• Fat-O-Meter update: I'm down to 168 pounds, compared to 355 pounds on March 7, 2011. Back on March 7 of this year I wrote about having lost 153 pounds in one year, but since then I've lost another 34 pounds to bring the grand total to 187 pounds lost in 472 days. I'm trying to think of interesting ways to write, talk, and chat about my weight loss, because whenever I mention it here or on Twitter it gets a far larger response than anything about baseball.
Not exactly the most flattering photos, but you get the idea. I realize at this point many of you are likely sick of hearing about my ongoing weight loss effort, but for those of you who remain interested in the topic please let me know what types of additional content related to the weight loss you'd like to see. Articles about specific aspects of my process? Podcasts devoted to weight loss and dieting? Q&A sessions? Let me know, via the comments section or e-mail.
• Last reminder: This year's SABR convention is in Minneapolis next week. Come hang out.
• I try not to excessively plug my day job here, but I've written a dozen or more posts on Hardball Talk every day this week and I'd love it if every AG.com reader checked it out. If you like me and you like baseball, I promise you'll like it (and the rest of NBCSports.com too).
• Chelsea Peretti is one of my favorite stand-up comedians, podcast guests, and Twitter follows, but she's no longer a writer on one of my favorite television shows.
• I was sad when TNT canceled the highly underrated Men of a Certain Age, but at least Ray Romanocan have a guest role on an underrated show that didn't get canceled, Parenthood.
• Esther Povitsky has gone from "Little Esther" the oddly lovable character in the powerful world of Joe Rogan's podcast to getting her own television show on MTV.
Going into the 2004 draft many teams liked California high schooler Trevor Plouffe more as a pitcher than as a position player, but the Twins were among the teams convinced he could be a good-hitting shortstop and took him 20th overall. Plouffe was one of their five first-round picks that year, as the compensation for losing LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado to free agency allowed the Twins to restock the farm system with five selections in the top 40.
Nine years later Glen Perkins is the only one of those picks to become a quality big leaguer and even that didn't take place until last season when he faced a career crossroads moving from the rotation to the bullpen. Kyle Waldrop is still in the organization as a potential middle reliever, but has just 11 innings in the majors at age 26. Matt Fox got a cup of coffee with the Twins in 2010, but is now a Triple-A journeyman. Jay Rainville never reached the majors.
And then there's Plouffe.
After signing for a $1.5 million bonus Plouffe had a decent pro debut at rookie-ball, but then hit .223/.300/.345 in 127 games at low Single-A in 2005. Despite that lack of production at age 19 the Twins moved Plouffe up to high Single-A the next season anyway and he again struggled, hitting .246/.333/.347 in 125 games. And then despite that lack of production at age 20 the Twins promoted Plouffe to Double-A in 2007, where he hit .274/.326/.410 in 126 games.
Plouffe repeated a level for the first time in 2008, hitting .269/.325/.410 in 58 games back at Double-A before a midseason promotion to Triple-A. At age 22 he was one of the International League's youngest players despite not cracking even a .750 OPS at any level and predictably hit just .256/.292/.410 in 66 games for Rochester. By promoting him so aggressively in the face of mediocre performances the Twins put Plouffe in an odd situation developmentally.
He was a former first-round pick one step from the major leagues at age 22, yet he'd never actually shown anything to suggest that he was a top prospect. And so he repeated Triple-A in 2009. And then he repeated it again in 2010. At that point Plouffe was 25 and had spent three seasons in Rochester, hitting .253/.303/.419 in 286 games and 1,194 plate appearances. He'd also spent a brief stint with the Twins, going 6-for-41 (.146) with 14 strikeouts and zero walks.
In short, he looked like a bust. Plouffe was still fairly young and within the consistently modest overall production at Triple-A was some decent power for a shortstop, although the reviews of his defense made projecting him as a potential big-league shortstop very iffy. In seven years in the minors, including three at Triple-A, his career-highs were a .280 batting average, .340 on-base percentage, and .430 slugging percentage. And two of the highs came in rookie-ball.
Plouffe failed to make the Opening Day roster last spring and was assigned back to Triple-A for a fourth consecutive season, at which point he shockingly hit .313/.384/.635 with 15 homers in 51 games for a 1.019 OPS that topped Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel for the highest mark by any Rochester player since the Twins' affiliate moved there in 2003. Suddenly he was back on the prospect map and back in the majors, although it didn't translate to immediate success.
In fact Plouffe hit just .238/.305/.392 with an ugly 71-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 81 games for the Twins and was so bad defensively at shortstop that they started using him primarily in the outfield. Because he was out of minor-league options and the rebuilding Twins weren't ready to give up on Plouffe he made this year's team out of spring training as a non-shortstop utility man, but played sparingly and poorly while going 8-for-60 (.133) through mid-May.
And then everything changed. Starting third baseman Danny Valenciaplayed his way back to Triple-A and the Twins turned to Plouffe as his main replacement while hoping his throwing issues wouldn't carry over from shortstop. He'd never played third base regularly in the minors or majors, but Plouffe has looked capable there at the very least and his arm strength is a real asset when he's making accurate throws. Oh, and he started hitting like Babe Ruth.
As of May 15 he'd played 125 career MLB games with a .212 batting average, .286 on-base percentage, .357 slugging percentage, and 97 strikeouts versus 11 homers. Since then he's hit .315 with 13 homers and a .793 slugging percentage in 24 games, including a stretch in which he went deep seven times in seven games. Obviously the sample size is small and he's not suddenly Miguel Cabrera, but Plouffe has been the hottest hitter in baseball for a month.
And even combining his month-long homer binge with his hideous first six weeks equals power numbers that are tough to brush aside. Despite a still-poor .243 batting average in 46 games overall this season his .566 slugging percentage ranks sixth among AL hitters behind only Josh Hamilton, Paul Konerko, Mark Trumbo, Adam Jones, and David Ortiz. Last time a right-handed Twins hitter was slugging higher at this point in a season was Kirby Puckett.
Isolated Power is a stat that takes slugging percentage and subtracts batting average to focus strictly on a hitter's raw power and Plouffe's current mark of .322 ranks third in the league behind only Adam Dunn at .345 and Hamilton at .343. No other AL hitters have an Isolated Power above .300. In the entire history of the Minnesota Twins they've had a hitter top a .275 Isolated Power seven times and all seven of them were Harmon Killebrew.
Expanding the sample size further to include Plouffe's terrible 2010 debut and ugly 2011 showing still produces some pretty amazing power numbers. For his major-league career he's now played 149 games and logged 536 plate appearances, totaling 24 homers and 26 doubles for an Isolated Power of .209 that ranks seventh in Twins history among all hitters with 500 or more trips to the plate. Here's the complete top 10 in a Twins uniform:
Jim Thome .296
Harmon Killebrew .258
Don Mincher .239
Bob Allison .225
Justin Morneau .218
Jimmie Hall .212
TREVOR PLOUFFE .209
Tom Brunansky .202
Kent Hrbek .199
Torii Hunter .198
Some pretty decent company, huh?
Of course, in addition to the relatively small sample size it's also important to note that his elite power has come along with a lowly .232 batting average and .301 on-base percentage in those 149 career games. Those marks are tough to live with, huge power or not, and because Plouffe also hit just .262 with a .316 on-base percentage in 337 games at Triple-A it's difficult to project a ton of improvement.
With that said, Parker Hageman of Twins Daily did some video-based analysis breaking down Plouffe's altered swing and the same mechanical adjustments that led to his power explosion could potentially lead to a more palatable batting average. He's never going to hit .300, but if Plouffe could hit .265 while maintaining what has always been a decent walk rate--and one that figures to rise as pitchers avoid throwing him strikes--his all-around value would soar.
Plouffe will come back down to earth and there's still reason to be skeptical of his upside long term, but he's shown enough power dating back to Triple-A last year, enough plate discipline throughout his nine-year career, and enough early promise defensively at third base to believe he won't simply turn back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight. Much likeScott Diamond, his emergence is one positive from giving chances to untested players in a rebuilding year.
Minutes after the final out of last night's loss the Twins shook up the roster for the second time this week, demoting Danny Valencia to Triple-A and designating Matt Maloney for assignment while calling up utility man Darin Mastroianni and right-hander P.J. Walters from Rochester. They also announced that Francisco Liriano has been shifted to the bullpen, with Walters taking his spot in the starting rotation beginning Saturday against the Blue Jays.
Less than 48 hours earlier Ron Gardenhireinsisted that the Twins would stick with Liriano as a starter, but now they're apparently hoping to get him back on track for an eventual return to the rotation with some low-leverage relief work. Liriano has taken some very small steps forward in his last two starts, but has been mostly terrible since the beginning of last season and it would be worth seeing what he can do in a one-inning role before free agency beckons.
Unfortunately his rotation replacement is a 27-year-old soft-tosser, so while watching Walters get knocked around may not be quite as frustrating as watching Liriano struggle to find the strike zone the end result figures to be largely the same. Walters has a 7.24 ERA with 12 homers allowed in 51 innings as a big leaguer, averaged just 88.0 miles per hour with his fastball during that time, and has a 4.51 ERA in 91 career starts at Triple-A.
As soon as the Twins called up Brian Dozierto start at shortstop and shifted Jamey Carroll into a utility man role it was clear that Valencia and Alexi Casilla were on some very thin ice. Carroll has started each of the past three games at second base, but apparently that was due mostly to Casilla being limited by a shoulder injury and instead Valencia is the one on the chopping block after serving as the starting third baseman since mid-2010.
Valencia was never a top prospect and a modest minor-league track record made it obvious that his strong half-season debut was largely a fluke, but he's declined even further than expected since then both offensively and defensively. He's played 266 games in the majors and hit just .262/.304/.395, which would be poor production from a shortstop or a catcher and is downright awful for a third baseman who's mediocre defensively on a good day.
On the other hand he's 27 years old with more than 1,000 plate appearances in the majors, so a demotion to Triple-A furthering his development seems like wishful thinking. Valencia is what he is at this point, and that's simply not a quality regular because he can't hit right-handed pitching. With that said, he's a career .325/.374/.485 hitter against left-handers and that type of production certainly has a place on a major-league roster if used correctly.
Mastroianni is technically replacing Valencia on the roster, but don't count on him making much of an impact. Claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in February and assigned to Double-A to begin the season despite being 26 years old, he moved up to Triple-A because of injuries in Rochester and took advantage by hitting .365 in 19 games. That obviously got the Twins' attention, but Mastroianni hit just .279/.358/.389 in 79 games at Triple-A last season.
Mastroianni's lack of power has limited him to a .372 slugging percentage as a minor leaguer and makes him unlikely to be more than a useful bench player, but he has good on-base skills, spectacular speed, and can play all three outfield spots along with some second base. It'll be interesting to see if Mastroianni gets any action as an infielder or if Gardenhire will stick with Carroll, Casilla, and Trevor Plouffe in some combination at second base and third base.
Maloney was claimed off waivers from the Reds in October and there's a good chance he'll clear waivers this time around, in which case the Twins can stash him at Triple-A sans 40-man roster spot. He's the latest in a long line of examples showing the folly of putting any kind of faith in spring training performances, as Maloney was one of the most impressive players in camp and then predictably reverted back to the marginal big leaguer he's always been.
It was easy to see that the first roster shakeup was done to facilitate immediate improvement, as Liam Hendriks simply not being ready to thrive in the majors at age 23 made it reasonable to prefer Scott Diamond in the short term and the Twins have high hopes for Dozier. It's not so easy to see how the second roster shakeup really improves much, save for perhaps the fans' viewing experience and Gardenhire's mental state.
For as awful as Valencia has been, giving his starts to Casilla or Plouffe or Mastroianni isn't likely to be much of an upgrade and if nothing else he provided a right-handed bat capable of knocking around left-handed pitching. Liriano has been bad enough for long enough that trying to salvage some value out of him with a move to the bullpen is perfectly reasonable, but replacing him with Walters isn't likely to actually keep more runs off the board.
Of course, making changes mostly for changes sake may not be such a terrible thing at this point considering the Twins are now 73-132 since the final 10 games of the 2010 regular season. It'd be nice if they had better options to call up than Mastroianni and Walters, but they've already rushed non-elite prospects like Hendriks, Chris Parmelee, and Ben Revere to the majors with poor results and the rest of the upper-minors cupboard is mostly bare.
Beyond that, Liriano is at a career crossroads five months from free agency and Valencia may beat him out the door if the Twins can find a taker willing to trade even a mid-level prospect for him. Casilla is next in line for the guillotine if they go into full-on housecleaning mode and unlike last season hopefully they'll commit to a rebuilding effort by ditching more dead weight and getting whatever they can for any veterans not in the plans for 2013 and beyond.
• As expectedScott Baker underwent surgery yesterday to repair the flexor pronator tendon in his elbow, but while he was under the knife Dr. David Altchek discovered ulnar collateral ligament damage and performed Tommy John surgery as well. Apparently the torn UCL didn't show up on the initial MRI exam or last week's follow-up version, so instead of a six-month recovery timetable Baker will likely be out for 12 months.
So in the span of two weeks Baker went from having an MRI exam that the Twins described as "good news" to needing "cleanup" surgery to undergoing Tommy John surgery. I'm of the opinion that there was never any chance of the Twins exercising his $9.25 million option for 2013, but now that isn't even a consideration. And at this point any injured Twins player who doesn't seek a second opinion from someone outside the organization is an idiot.
• Francisco Liriano turned in his third straight clunker last night, failing to make it out of the third inning. Through three starts he has an 11.91 ERA and .407 opponents' batting average while throwing 138 strikes and 103 balls. It's become increasingly popular to say that Liriano's struggles are mental and I'm sure there's plenty of truth to that narrative, but it's also worth noting that his raw stuff is simply nowhere near as good as it was in 2010, let alone in 2006.
As a rookie Liriano's average fastball was 94.7 miles per hour and in 2010 it was 93.7 mph, but since the start of last season it's 91.6 mph. It certainly isn't shocking that a one-time power pitcher would lose confidence as his velocity vanishes and his fastball becomes far more hittable. Perhaps it's a chicken-or-egg scenario and there's no doubt that he's failed to make adjustments, but to suggest that his collapse is entirely mental seems way too simplistic.
• Glen Perkins hopefully won't follow Baker's progression from optimistic diagnosis to career-altering surgery, but he underwent an MRI exam on his forearm after coughing up the lead Sunday. No structural damage was found and he's avoided the disabled list ... so far. Dating back to his final 20 appearances of last season Perkins has a 5.56 ERA in his last 23 innings, although that includes 24 strikeouts and his velocity hasn't dipped.
• Miguel Sano is off to a huge start at low Single-A, homering yesterday for the fifth time in 12 games. Despite being the sixth-youngest player in the entire Midwest League and not turning 19 years old until next month Sano is hitting .256/.408/.692 and has already drawn nine walks after a total of just 23 walks in 66 games last season. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus recently got a first-hand look at Sano and came away very impressed.
Baseball Prospectus subscribers can read the full scouting report, but the short version is that Goldstein was surprised by the vastly improved patience Sano showed at the plate and was awed by the exceptional power as "his bat goes through the zone violently with plenty of explosion from his mid-section and hips." Goldstein even described Sano's defense at third base as better than expected, although that meant "merely bad" instead of "laughably awful."
• Josh Willingham, like Sano, also hit his fifth homer yesterday, taking over the AL lead and joining Kirby Puckett in 1987, Kent Hrbek in 1982, and Bobby Darwin in 1972 as the only Twins hitters with five homers through the first 11 games of a season. So far at least the Willingham signing looks every bit as good as it did at the time, although as a left fielder he makes a good designated hitter.
• Alexi Casilla is off to another slow start, which is an annual tradition at this point, and while looking over his career numbers with the Twins this comparison to a similarly disappointing middle infielder popped into my head:
G AVG OBP SLG OPS SB
Casilla with Twins 418 .251 .309 .336 .645 51
Player X with Twins 565 .262 .307 .383 .690 78
Longtime readers of AG.com may recognize "Player X" as Luis Rivas, who was without question the player who received the most criticism during the first four years of this blog's existence. Rivas was released by the Twins at age 25 and was out of the majors for good at age 28, which is how old Casilla will be in two months. It's time to stop treating him like some sort of prospect with impressive upside.
• Trevor Plouffe has now committed 13 errors in 465 innings as a big-league shortstop, which is the equivalent of around 40 errors per full season and a startling number for someone who was a shortstop for 680 games in the minors. That includes 242 games as a Triple-A shortstop, during which time Plouffe made 47 errors. In other words, at this point Plouffe is a shortstop like Michael Cuddyer was a second baseman. He needs to start mashing left-handers.
• Last season Twins pitchers ranked dead last among MLB teams in strikeouts by a wide margin and they're back in 30th place again this season with just 54 strikeouts through 11 games. By comparison, Nationals pitchers lead baseball with 117 strikeouts in 12 games. And not surprisingly the combination of the fewest strikeouts in baseball and a sub par defense has added up to MLB's fourth-worst ERA.
• In addition to his hitting .293/.383/.415 through 11 games another positive sign for Joe Mauer is that he stole a base Monday night after a grand total of one steal in 219 games during the past two seasons. On the other hand nearly 60 percent of his balls in play have been on the ground, which is a disturbingly high total even considering he's always been a ground-ball hitter.
• Mauer isn't alone in his worm-killing, as Twins hitters collectively lead baseball with a ground-ball rate of 55.1 percent. No other team is above 51.6 percent and only two other teams are above 50 percent. And because it's really hard to hit a ground ball over the fence everyone not named Willingham has combined for four homers in 358 plate appearances.
• Matthew Bashore, the 2009 first-round pick who was released by the Twins last month after injuries derailed his career, has signed with the Yankees.
Little darling, it's been a long, cold, lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say, it's all right
Little darling, the smiles are returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since they've been there
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say, it's all right
Little darling, I see the ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear
There goes the sun
Here comes the sun
And I say, it's all right
- "Here Comes The Sun"
• Reminder: I'll be watching the Twins' opener against the Orioles this afternoon at Wild Boar in Hopkins with my "Gleeman and The Geek" co-host John Bonnes and some other familiar names. First pitch is scheduled for 2:05, so I'd encourage everyone to leave work early and join us for some baseball and beer. Click here for more details.
1. Denard Span, L CF
2. Jamey Carroll, R SS
3. Joe Mauer, L C
4. Justin Morneau, L DH
5. Josh Willingham, R LF
6. Ryan Doumit, S RF
7. Danny Valencia, R 3B
8. Chris Parmelee, L 1B
9. Alexi Casilla, S 2B
I'd have sent Chris Parmelee to Triple-A to begin the season, but if you assume that those nine players must start on Opening Day that's exactly what my batting order would look like. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's something.
• I wrote all the season previews for AL Central teams at HardballTalk and concluded that the Tigers are clear front-runners, perhaps more so than any other team in any other division, while the Indians, White Sox, Royals, and Twins are each very capable of finishing anywhere from second place to last place. If everything breaks right for the Twins staying in contention deep into the season is possible, but my guess is that they finish right around .500.
• While a .500 record may not sound very optimistic, Las Vegas has the over/under for Twins wins around 73, which is higher than only the Astros and Orioles, and ESPN.com's season simulation based on Baseball Think Factory's excellent ZiPS projection system has the Twins going 70-92. They were so awful last season that improving by 15 games would still leave them at 78-84, so .500 would be quite an accomplishment.
"The Big Hrbowski" is the role Kent Hrbek was born to play.
• For months Terry Ryan insisted that Trevor Plouffewould be used exclusively in the outfield after his disastrous rookie showing at shortstop, but now that the Twins don't have a true backup shortstop on the roster suddenly Plouffe is in the infield mix again. Plans changing was the theme of this spring, but giving Plouffe some chances at second base or third base is a worthwhile idea while they try to figure out where he fits offensively and defensively.
• Seth Stohs has a complete rundown of all the minor-league rosters over at Twins Daily. Of my top 10 prospects, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario will be at low Single-A Beloit, Oswaldo Arcia and Levi Michael will be at high Single-A Fort Myers, Aaron Hicks and Alex Wimmers will be at Double-A New Britain, Joe Benson and Brian Dozier will be at Triple-A Rochester, Kyle Gibson will be rehabbing Tommy John surgery, and Liam Hendriks will be in the majors.
• Parmelee working his way on to the Opening Day roster left the Twins short a Triple-A first baseman, so they acquired Matt Rizzottifrom the Phillies for cash considerations. As a 26-year-old career minor leaguer available for basically nothing Rizzotti is hardly a prospect, but he's consistently had very impressive numbers that include a .295/.392/.511 line with 24 homers, 34 doubles, and 79 walks in 139 games at Double-A last season.
• Matt Bashore starred at Indiana University and was the Twins' supplemental first-round pick in 2009, but arm problems have limited him to just 19 career innings and he was released last week. They also released 2009 third-round pick Ben Tootle, a hard-throwing right-hander whose career was similarly ruined by injuries, and Dustin Martin, an outfielder acquired from the Mets along with Drew Butera in the mid-2007 trade for Luis Castillo.
• Joel Zumaya underwent Tommy John elbow surgery last week and instead of putting him on the 60-day disabled list all season the Twins released him. And despite his one-year contract supposedly being "non-guaranteed" they're apparently on the hook for his entire $850,000 base salary rather than the initially reported $400,000.
• Jason Bulger and Steve Pearce both signed minor-league contracts with the Yankees after being released by the Twins in the middle of spring training.
• If you're interested in keeping tabs on Twins prospects this season Twins Fan From Afar is a blog you should definitely check out, as Andrew Walter will attending games in New Britain, Connecticut and writing about the Double-A team that includes top-40 prospects Hicks, Wimmers, Chris Herrmann, David Bromberg, Deolis Guerra, and James Beresford.
• For anyone who plays Hardball Dynasty on WhatIfSports.com my league is looking for a couple new owners and our next season begins soon. Before contacting me, click here.
• Last but not least, thank you to everyone who stopped here during the too-long offseason. My goal each winter is to find enough interesting stuff to write about that most of you keep showing up, but I'm ready to talk about actual games again and look forward to my 11th season of blogging. Thanks for reading AG.com, thanks for following me on Twitter, thanks for listening to the podcast, and thanks for supporting my work at NBCSports.com and Rotoworld.
And in what has become an Opening Day tradition, this is Richie Havens singing my favorite version of "Here Comes The Sun":
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