February 23, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

15. Max Kepler | Center Field | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    269     .297     .387     .539     10     31     27     33
2013     A-     263     .237     .312     .424      9     23     24     43
2014     A+     407     .264     .333     .393      5     31     34     62

As a 16-year-old Max Kepler was big and fast with lots of tools and a unique background that included his parents meeting as performers in the German ballet, so when the Twins signed him out of Germany for $800,000 he was viewed as an intriguing, high-upside prospect. Five seasons later some of that intrigue and upside have vanished, in part because Kepler has struggled to stay healthy and in part because his performance beyond rookie-ball has underwhelmed.

Kepler played 163 games at Single-A during the past two seasons, hitting .253/.325/.405 with 14 homers. He also seems less and less likely to stick in center field, playing quite a bit of right field and first base. On the other hand Kepler was one of the Florida State League's youngest regulars last season at age 21, so even holding his own there is a positive sign. And after a bad first three months Kepler finished the year on a high note by hitting .303/.359/.442 in July and August.

Kepler is no longer incredibly young and no longer oozes upside, so now he simply needs to start hitting and in particular turn his 6-foot-4 frame and power potential into actual homers. Despite not playing above Single-A he was added to the 40-man roster, which means the clock is ticking on Kepler showing he belongs in the majors and the door is open for him to reach Minnesota at some point this season if he plays well.

14. Michael Cederoth | Starter | DOB: 11/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2014-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2014     RK+    11     10     3.55      45.2      41      1      42     18

In their ongoing effort to add more high-end velocity to the organization the Twins picked San Diego State right-hander Michael Cederoth in the third round last year. Cederoth was a starter in 2012 and 2013, but shifted to the bullpen in 2014 and topped out at 100 miles per hour while racking up 20 saves with a 2.28 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 52 innings. Despite that relief success Cederoth made his pro debut as a starter and fared pretty well for rookie-level Elizabethton.

Making the abbreviated outings that are common for rookie-ball starters, he posted a 3.55 ERA with just one homer allowed and a 42/18 K/BB ratio in 46 innings. His fastball predictably wasn't able to reach triple-digits as a starter, but Cederoth worked in the mid-90s and his control was encouraging. He walked 3.5 per nine innings, which is a lot, but in college Cederoth walked 5.2 per nine innings.

Converting hard-throwing college relievers into pro starters has repeatedly gone poorly for the Twins in recent years and Cederoth's mediocre results as a college starter leave even less room for optimism, but he's 6-foot-6 with an equally big fastball and there's always a role in the majors for that profile even if it's yet to be determined. This year he'll make the jump up to full-season competition at Single-A and try to develop his secondary pitches.

13. Amaurys Minier | Left Field | DOB: 1/96 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK-    119     .214     .252     .455      6     13      6     29
2014     RK-    205     .292     .405     .520      8     21     29     52

When the Twins signed Amaurys Minier for $1.4 million as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic there were immediate comparisons to Miguel Sano, but those quieted down when he hit .214 at rookie-ball in his pro debut. However, within the ugly batting average Minier showed a ton of power and last season he made it clear why the Twins were so high on him by crushing the Gulf Coast League in his second go-around.

Minier hit .292/.405/.520 with eight homers, 21 total extra-base hits, and 29 walks in 53 games, leading the GCL in homers and ranking third in both slugging percentage and OPS. And he did so while playing the entire season at age 18. He was signed as a shortstop, debuted at third base, and played left field and first base last season, but his eventual defensive home is secondary to Minier's offensive upside as a switch-hitting slugger.

Rookie-ball numbers should be viewed skeptically because the level of competition is inconsistent and the sample size is small, but Minier's production was special. He posted a .925 OPS, which is the highest by any Twins prospect in the Gulf Coast League during the past decade. And the only Twins prospects in the Gulf Coast League within 30 points of his OPS from 2005-2014 were Chris Parmelee (.901 in 2006), Aaron Hicks (.900 in 2008), and Kennys Vargas (.895 in 2010).

12. Stephen Gonsalves | Starter | DOB: 7/94 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2013-4

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-     5      2     0.63      14.1       8      0      18      7
         RK+     3      3     1.29      14.0      10      0      21      4
2014     RK+     6      6     2.79      29.0      23      1      26     10
         A-      8      8     3.19      36.2      31      1      44     11

Stephen Gonsalves was viewed as a first-round talent in 2013, but fell to the Twins in the fourth round following a suspension during his senior year of high school in California and then signed for second-round money at $700,000. His pro debut was impressive, as the 6-foot-5 lefty logged 28 rookie-ball innings with a 0.95 ERA and 39/11 K/BB ratio without allowing a homer. He stayed in rookie-ball to begin last season and then moved up to low Single-A, where he thrived at age 19.

Despite being younger than around 90 percent of the pitchers in the Midwest League he started eight games for Cedar Rapids with a 3.19 ERA and 44/11 K/BB ratio in 37 innings, striking out 30 percent of the batters he faced while opponents hit .228 with one homer. Toss in his rookie-ball numbers and through two pro seasons Gonsalves has a combined 2.39 ERA with 109 strikeouts and two homers allowed in 94 innings.

His control still needs work and Gonsalves' off-speed pitches generally receive mediocre reviews, both of which may need to change for his success to continue against tougher competition if his fastball stays in the low-90s. He also needs to handle a full-season workload for the first time at age 20, so expectations should be held in check, but Gonsalves looks like a potential mid-rotation starter down the road if things go well.

11. Trevor May | Starter | DOB: 9/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Phillies

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     AA     28     28     4.87     149.2     139     22     151     78
2013     AA     27     27     4.51     151.2     149     14     159     67
2014     AAA    18     18     2.84      98.1      75      4      94     39
         MLB    10      9     7.88      45.2      59      7      44     22

When the Twins acquired Trevor May from the Phillies along with Vance Worley in exchange for Ben Revere he was coming off an underwhelming 2012 season at Double-A. They had him repeat the level in 2013 with similarly mediocre results, but May moved up to Triple-A last year and took a big step forward. He posted a 2.84 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 98 innings, cut his walk rate by 15 percent, and allowed just four homers after previously struggling to limit long balls.

That earned May an August call-up to the majors, where everything unraveled. His debut was a mess, as he issued seven walks in two innings and 10 of 15 batters reached base. He continued to struggle for the next few starts and finished with a hideous 7.88 ERA, but May actually showed signs of progress down the stretch. He posted a strong 41/9 K/BB ratio in his final 37 innings, averaged 92 miles per hour with his fastball, and generated a solid number of swinging strikes.

There's no doubt that it was a sour first taste of the majors, but May at least showed glimpses of his potential to match the 18 good starts at Triple-A. He'll likely be a part of the Twins' rotation at some point in 2015 and if May can throw strikes he's capable of being a mid-rotation starter. At age 25 and with 400 innings between Double-A and Triple-A his leash may not be particularly long considering the Twins were so hesitant to promote him in the first place.


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September 10, 2014

Twins Notes: Santana, Escobar, St. Peter, Thorpe, Mauer, and May

Danny Santana Twins

Danny Santana picked a bad season to be a .320-hitting rookie center fielder, because White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu is hitting .317/.378/.590 with 33 homers and will run away with the Rookie of the Year award. However, assuming that he doesn't go into a prolonged slump down the stretch Santana's performance would be enough to make him a deserving Rookie of the Year winner in quite a few previous seasons. Last season, for instance.

Last season's winner, Wil Myers of the Rays, hit .293/.354/.478 in 88 games as a right fielder. Santana has hit .320/.358/.475 in 84 games as a center fielder/shortstop. They've been nearly identical as hitters and Santana has large edges in base-running, defense, and positional value. Looking at Twins history, Marty Cordova won the award in 1995 while hitting .277/.352/.486 in 137 games as a left fielder in a much higher era for offense.

Here's where Santana currently ranks among Twins rookies in Wins Above Replacement during the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014:

                    YEAR     WAR
Francisco Liriano   2006     4.5
Lew Ford            2004     4.5
Denard Span         2008     4.3
Bobby Kielty        2002     2.7
DANNNY SANTANA      2014     2.7

Longtime readers of this blog will probably remember that I thought Bobby Kielty was destined for stardom. He was not.

• Santana was thrust into center field without ever playing there regularly before and has done reasonably well, but assistant general manager Rob Antony recently said: "I think he's going to be our shortstop of the future. Any opportunity we get to play him at shortstop is a good thing." Which is fine, except with Aaron Hicks back in the majors the Twins are still going out of their way not to play Santana at shortstop, even using Eduardo Nunez there instead of him.

• On a related note: Since a strong start Eduardo Escobar has hit just .247/.292/.365 in his last 85 games. He's now a career .253/.299/.363 hitter in 761 plate appearances as a big leaguer.

• For most of the past four years the Twins' bullpen has been a strength amid the team's overall struggles, but now the relievers are struggling too. In the first half the bullpen had a 3.21 ERA with a 13-10 record. In the second half they have a 4.92 ERA with a 6-10 record, including a 5.81 ERA during the past month. Their season totals now include ranking 22nd in ERA, 29th in xFIP, and dead last in strikeout rate. Of course, the rotation has still been worse.

• Twins president Dave St. Peter apparently didn't mind Keith Olbermann ripping the team to shreds on ESPN, but he predictably did mind me saying their brand survey was "tone deaf." On a related note, we spent a large portion of this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode discussing the Twins' increasing assurances of "we get it" in the face of mounting evidence that they don't.

• Pitching prospect Lewis Thorpe, an 18-year-old left-hander from Australia with 144 strikeouts in 116 career innings and one of the highest-upside arms in the Twins' farm system, has been diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. For now the Twins are insisting he'll be fine, but UCL injuries are what lead to Tommy John surgery.

Jose Berrios had one of the 10 best starts by any pitching prospect this season, according to Baseball America.

Joe Mauer has a .405 on-base percentage with more walks than strikeouts in 28 games since returning from the disabled list. During that time he's got an .848 OPS. His career OPS is .861.

Kurt Suzuki has hit .235/.279/.337 in 27 games since his two-year, $12 million extension. He hit .237/.294/.357 in 477 games from 2010-2013.

Tommy Milone allowed 21 runs in 21 innings for the Twins after coming over from the A's in exchange for Sam Fuld and now he's hurt. (Fuld has hit just .218/.269/.307 in 35 games since the trade.)

• Since his disastrous MLB debut Trevor May has a 24/12 K/BB ratio and three homers allowed in 27 innings. It'll take a while for his ERA to not be hideous, but he'll be just fine.

• After nine seasons as the Twins' minor-league hitting coordinator and 14 total seasons in the organization Bill Springman has been let go.

• At one point this season the Twins were 23-21. Since then they are 39-61.


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July 30, 2014

Twins Notes: Morales, Pryor, Guerrier, Pressly, Worley, and Buxton

kendrys morales twins

• The money meant nothing to a team $20 million under budget, but signing Kendrys Morales carried more downside for the Twins than commonly believed because his performance was tough to predict after sitting out the first two months of the season and the move meant stalling Josmil Pinto's development in favor of a potentially inferior player. With that said, no one could have expected things to go as badly as it did.

While batting almost exclusively fourth or fifth in the lineup Morales hit .234/.259/.325 with one homer and a 27/6 K/BB ratio in 39 games, posting a lower OPS in a Twins uniform than, among others: Tony Batista, David McCarty, Nick Punto, Mike Lamb, Clete Thomas, Juan Castro, Adam Everett, Rondell White, Terry Tiffee, Denny Hocking, Tommy Herr, Henry Blanco, Matt Tolbert, Luis Rivas, and Aaron Hicks.

To the Twins' (partial) credit they cut bait instead of stubbornly sticking with Morales for the rest of the season and to my surprise they actually got another team to assume the remainder of his contract and give up a potentially useful player in return. By trading Morales to the Mariners the Twins save about $4 million of his $7.4 million contract, but their lack of spending means the money probably won't be re-invested in the team anyway.

Where they could get value is from Stephen Pryor, a 25-year-old reliever whose average fastball clocked in at 96 miles per hour before shoulder surgery. So far Pryor has struggled since coming back, with a big drop in velocity and poor Triple-A numbers, but there's still some potential there. They basically paid $3 million for 39 terrible games from Morales, the motivation to demote Pinto to Triple-A, and a post-surgery version of a once-promising reliever.

Matt Guerrier's decent-looking 3.86 ERA masked a terrible 12/10 K/BB ratio in 28 innings and similarly underwhelming raw stuff. Guerrier is one of the most underrated pitchers in Twins history thanks to a six-year run as a durable, reliable setup man during his first go-around in Minnesota, but the reunion worked out only slightly better than this year's other reunions with Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett.

Ryan Pressly replaces Guerrier in a middle relief role after posting a 2.98 ERA and 63/21 K/BB ratio in 60 innings at Triple-A. Pressly spent all of last season on the Twins' roster as a Rule 5 pick and held his own as a 24-year-old, but his control is shaky and his strikeout rate hasn't matched his fastball velocity. He has a whole lot more upside than Guerrier, however, so the switch makes plenty of sense even if it pained the Twins.

• Here's a list of the starting pitchers the Twins have used this season while refusing to call up 24-year-old prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May from Triple-A:

Phil Hughes
Kevin Correia
Kyle Gibson
Ricky Nolasco
Sam Deduno
Yohan Pino
Mike Pelfrey
Kris Johnson
Anthony Swarzak
Logan Darnell

This season the Twins have used a pitcher younger than 25 years old for a grand total of 12.1 innings, all by reliever Michael Tonkin. Meanwhile, across MLB there have been 447 games started by pitchers younger than Meyer and 504 games started by pitchers younger than May.

Vance Worley, whom the Twins gave away for nothing this spring without needing to for any real reason, tossed a complete-game shutout Monday and is now 4-1 with a 2.54 ERA and 30/8 K/BB ratio in 50 innings for the Pirates. When the Twins acquired Worley from the Phillies as part of the Ben Revere trade he looked like a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter and now at age 26 he looks like that again in Pittsburgh.

• Old friends Danny Valencia and Liam Hendriks were traded for one another Monday, as the Royals and Blue Jays swapped role players. Valencia proved stretched offensively and defensively as an everyday third baseman for the Twins, but has settled into a part-time role mostly facing left-handed pitching. Hendriks continues to thrive at Triple-A and struggle in the majors while frequently finding himself on the waiver wire since the Twins gave up on him in December.

• Because no Twins prospect is ever safe, both Kohl Stewart and Jose Berrios have been shut down with shoulder injuries. That means four of the top five prospects in my preseason rankings have been sidelined by an injury.

Byron Buxton is healthy again after missing nearly half the season with a wrist injury and has hit .378 with a .472 on-base percentage and .622 slugging percentage in his last 10 games at high Single-A.

Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (with the help of Glen Perkins) did a nice job laying out the disconnect between Kurt Suzuki's defensive reputation and defensive numbers.

Oswaldo Arcia smashed his bat over his knee, Bo Jackson-style, after a recent strikeout, but with 183 strikeouts in 151 career games perhaps he shouldn't be blaming the equipment.

• Since signing him last season the Twins have a .346 winning percentage when Correia starts and a .443 winning percentage when anyone else starts.

Brian Dozier is hitting .178 with 29 strikeouts and four walks in 28 games since June 25.

• FOX Sports North showed a great scouting report on Darnell before his first MLB start.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we talked about realistic options at the trade deadline and wondered how thin the ice is getting under Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan.


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March 27, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6

Also in this series: 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

10. Ryan Eades | Starter | DOB: 12/91 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+    10      0     4.60      15.2      13      0      13     12

As a college starter with three seasons of major conference experience LSU right-hander Ryan Eades was a prototypical Twins target in the second round of June's draft and he's the eighth college pitcher they've selected with a top-50 pick since 2005. Eades missed his senior season of high school following shoulder surgery, but was injury free at LSU and led the team in starts last season.

However, fading down the stretch in 2012 and 2013 put his durability in some question and Eades struggled in his pro debut with 12 walks in 16 innings at rookie-ball. Even after a late-season fade Eades finished with a 2.81 ERA for one of the country's best college teams, but a .269 opponents' batting average and 77 strikeouts in 96 innings were underwhelming. And that modest strikeout rate is actually an improvement over 2012, when Eades struck out just 63 in 94 innings.

Combined during his final two years Eades averaged 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which paled in comparison to LSU's aces Kevin Gausman and Aaron Nola. Eades obviously isn't on the same level as Gausman and Nola or he wouldn't have been available at No. 43, but the point is that his raw stuff has yet to turn into strikeouts. With that said, it's good raw stuff. Baseball America rated him 37th in the draft class, noting that Eades "looks the part of a frontline starter."

9. Trevor May | Starter | DOB: 9/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Phillies

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     A+     27     27     3.63     151.1     121      8     208     67
2012     AA     28     28     4.87     149.2     139     22     151     78
2013     AA     27     27     4.51     151.2     149     14     159     67

Acquired from the Phillies last winter in the Ben Revere trade, Trevor May repeated Double-A as a 23-year-old and showed little improvement across the board. He posted a 4.51 ERA compared to the Eastern League average of 4.01, cut his walk rate only marginally to a still-awful 4.0 per nine innings, and induced fewer ground balls than his first go-around to signal that a dip in home runs allowed may not be as encouraging as it first appears.

The good news is that the 6-foot-5 right-hander still throws very hard and still misses plenty of bats, striking out 9.4 per nine innings after whiffing 9.1 per nine innings in 2012. Those strikeout rates are good rather than great and can't compare to May's eye-popping strikeout totals in the low minors, but clearly the former fourth-round pick still has some upside. However, he's no longer considered a high-end prospect after cracking Baseball America's top-100 list for 2012.

At the time of the trade there were rumblings about May being destined for relief work long term and the lack of progress he's made, particularly with his control, have raised the volume on those concerns. He likely needs to show considerable progress at Triple-A this year or risk being shifted to the bullpen, although certainly May could eventually still make a big impact as a late-inning reliever with a mid-90s fastball.

8. Jorge Polanco | Second Base | DOB: 7/93 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK-    193     .250     .319     .349      1     12     15     24
2012     RK+    204     .318     .388     .514      5     22     20     26
2013     A-     523     .308     .362     .452      5     47     42     59

Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $775,000 as a 16-year-old the same year the Twins added Miguel Sano and Max Kepler as big-dollar international prospects, Jorge Polanco has likely outgrown shortstop and become a good defensive second baseman with a potentially very strong bat for the position. Polanco showed a ton of improvement at rookie-ball in 2012 and then transitioned to full-season competition last year by thriving at low Single-A as a 19-year-old.

Polanco hit .308 with just 59 strikeouts in 523 plate appearances, drew a decent number of walks, and smacked 47 extra-base hits, all while being one of only nine teenagers in the entire Midwest League to play at least 100 games. As a switch-hitter he fared equally well versus righties and lefties while posting an OPS above .765 in all five months of the season and managers voted him the best defensive second baseman in the league.

He'll likely play most and perhaps all of this season as a 20-year-old at high Single-A. To put that in some context, consider that no one under 21 logged 500 plate appearances in the Florida State League last season and only three logged more than 400. Simply holding his own in the FSL would be an accomplishment and if Polanco produces in 2014 like he did in 2013 he'll be near the top of this list next spring.

7. Josmil Pinto | Catcher | DOB: 3/89 | Bats: Right | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     A+     236     .262     .305     .389      5     17     12     36
2012     A+     393     .295     .361     .473     12     36     39     63
         AA      52     .298     .365     .553      2      7      4     10
2013     AA     453     .308     .411     .482     14     38     64     71
        AAA      75     .314     .333     .486      1     10      2     12
        MLB      83     .342     .398     .566      4      9      6     22

Well, we know Josmil Pinto can hit. Last season he followed up a strong 2012 between high Single-A and Double-A by hitting .308/.411/.482 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts in 107 games at Double-A, batting .314 with 10 extra-base hits in a 19-game Triple-A stint, and making his Twins debut by hitting .342/.398/.566 in 21 games as a September call-up. Add it all up and Pinto batted .314 with 19 homers, 37 doubles, and 72 walks in 147 games as a 24-year-old.

And yet there are questions about how he fits into the long-term plans because his defense behind the plate has always received mixed reviews and the Twins thought so little of his ability to catch in the majors this season that they signed Kurt Suzuki to be the starter despite his not cracking a .700 OPS since 2009. As a poor but passable catcher Pinto has enough bat to be an impact player, but as a designated hitter his bat would be nothing special unless he adds more power.

Last season MLB catchers hit .245/.310/.388 for a .688 OPS that was the second-worst from any position behind only shortstop. By comparison DHs posted a .725 OPS that was either ahead or within 10 points of every position except first base and right field. Beyond that, on the Twins his long-term path would be relatively clear at catcher, whereas there are always plenty of DH options and specifically Miguel Sano or Oswaldo Arcia may wind up as preferred choices there.

6. Eddie Rosario | Second Base | DOB: 9/91 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-4

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    298     .337     .397     .670     21     39     27     60
2012     A-     429     .296     .345     .490     12     48     31     69
2013     A+     231     .329     .377     .527      6     24     17     29
         AA     313     .284     .330     .412      4     26     21     67

Eddie Rosario had a very nice 2013, beginning the year by crushing high Single-A pitching and finishing it by holding his own at Double-A as a 21-year-old, but then he began 2014 by receiving a 50-game suspension for a "drug of abuse." Under the terms of the minor league drug agreement that means he previously tested positive without getting a suspension and then continued to use the drug, which is perhaps more troubling behavior than the drug use itself.

On the field Rosario did what he's done since the Twins made him their fourth-round draft pick out of Puerto Rico in 2010, hitting for a high batting average with gap power and poor plate discipline. He also spent the entire season at second base after beginning the transition from outfielder to infielder in 2012, but there are questions about his ability to be a serviceable defender there in the majors and his offensive skill set would look somewhat marginal for a corner outfielder.

Rosario is a career .307 hitter, including at least .290 in all four seasons, but he's totaled just 22 homers in 217 games above rookie-ball while walking just 69 times compared to 165 strikeouts. That includes a 67/21 K/BB ratio in 70 games at Double-A, although in fairness he was one of only nine 21-and-under hitters in the Eastern League. Still, it doesn't look like he'll produce a ton of homers or walks, which is a profile that typically doesn't equal a big impact in an outfield corner.

April 10, 2013

Twins Notes: Extensions, saves, prospects, and premature press releases

Justin Morneau

LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Justin Morneau approached the Twins during spring training about a contract extension and they weren't interested, which is the right stance to take. Morneau is an impending free agent, but even setting aside his extensive injury history signing a good but not great 31-year-old first baseman to a multi-year contract isn't a great idea unless he were to take significantly less than his current $14 million salary.

Morneau hasn't topped an .800 OPS while playing more than 100 games since 2009 and while his .267/.333/.440 production in 134 games last season was encouraging after back-to-back years ruined by a concussion it was mediocre for a first baseman. Among the 29 regular first basemen he ranked 14th in batting average, 15th in on-base percentage, and 16th in slugging percentage. Toss in the health question marks and that's an awfully shaky investment.

There's also a chance of Morneau upping his production to pre-concussion levels, but even then they'd have an appealing option of tendering him a one-year "qualifying offer" that was worth $13.4 million this winter. If he accepts they get Morneau back for his age-32 season at a similar salary without a long-term commitment. If he declines and signs elsewhere they get a first-round draft pick. If he isn't traded by then, of course, which is another reason to avoid an extension.

Scott Diamond's delayed comeback from December elbow surgery created an opening in the rotation before the season had even started and Samuel Deduno's groin injury ruled him out, so the Twins turned to Cole De Vries ... and he had to be placed on the disabled list with a strained forearm before his first turn came up. Already scrambling for starters, the Twins called up Triple-A left-hander Pedro Hernandez, who had the benefit of being on the 40-man roster.

Hernandez was acquired from the White Sox along with Eduardo Escobar for Francisco Liriano in July and ranked 35th on my annual list of Twins prospects. He's a soft-tossing control artist with extreme platoon splits that could make it tough for him to stick as a starter, but the 23-year-old fared well enough in his Twins debut. Assuming that Diamond avoids further setbacks Hernandez may not be needed again for a while.

• One side effect of Ron Gardenhire holding Glen Perkins back for "save situations" that may not actually arrive is that lesser relievers are forced into pressure-packed spots. For instance, in the eighth inning Friday left-handed Orioles slugger Chris Davis came up with the bases loaded and one out in a tie game. Situations don't get any more important and if there was no such thing as the "save" statistic Perkins--being the best reliever and a lefty--would be the obvious choice.

Instead, with the game in the balance, Gardenhire called on 25-year-old rookie Tyler Robertson, who served up a grand slam and was promptly demoted to Triple-A the next day. He barely made the team out of spring training, has yet to show he can consistently get big leaguers out, and was apparently one bad pitch from going back to the minors, yet the manager chose Robertson to face Davis while Perkins watched. And people say guys like me are obsessed with statistics.

Since taking over for Matt Capps as the Twins' closer Perkins has converted 18 of 20 saves with a 2.01 ERA and 45-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45 innings. That's incredibly good pitching, but the role change has also made Perkins less of a weapon thanks to such strict usage. And because the Twins' overall bullpen depth is weak and their only other standout reliever, Jared Burton, needs regular days off holding Perkins back for save situations will lead to some ugly matchups.

J.J. Cooper of Baseball America put together a list of the youngest prospects at each level of the minors, which includes Miguel Sano as the youngest player in the Florida State League and Oswaldo Arcia as the sixth-youngest player in the International League. Age relative to the level of competition is an extremely important factor in evaluating prospects, so keep that in mind when looking at their raw numbers this season.

• Here's where the Twins' top 20 prospects are beginning the season (Rochester is Triple-A, New Britain is Double-A, Fort Myers is high Single-A, and Cedar Rapids is low Single-A):

 1. Miguel Sano      Fort Myers       11. Max Kepler       Cedar Rapids
 2. Byron Buxton     Cedar Rapids     12. Luke Bard        Cedar Rapids
 3. Oswaldo Arcia    Rochester        13. Travis Harrison  Cedar Rapids
 4. Aaron Hicks      Minnesota        14. Mason Melotakis  Cedar Rapids
 5. Alex Meyer       New Britain      15. Jorge Polanco    Cedar Rapids
 6. Kyle Gibson      Rochester        16. J.T. Chargois    Cedar Rapids
 7. Eddie Rosario    Fort Myers       17. Niko Goodrum     Cedar Rapids
 8. Trevor May       New Britain      18. Hudson Boyd      Cedar Rapids
 9. J.O. Berrios     Cedar Rapids     19. Levi Michael     Fort Myers
10. Joe Benson       Rochester        20. Chris Herrmann   Rochester

No big surprises, although Byron Buxton moving to low Single-A and full-season ball at age 19 instead of spending more time in rookie-ball is noteworthy, as is Trevor May repeating Double-A at age 23 after spending all of last season there in the Phillies' system. Max Kepler will eventually join Buxton in the Cedar Rapids outfield, but for now he's rehabbing an injury in extended spring training. And some of the pitchers, including J.O. Berrios, will have their 2013 debuts delayed.

Wilkin Ramirez making the Opening Day roster as the designated "bench bat" based on a good spring training was an odd choice because he's 27 years old with a decade of awful plate discipline and underwhelming overall production in the minors. In adding Ramirez the Twins needed to clear space on the 40-man roster and they did that by designating Alex Burnett for assignment, which exposed the 24-year-old reliever to the waiver wire and got him claimed by the Blue Jays.

I'm hardly a big Burnett fan and praised the Twins for finally deciding he was better off at Triple-A, but losing him for nothing in order to add Ramirez is different. They thought Burnett was worthy of a bullpen job in 2010 at age 22 and worth keeping in the bullpen in 2011 and 2012, but in 2013 he's not worth a spot on a 40-man roster that includes Drew Butera, Caleb Thielbar, and Tim Wood? All so they could add a 27-year-old corner outfielder who's hit .255/.310/.430 at Triple-A.

• Tuesday morning the Twins sent out a press release announcing an "early entry program" at Target Field offering fans the chance to pay an extra $15 for the ability to get in 45 minutes early to watch batting practice. About five hours later they issued another press release retracting that offer because it was "not fully vetted across the Twins organization" and "we apologize for a lack of internal communication which led to the premature release of this misinformation." So ... yeah.

• Through eight games Twins pitchers have the fewest strikeouts in baseball with 38, which is 4.9 per nine innings. They also ranked dead last among all teams in strikeouts in 2011 and 2012 while averaging 6.0 and 5.9 per nine innings.

Josh Willingham has already been plunked twice and is well on his way to extending his streak of ranking among the league's top 10 in hit by pitches every season since 2007. Willingham has a career on-base percentage of .362, but if you removed the hit by pitches it would drop to .346.

Kevin Correia isn't missing any bats, but he induced 12 and 15 ground-ball outs in his first two starts after getting 12 or more ground-ball outs just three times in his final 13 starts last season.

Joe Mauer moved past Gary Gaetti for sixth place on the Twins' all-time hit list with 1,277. In getting those first 1,276 hits Gaetti made 1,077 more outs than Mauer. Seriously.

Aaron Hicks joined Rich Becker in 1993 and Butera in 2010 as the only Twins position players to strike out three times in their MLB debut.

• Butera broke his left hand at Triple-A, so now he'll make $700,000 on Rochester's disabled list.

• "Roy Smalley's Fist List" is a thing, apparently.

Ben Revere is learning some very important things in Philadelphia.

• On this week's "Gleeman and the Geek" episode we talked lots about Hicks' slow start, Perkins' excellence, and Gardenhire's decision-making.


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