August 8, 2007

Twins Notes: Buscher, Watkins, Punto, Revere

  • On the same day that I wrote a lengthy entry breaking down his minor-league career and long-term outlook, Brian Buscher headed to the disabled list with an infected leg. Buscher fouled a ball off his leg Monday and the injury apparently got much worse over the next 48 hours, to the point that he was hospitalized yesterday. The Official Twins Beat Writer of, LaVelle E. Neal III, wrote on his blog Tuesday that it "looks like a little alien is trying to escape out of his leg."

    As the boys over at Stick and Ball Guy's blog pointed out, Buscher's situation sounds an awful lot like when Alex Rios ended up with a staph infection after fouling a ball off his leg last season. Rios missed a month of action and clearly wasn't himself upon returning, so hopefully Buscher's recovery goes much more smoothly. The injury won't impact his long-term potential much, but it would have been nice to see if he could keep his breakout season going in the majors.

  • Buscher heading to the DL seemingly opened the door for the Twins to call up Matt Tolbert from Triple-A. Like Buscher, Tolbert is an unheralded prospect who came out of nowhere to put together a breakout season after coming into the year with a mediocre minor-league track record. However, rather than call up Tolbert and his .303/.362/.448 hitting line in 97 games at Rochester, the Twins instead turned to Tommy Watkins to replace Buscher on the roster.

    A 38th-round pick in 1998 who's now a 27-year-old veteran of 10 minor-league seasons, all of them in the Twins organization, Watkins is definitely someone to root for. However, he's a .249/.331/.336 hitter in over 800 minor-league games and has managed a slugging percentage above .400 exactly once in his entire career (and even that was for just 60 games). Watkins can play all over the field defensively, but he's not a strong defender and isn't even close to being a major league-caliber offensive player.

    According to LEN3, the Twins explained the decision to call up Watkins by saying that Tolbert is "not mentally ready to handle things up here." That's a very Twins-like thing to say, but at this point they need guys who might be able to hit a little bit more than they need guys who're "mentally ready to handle things." I'm not sure what Nick Punto's mental state is like, but I know he can't hit, and with Jeff Cirillo out of the picture he's almost certain to resume starting at third base.

    Among the 177 major-league hitters with enough playing time to qualify for the batting title this season, Punto ranks dead last in OPS. He also ranks dead last among all hitters in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) at -17.4, meaning he's been 17.4 runs worse than a replacement-level hitter. In other words, the guy who Ron Gardenhire chooses to stick in front of the team's four best hitters has been the worst offensive player in baseball this season

  • With left-hander Odalis Perez getting the start for the Royals last night, Gardenhire's lineup included Punto batting second at third base and Jason Tyner batting eighth in left field. Punto came into the game with a .258/.320/.328 career hitting line against lefties, including .180/.242/.252 this season. Tyner entered the game hitting .256/.298/.264 against lefties during his career, including .222/.317/.250 this season.

    Terry Ryan has done an awful job giving Gardenhire capable bats to work with all season, but there's still no excuse for batting Punto near the top of the lineup or starting Tyner against a southpaw. The combination of Ryan's inability to find even mediocre bats to provide some semblance of offensive depth and Gardenhire's insistence on making the worst possible use of the limited tools he's given will continue to hurt the Twins' ability to consistently score runs.

    The lineup scored 11 times last night, managing more than five runs for the first time in 16 games, but it was in spite of the presence of Punto and Tyner. They combined to go 2-for-9 (.222), while the rest of the lineup went 17-for-34 (.500). Even with the one-game offensive explosion, the Twins rank dead last in baseball with an average of 3.3 runs per game since the All-Star break. Stuff like calling up Watkins, starting Tyner against lefties, and batting Punto near the top of the lineup are among the reasons why.

  • Michael Cuddyer's mammoth homer off Perez last night was the Twins' first long ball of the month, snapping the team's streak of 242 straight plate appearances without going deep. Every starter in the lineup had at least one hit, giving Johan Santana more than three runs of support for just the 11th time in 24 starts. Santana improved to 12-9 with a 2.98 ERA, but may have been forced from the game an inning early because of a cracked nail on the middle finger of his pitching hand:

    We've got to let it heal a little bit. But other than that, I feel good. We'll be ready for my next start. It happens most of the times. Right now it's way better than what it was a couple of weeks ago. It's a little sore. But we'll do some treatment, put some stuff on it and it'll be fine.

    Santana, who's now 22-5 in August during his career, hasn't lost to the Royals since 2003.

  • The Twins selected Ben Revere with the 28th overall pick in June's draft and almost immediately signed him for a $750,000 bonus that Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus reports "is the lowest for a first-round pick since 1998, not counting players who had their bonuses altered following injury revelations." I questioned whether the Twins needed to spend a first-round pick on another slap-hitting speedster, but Revere is off to a fantastic start at rookie-ball.

    Revere has yet to hit a homer and has drawn a grand total of just six walks in 34 games, but he's batting .333/.381/.496 with four doubles, nine triples, and 15 steals while striking out just 13 times. Despite his slight build and pessimistic public scouting reports, the Twins insisted that they felt Revere could develop into an impact hitter, and so far at least they're looking right. For comparison, Denard Span hit .271/.355/.319 in 50 games at rookie-ball after signing as a first-round pick in 2002.
  • After he signed a minor-league contract with the Red Sox earlier this week, Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe penned a good article that has all you'd ever want to know about former favorite Bobby Kielty. The Red Sox, who've scored 15 percent more runs than the Twins, figure to use Kielty and his .296/.379/.509 career hitting line against left-handed pitching as a platoon starter.
  • I've gone on record many times as being tired of listening to Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven on FSN broadcasts, but their clumsy and pointless "debate" about Barry Bonds last night may have signaled an all-time low in their performance. Regardless of where you stand on Bonds, it was three minutes of wasted life that everyone should be allowed to wipe from their memory and ask for a refund on.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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