July 17, 2014

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Hitters

mauer dozier bartlett

After getting on base at a .353 clip and averaging 5.5 runs per game in April to inspire talk of a new, ultra-patient offensive approach the Twins have a .310 on-base percentage and 3.9 runs per game since May 1. Overall they're in the middle of the pack in offense, walking a lot and hitting a bunch of doubles but struggling to hit for average or home run power. Before the second half gets underway here's a hitter-by-hitter look at the individual performances ...

Brian Dozier: .242/.340/.436 in 424 plate appearances

I once mocked people for thinking Brian Dozier had star-caliber upside, because he was elderly for a prospect and never showed power in the minors, but now at age 27 and three seasons into his Twins career he's one of the best all-around second basemen in baseball. And a power hitter, too. In the minors Dozier was a high-contact, low-power hitter with a .298 batting average and a grand total of 16 homers in 365 games, but he's taken the opposite approach in the majors.

Dozier has hit just .242 with 79 strikeouts in 92 games, which no doubt played a part in his being overlooked for the All-Star game, but that comes with 18 homers and 52 walks for a .777 OPS. Among the 27 players to start at least 50 games at second base this year Dozier ranks 11th in on-base percentage, seventh in slugging percentage, and seventh in OPS. And in Twins history his 115 adjusted OPS+ is the highest by a second baseman since Todd Walker in 1998.

Being among the top 5-10 offensive second basemen in MLB is impressive enough for a guy who hit just .232/.286/.337 in 48 games at Triple-A as recently as 2012, but Dozier has also made the transition from poor-fielding shortstop to good-fielding second baseman. Add it all up and Dozier ranks fourth among all MLB second basemen in Wins Above Replacement behind only Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, and Chase Utley. He was the Twins' best player in the first half.

Joe Mauer: .271/.342/.353 in 339 plate appearances

Joe Mauer's move from catcher to first base was supposed to keep him healthier and hopefully lead to an increase in offensive production, but instead he struggled throughout most of the first half before going on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle. Mauer's first half was ugly overall, but the injury came at a particularly bad time because he was quietly starting to turn things around and look like his old self.

In the 20 games prior to going on the disabled list Mauer hit .320 with nine doubles, including a 12-game hitting streak that he took with him to the DL. Those are baby steps, of course, and Mauer's increased strikeout rate and surprisingly unimpressive defense at first base suggest that perhaps last year's season-ending concussion may still be an issue. Brain injuries don't just vanish with the start of a new season, after all, and so far he's been a replacement-level first baseman.

Trevor Plouffe: .245/.317/.409 in 334 plate appearances

He looked like a totally different hitter in April, sacrificing power for batting average and plate discipline while using the opposite field far more than ever before, but Trevor Plouffe eventually turned back into Trevor Plouffe. He batted .218/.272/.379 with 48 strikeouts and 15 walks in 53 games after May 1 and his overall mark of .245/.317/.409 is nearly identical to his .243/.305/.414 line from 2011-2013.

What has changed are Plouffe's defensive numbers. Ultimate Zone Rating previously pegged him among the majors' worst fielders, but he graded out slightly above average in the first half. As an average defender with a .725 OPS he's a decent starting third baseman, but I'd bet on his UZR dipping into the negatives by season's end and he's now a 28-year-old career .241/.304/.411 hitter after hitting .258/.320/.405 in the minors. Funny how that works.

Kurt Suzuki: .309/.365/.396 in 311 plate appearances

Available for a one-year, $2.75 million contract this offseason because he hit just .237/.294/.357 from 2010-2013 while struggling to throw out base-stealers, Kurt Suzuki posted career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS in the first half on the way to making his first All-Star team at age 30. He also received a ton of credit for "handling" the Twins' pitching staff, but the numbers and particularly pitch-framing data don't really back up that notion.

Suzuki was a promising young catcher for the A's, but quickly wore down after huge workloads early in his career. My theory is that playing his way out of a full-time gig actually helped him physically, so it'll be interesting to see what happens if he starts 5-6 times a week in the second half. The signing has worked out better than anyone could have expected, especially since the Twins' other free agent catching targets, A.J. Pierzynski and John Buck, have had brutal years.

Eduardo Escobar: .271/.313/.404 in 274 plate appearances

After beginning the season in a utility role Eduardo Escobar took over for Pedro Florimon as the starting shortstop and hit .328/.362/.479 through the end of May. That came as a complete shock from a guy who hit just .228/.280/.307 in the majors and .269/.319/.358 in the minors prior to this season. And sure enough Escobar's magic wore off and he finished the first half by hitting .221/.269/.338 in his final 37 games.

Even with the predictable slide to end the first half Escobar was an above-average hitter for a shortstop and graded out well defensively according to Ultimate Zone Rating. Still, his terrible track record and ugly 57/16 K/BB ratio this season are strong reasons for skepticism that he can be a starting-caliber shortstop, although given the Twins' underwhelming alternatives he should get a chance to prove himself one way or another in the second half.

Josh Willingham: .212/.362/.410 in 199 plate appearances

Josh Willingham got hurt right away and then returned from the disabled list on fire in late May, hitting .316/.467/.632 with five homers and 14 walks in his first 17 games. Then he went into a prolonged slump that carried into the All-Star break, hitting .122 with 33 strikeouts in his final 26 games of the first half. Even with that brutal stretch his season totals are still decent, but when combined with terrible defense he's been a below-average corner outfielder.

Investing three years and $21 million in Willingham looked like a brilliant move after one season, but in the next two seasons he's hit .209/.348/.380 while missing 96 of a possible 256 games. He's a prime example of why multi-year contracts for mid-30s players are so sketchy and it's hard to imagine the Twins getting anything of value for him in trade. That ship sailed two offseasons ago, when they refused to consider moving Willingham coming off a career-year.

Oswaldo Arcia: .222/.312/.371 in 189 plate appearances

Oswaldo Arcia, much like Willingham, was injured one week into the season and then performed very well upon coming off the disabled list in late May only to slump horribly. His slump can be traced back to an ankle injury, although certainly Arcia has shown himself to be capable of extreme ups and downs without any other factors playing a part. His power remains very good, but he's yet to show any semblance of plate discipline or ability to handle left-handed pitching.

The good news is that he's still just 23 years old. The bad news is that even in the minors he couldn't hit lefties or control the strike zone. Through his first 143 games as a big leaguer Arcia has hit just .221/.266/.331 off lefties and his overall K/BB ratio is a pathetic 173/39. He continues to possess a ton of long-term upside, but tapping into it will prove difficult unless he makes some big strides in those two areas.

Chris Colabello: .246/.295/.427 in 183 plate appearances

Chris Colabello got off to an extremely fast start, fell into a brutal slump that got him demoted back to Triple-A, and has fared well in limited action since rejoining the team following Mauer's injury. Blended together he's been a slightly below average hitter with good power and horrible strike zone control, posting a 56/11 K/BB ratio after debuting with a 58/20 mark in 55 games last season. At age 30 he's a marginal big leaguer best suited for a part-time role.

Jason Kubel: .224/.313/.295 in 176 plate appearances

After making the team out of spring training and hitting .400 through 10 games Jason Kubel batted .168 with zero homers and 49 strikeouts in the next 36 games before being released in early June. Providing a home for his comeback attempt wasn't an idea without merit and the price was certainly right, but he looked totally washed up and by the end had trouble simply making contact at the plate. And yet Kubel still has a higher OPS than Kendrys Morales.

Sam Fuld: .285/.367/.380 in 159 plate appearances

Picked up off the waiver wire in mid-April as an Aaron Hicks alternative, Sam Fuld has exceeded expectations offensively while showing that he still has the wheels to be a standout defensively at age 32. He's definitely played well over his head, but thanks to his speed and defense Fuld has generally been a solid backup outfielder and with Hicks looking like more of a question mark than ever the Twins figure to give him plenty of action in the second half.

Josmil Pinto: .222/.323/.407 in 158 plate appearances

After an excellent September debut Josmil Pinto picked up where he left off this year as one of the Twins' best hitters, but then he fell into the first slump of his career and immediately got demoted to Triple-A so the team could make room for Morales. Pinto's defense may be bad enough that he'll never stick as more than an emergency catcher, but he's a 25-year-old career .265/.349/.464 hitter through 64 games as a big leaguer and deserved a much longer leash.

Aaron Hicks: .198/.338/.262 in 156 plate appearances

For the second straight season the Twins handed Hicks a starting job without any backup plan and for the second straight season he hit below .200 to lose the gig. Along the way this time he gave up switch-hitting only to take it back up again weeks later and is now at Double-A, where his performance in 2012 convinced the Twins he was ready to make the jump to the majors. Hicks has shown that he can draw walks, but everything else--including defense--is in major question.

Chris Parmelee: .271/.304/.400 in 148 plate appearances

It's time to give up on Chris Parmelee developing into an impact player. For all the optimism that surrounds any decent stretch the former first-round pick puts together he's a 26-year-old career .251/.318/.396 hitter in 800 plate appearances and hasn't shown the ability to control the strike zone versus big-league pitching. There's probably a role for him in the majors as a platoon first baseman or corner outfielder, but that's always a very deep player pool.

Danny Santana: .328/.366/.448 in 143 plate appearances

Called up from Triple-A in early May despite hitting just .268/.311/.381 with poor plate discipline, Danny Santana hit .330 for the Twins while also being thrust into center field duties with little previous experience at the position. Before suffering a knee injury he showed a great arm, elite speed, and surprising pop, but a 27/7 K/BB ratio hints at the same overall lack of readiness that his minor-league numbers did even if there's no denying his first 37 games were impressive.

Kendrys Morales: .229/.254/.328 in 138 plate appearances

Morales' strong first week quieted talk of his being rusty after sitting out two months waiting for a better contract, but since then he's hit .198 with a 17/3 K/BB ratio in 27 games. There was always good reason to wonder if he was even an upgrade over the demoted Pinto and so far he certainly hasn't been, although recently Morales has at least shown some signs of life. At a cost of $8 million the Twins overestimated how good they'd be and how good Morales would be.


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July 15, 2014

Who are the worst All-Stars in Twins history?

coomer and laudner

Because so many All-Star selections are based more on first-half performances than overall track records and there's a rule that every team must be represented by at least one player there have been plenty of head-scratching inclusions over the years. Glen Perkins and Kurt Suzuki are both deserving All-Stars this year, but that hasn't always been the case throughout Twins history and I thought it would be interesting to look back at the team's most questionable All-Stars.


Ron Coomer, 1999: With the Twins in the midst of their seventh consecutive losing season and their third straight 90-loss season Coomer was chosen as the team's lone All-Star in 1999. At the All-Star break the Twins were in last place at 34-52 and Coomer was hitting .282/.312/.458 with 11 homers and 12 walks in 75 games as a first baseman/third baseman. And his production was even worse than it looks because offensive levels across baseball were very high in 1999.

As a whole the American League hit .275/.349/.439 in 1999, which means during the first half that got him named to the All-Star team Coomer had an OPS that was 20 points below average. And not only was he a first baseman/third baseman--two positions where the standard for offense is even higher than the league overall--Coomer was 32 years old with no real history of success. He then made the All-Star nod look even worse by hitting .235/.300/.372 in the second half.

Coomer finished his first and only All-Star season hitting .263/.307/.424 with 16 homers and 30 walks in 127 games, posting an OPS that was 60 points below the league average. That year the AL had 31 first basemen and third basemen who played at least 100 games and Coomer ranked 20th in batting average, 28th in on-base percentage, 25th in slugging percentage, and 25th in OPS. He was also a very limited defender and baserunner.

So who should have been the team's All-Star in 1999? What makes the Coomer selection doubly weird is that the Twins actually had some very good players that season. Brad Radke threw 219 innings with the league's fourth-best ERA. Eric Milton threw 206 innings and ranked among the AL's top 10 in strikeouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and opponents' batting average. Corey Koskie hit .310/.387/.468 in 117 games. Coomer wasn't one of the Twins' five best players.


Tim Laudner, 1988: Laudner was 30 years old and in his eighth season when he was chosen as a first-time All-Star in 1988. Combined during the previous seven seasons he hit .218/.285/.393 in 1,580 plate appearances, ranking as one of baseball's worst hitters over that span, and Laudner typically split time behind the plate with catchers like Dave Engle, Mark Salas, Sal Butera, Jeff Reed, Ray Smith, and Tom Nieto.

Laudner hit .191 for the World Series-winning team in 1987, but then in 1988 he took on a bigger workload behind the plate and hit .264/.329/.462 with nine homers in the first half. That earned Laudner a spot on the All-Star team backing up starting catcher Terry Steinbach of the A's, but he turned back into a pumpkin in the second half by hitting .234/.299/.341 with four homers to finish his lone All-Star season at .251/.316/.406 with 13 homers in 117 games.

It was a weak year for catchers and the position's standard for offense is always low, but of the league's 14 regulars he was eighth in OPS while throwing out just 25 percent of steal attempts. And then one season after being a first-time All-Star at 30 he was retired at 31, calling it quits after hitting .222/.293/.351 for the Twins in 1989. Laudner was one of 293 players to log at least 2,000 plate appearances in the 1980s and he ranked 292nd in batting average and 280th in OBP.

So who should have been the team's All-Star in 1988? Believe it or not, Laudner actually wasn't the Twins' only All-Star. In fact, coming off the World Series victory in 1987 they had five All-Stars in 1988, including the deserving Frank Viola, Kirby Puckett, and Gary Gaetti. Allan Anderson also won the ERA title without making the All-Star team and Kent Hrbek wasn't picked in perhaps the best season of his career, hitting .312/.387/.520 for the league's seventh-best OPS.


Jim Perry, 1971: Perry is one of the best pitchers in Twins history and in 1970 he won the Cy Young award with an AL-best 24 victories and a 3.04 ERA in 279 innings. And then in 1971 he was terrible. In a very low-scoring year Perry posted a 4.23 ERA compared to the AL average of 3.46, allowing the most earned runs (127) and home runs (39) in the league. If you translate his 1971 numbers to today's offensive environment it equates to a 5.00 ERA and 53 homers allowed.

And he didn't even have a good first half with a 4.10 ERA and 20 homers in 22 starts. Perry did, however, have enough run support and luck to go 12-8 despite coughing up tons of runs, which is often enough to get an All-Star nod in 2013 and was certainly enough in 1971. It's not hard to see how the reigning Cy Young winner with 12 wins at the All-Star break got chosen for the team, but Perry had a worse ERA than all but three AL pitchers to qualify for the ERA title in 1971.

Perry was so good for so long that it seems wrong to put him on a list with guys like Coomer and Laudner, but strictly in terms of performance during an All-Star season no pitcher in Twins history was worse. Despite going 74-86 in 1971 the Twins had five All-Stars, yet the three players with the highest Wins Above Replacement totals on the team--Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat, and Cesar Tovar--weren't picked.

                  GS      IP      ERA      SO      BB     HR
Jim Perry         39     270     4.23     126     102     39
Bert Blyleven     38     278     2.81     224      59     21

Blyleven was 20 years old, so no doubt the baseball world in 1971 was slow to come around to him being an elite pitcher, but that comparison between Twins rotation-mates is crazy. Blyleven allowed 95 runs in 278 innings, Perry allowed 135 runs in 270 innings, and Blyleven nearly had twice as many strikeouts, half as many walks, and half as many homers allowed. Three decades later Blyleven detractors used his lack of All-Star games to discredit his Hall of Fame case.


Dave Engle, 1984: As a prospect Engle was acquired by the Twins as part of the four-player deal for Rod Carew in 1979. Engle was very good for the Twins in 1983, hitting .305/.350/.449 in his first season as a starting catcher, and a solid first half in 1984 led to a spot on the All-Star team backing up Lance Parrish of the Tigers. He then hit .192 in the second half and finished the year at .266/.308/.363 with four homers in 109 games overall.

Engle never got 200 plate appearances in a season again after being a 27-year-old All-Star and played a grand total of just 269 career games after the selection, hitting .229 with 10 homers. He was the Twins' lone All-Star on an 81-81 team despite Viola and Hrbek having standout seasons as 24-year-olds and no fewer than a half-dozen other players being far more deserving by the end of the season.


Ken Landreaux, 1980: Landreaux, like Engle, was acquired from the Angels in the Carew trade. And, like Engle, he was the lone All-Star on a mediocre Twins team in 1980 that featured several stronger performances. Landreaux was actually much better for the Twins the previous season, hitting .305/.347/.450 in 151 games as their primary center fielder. He nearly duplicated those numbers in the first half of 1980 to get the All-Star spot, but then dropped off in the second half.

Landreaux wasn't bad in 1980, he just wasn't anywhere close to All-Star caliber. He finished at .281/.334/.417 with seven homers in 129 games split between center field and left field, grading out very poorly in modern defensive metrics. There were 47 outfielders to play at least 100 games in the AL and Landreaux ranked 22nd in batting average, 29th in OBP, 23rd in slugging, and 28th in OPS. That offseason the Twins traded him to the Dodgers for Mickey Hatcher.


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July 9, 2014

Twins Notes: Nolasco, Buxton, Sano, Gordon, Parmelee, and Dozier

ricky nolasco and ron gardenhire

• In signing Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million contract the Twins touted his durability as a major selling point, as the 31-year-old right-hander had started at least 30 games and logged at least 185 innings in five of the previous six seasons. Now, just four months into his Twins career and with an ugly 5.90 ERA in 18 starts, Nolasco has been shut down with elbow soreness that he's apparently been pitching through since spring training.

If everyone involved is to be believed that news came as a surprise to the Twins, which means either Nolasco went out of his way to hide the injury from trainers and coaches or those same trainers and coaches went out of their way not to investigate his season-long struggles. Or maybe a mixture of both. Certainly if he was hiding the elbow injury that has to be very frustrating for the Twins and Nolasco is absolutely at fault.

However, it's also worth noting that the Twins--from the front office to manager Ron Gardenhire and his coaching staff--have created and repeatedly fed into a culture in which acting like a tough guy and playing through pain is considered noble rather than stupid or irresponsible. Even in discussing how Nolasco hid the injury from the team Gardenhire almost couldn't help acting as if there was something positive about the so-called "old school" approach taken by the pitcher.

Meanwhile, seemingly every season one or two key players try to tough their way through injuries with disastrous results and no one ever seems to learn a lesson from it. Who knows whether that played a role in Nolasco pitching through pain, but it certainly didn't play a role in convincing him to do otherwise. When can we end this outdated, shortsighted approach of letting hugely valuable athletes risk their short- and long-term health and productivity in the name of being tough guys?

If you're a player and you're hurt, tell someone in charge. And if you're someone in charge and a player tells you he's hurt, don't let him continue playing. As simple as those two directives sound, they've been sadly lacking for the Twins in recent years. This time around it led to their trotting out an injured pitcher for 18 horrible starts and putting at risk a $48 million investment. If that's "old school" then everyone flunked out.

• Worst single-season adjusted ERA+ in Twins history among pitchers with 100 or more innings:

68 - Jim Deshaies, 1994
66 - Ricky Nolasco, 2014
71 - Boof Bonser, 2008
72 - Ray Corbin, 1974
72 - Joe Mays, 2003
72 - Jim Hughes, 1976

Helluva list.

• MLB starting pitchers have a combined 3.90 ERA. Twins starters have the following ERAs:

3.70 - Phil Hughes
4.17 - Kyle Gibson
4.79 - Kevin Correia
4.98 - Yohan Pino
5.90 - Ricky Nolasco
6.52 - Sam Deduno
7.99 - Mike Pelfrey

As a group Twins starting pitchers rank 29th among MLB teams in ERA, ahead of only the Coors Field-inflated Rockies. Last season they ranked 30th in ERA and in 2012 they ranked 29th in ERA, also ahead of only Colorado.

Byron Buxton finally returned from a wrist injury after sitting out the first three-plus months of the season and despite all the missed time Baseball America's midseason update still ranked him as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. Miguel Sano also ranked No. 9 even though the Twins just announced that he'll miss the entire season following elbow surgery and pitchers Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart, and Alex Meyer also cracked Baseball America's updated top 40.

• Meyer looks to be back on track at Triple-A after some struggles last month. He struck out 10 last night and has a 2.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 18 innings over his last three starts.

• No. 5 overall draft pick Nick Gordon has hit .359/.408/.500 with five extra-base hits and four stolen bases through his first 15 pro games for rookie-level Elizabethon.

Chris Parmelee is 26 years old and has batted .235 with a .299 on-base percentage and .370 slugging percentage in 677 plate appearances since his big September debut, so it's probably time to stop getting excited whenever he has a decent week.

• His batting average isn't pretty, but Brian Dozier's current 112 adjusted OPS+ is the best by a Twins middle infielder since Todd Walker in 1998 and Chuck Knoblauch in 1994-1996.

• He's a deserving All-Star, but it's odd to hear Kurt Suzuki endlessly praised for "handling" a pitching staff that ranks 28th in ERA, especially when pitch-framing stats show him as poor.

• This offseason the Twins were believed to be deciding between Suzuki and John Buck as their veteran catcher addition. Buck hit .226/.293/.286 for the Mariners and just got released.

• I looked this up after watching him leg out a single Monday evening: Kendrys Morales has 48 career infield hits, including at least 10 in three different years. Imagine that.

Eduardo Escobar was hitting .314/.357/.473 on June 15. Since then he's 9-for-66 (.136) with 17 strikeouts and 2 walks. Track records: Trust 'em.

Hisashi Iwakuma owns the Twins, with a 5-0 record and 0.00 ERA in five starts against them.

Vance Worley has a 2.28 ERA and 18/5 K/BB ratio in four starts for the Pirates, who think they've fixed whatever ailed him with the Twins last season.

Pat Neshek, who has a 2.39 ERA since being waived by the Twins in 2011, made his first All-Star team at age 33.

Lew Ford, now 37 years old, is hitting .372 with a .445 on-base percentage and .568 slugging percentage in the independent Atlantic League. And he's the team's hitting coach too.

• One-time Twins minor leaguer Yangervis Solarte turned back into a pumpkin after a big April and May for the Yankees.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

July 2, 2014

What does Jorge Polanco’s early Twins debut mean for his future?

Jorge Polanco Twins debut

Jorge Polanco's first stint in the big leagues was a brief one and came in something resembling an emergency situation, as the Twins needed infield help and decided to promote a 20-year-old from Single-A rather than make changes to the 40-man roster for a more experienced call-up. In getting five at-bats before a return to the low minors Polanco became just the second Twins player in the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014 to make his MLB debut before age 21.

Joe Mauer is the youngest player to debut under Gardenhire at 20 years and 352 days when he was the Opening Day catcher in 2004, followed by Polanco at 20 years and 356 days last week. Francisco Liriano is the youngest pitcher to debut under Gardenhire at 21 years and 314 days when he appeared as a reliever in September of 2005. In all, 14 players have made their MLB debuts for the Twins before age 23 under Gardenhire. Here's the complete list:

                   YEAR     AGE
Joe Mauer          2004     20.352
Jorge Polanco      2014     20.356
Francisco Liriano  2005     21.314
Oswaldo Arcia      2013     21.341
Justin Morneau     2003     22.026
Alexi Casilla      2006     22.043
Jason Kubel        2004     22.098
Ben Revere         2010     22.127
Rob Bowen          2003     22.189
J.D. Durbin        2004     22.197
Liam Hendriks      2011     22.208
Alex Burnett       2010     22.256
Matt Garza         2006     22.258
Wilson Ramos       2010     22.265

Sort of a mixed bag. Mauer, Liriano, Oswaldo Arcia, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Matt Garza, and Wilson Ramos were all stud prospects on fairly natural, quick paths to the majors, but then there are non-prospects like Rob Bowen and marginal prospects like Alex Burnett who found themselves thrust into the majors to fill short-term roster needs. Polanco falls somewhere in between as a very good but not elite prospect promoted to the majors way ahead of schedule.

Much like Polanco, many of those 14 players listed above had short stints with the Twins as their MLB debuts and quickly headed back to the minors. In fact, even going beyond the debut-making Twins and looking instead at all Twins, the only players to receive regular playing time (more than 300 plate appearances) for the Twins before age 23 under Gardenhire are Mauer, Liriano, Arcia, Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, and Luis Rivas.

So in 13 seasons under Gardenhire the Twins, who pride themselves on developing homegrown young talent, have given regular playing time to a grand total of six players before age 23. To put that in some context, consider that across baseball during that same period a total of 107 hitters and 130 pitchers logged at least 300 plate appearances before age 23, which works out to an average of 8.5 for each of the other 29 teams.

That shouldn't come as a shock, because the Twins are known for delaying the arrival of certain prospects and studies show that their overall promotion timetables are among baseball's slowest. Whether that's driven mostly by their chosen development philosophy or financial/service time considerations is up for debate--and Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano will hopefully put it to the test in 2015--but whatever the case they don't hand over the keys to many very young players.

All of which is why the decision to promote Polanco from Single-A to the majors for a days-long bench role at age 20 was uncharacteristic for the Twins and why he may not make it back to the big leagues as a regular for quite a while despite the rushed debut. He is, however, a very good prospect who ranked eighth on my annual list of Twins prospects coming into the season and whose stock has risen even further since then.

Polanco signed with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2010 and if not for being in the same international prospect class that saw the Twins snag Sano for $3.15 million his $775,000 bonus would have garnered a lot more attention. He didn't hit much in his first two seasons, but Polanco broke out as an 18-year-old at rookie-level Elizabethton in 2012 and has been putting up impressive numbers since.

Polanco lacks power, but he's not completely without pop and currently projects as a potential top-of-the-order hitter thanks to a high contact rate, good batting averages, and increasingly solid patience at the plate. Last season at low Single-A he batted .308 with 47 extra-base hits and 42 walks versus 59 strikeouts in 115 games, and this season at high Single-A he's batted .292 with 21 extra-base hits and 36 walks versus 42 strikeouts in 74 games.

Defensively he split last season between shortstop and second base, but this season Polanco has played exclusively shortstop. His error total there hasn't been pretty and his odds of sticking at shortstop long term seem low, but it's a relatively positive sign that the Twins haven't moved him to second base full time yet. Or at least it's a relatively strong indication that he has a chance to be a very good defensive second baseman if he does move eventually.

It's worth noting that the Twins already have a very good all-around second baseman in Brian Dozier. In fact, during the past calendar year Dozier has been one of the three or four best second baseman in all of baseball, combining good defense with 20-homer power and 20-steal speed. But come, say, 2017, when Dozier is 30 years old and Polanco is 23 years old, the Twins might be ready for a change at the position.


For a lot more about Polanco's debut and his long-term outlook, plus talk of which other Twins prospects could be called up soon, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

June 23, 2014

Gleeman and The Geek #151: Beating the White Sox and Falling Out Of Trees

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included dominating the White Sox, Yohan Pino's impressive debut, Aaron Hicks going back to switch-hitting, Kyle Gibson's mind-changing run, Joe Mauer showing signs of life, Oswaldo Arcia swinging "too hard" for Ron Gardenhire's taste, Tony Gwynn's lasting legacy, Kennys Vargas' upside, and how to have fun and injure yourself at a 25-year reunion.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 151

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.


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