaningful innings from Deduno again that means their attempt to fix the rotation was a flop. They deserve credit for seeing through his smoke-and-mirrors act and for realizing the other 29 teams probably weren't fooled either.

• Along with passing Deduno through waivers unclaimed the Twins also filled two of those 40-man roster spots by claiming Josh Roenicke and Tommy Field off waivers from the Rockies. At first glance Roenicke looks like an excellent pickup. He's a hard-throwing right-handed reliever with a 3.25 ERA in 89 innings this year, which is made more impressive by the fact that he called hitter-friendly Coors Field home.

However, scratch beneath the surface and you'll discover that, not unlike Deduno, his secondary numbers were anything but impressive thanks to a horrible 54-to-43 strikeout-to-walk ratio and nine homers allowed. None of which is to say that Roenicke can't be a useful player. His fastball averaged 93 miles per hour, which by itself would stand out on the Twins' pitching staff, and Roenicke's slider/cutter has been a plus pitch throughout his career.

Combining good fastball velocity and a quality second pitch is often enough to succeed in a role that requires 20 pitches per appearance and 60-80 innings per season. Of course, that truism about relievers doesn't just apply to Roenicke and at age 30 there isn't a lot in his track record to suggest he's particularly promising. His hard throwing has produced 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings, including 5.5 per nine innings this year, which is below average for a reliever.

Roenicke also has abysmal control, throwing just 45 percent of his pitches in the strike zone on the way to 4.6 walks per nine innings. And as his mediocre strikeout rate would suggest it's not as if his wildness has caused batters to chase pitches. In fact, Roenicke has induced a below-average number of swings on pitches outside the strike zone and an average number of swinging strikes, period. He throws hard, but is very wild and not especially tough to hit.

• Field was a 24th-round draft pick out of Texas State University in 2008, has had a couple brief stints with the Rockies, and spent this year as their starting shortstop at Triple-A. He hit just .246/.315/.400 with eight homers in 121 games, which is bad for any 25-year-old at Triple-A and really bad for someone in hitter-friendly Colorado Springs, which as a team hit .291 with a .784 OPS and had a 5.07 ERA.

Field did show some offensive potential in the lower minors, but his numbers were never anything special and he was old for each level. He'll be 26 years old before spring training and has hit a combined .256/.337/.413 in 278 games above Single-A. Reviews of his defense are positive and he has experience at both shortstop and second base, so Field profiles as a utility man and gives the Twins some middle infield depth right after parting ways with Casilla.