February 19, 2008

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40

20. Jason Pridie | Center Field | DOB: 10/83 | Bats: Left | Trade: Rays

2005 AA 104 .213 .275 .394 3 9 8 29
2006 AA 503 .230 .281 .304 5 20 31 93
2007 AA 300 .290 .331 .441 4 27 14 45
AAA 274 .318 .375 .539 10 30 22 47

Selected by the Rays out of an Arizona high school in the second round of the 2002 draft, Jason Pridie hit well at rookie-ball after signing before struggling with the move up to low Single-A in 2003. Asked to repeat the level in 2004, he hit .276/.327/.470 in 128 games and then made the jump up to Double-A in 2005. Pridie hit just .213/.275/.394 there, missing all but 28 games because of injuries, and the Rays chose not to protect him from the Rule 5 draft that winter.

A 21-year-old with about a month's worth of experience above Single-A, the Twins selected Pridie only to offer him back to the Rays prior to Opening Day. He struggled again at Double-A in 2006, hitting just .230/.281/.304 in 132 games to show how overmatched he would have been spending an entire year in the majors, but followed that up by hitting .303/.352/.487 with 14 homers, 57 total extra-base hits, and a 92-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 134 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year.

That caught the Twins' eye again and they re-acquired him as part of this offseason's six-player swap headlined by Delmon Young and Matt Garza. Unfortunately, Pridie's success in 2007 sticks out from the rest of an otherwise mediocre track record of .279/.326/.432 hitting. He's still young, has the speed to play center field, and has occasionally shown the ability to hit, but Pridie's plate discipline is sub par and unless 2007 is the beginning of a sustained breakout he looks like a fourth outfielder.

19. Alex Burnett | Starter | DOB: 7/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-12

2005 RK 13 8 4.10 48.1 50 6 33 14
2006 RK 13 13 4.04 71.1 66 6 71 13
2007 A- 27 27 3.02 155.0 140 9 117 38

In ranking Alex Burnett as the Twins' 30th-best prospect last year despite his having zero experience above rookie-ball, I wrote that "it wouldn't be surprising to see Burnett a dozen spots higher in a year." The four-prospect haul from the Johan Santana trade narrowly keeps him from making that dozen-spot jump, but Burnett had an impressive full-season debut in 2007 and has now firmly established himself as a strong prospect.

Taken by the Twins out of a California high school in the 12th round of the 2005 draft, Burnett posted a 4.07 ERA and 104-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 119.2 innings at rookie-ball during his first two pro seasons before jumping to low Single-A last year. Still a teenager, Burnett had a 3.07 ERA, 117-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .239 opponent's batting average while ranking fourth in the Midwest League with 155 innings.

Burnett's strikeout rate last season was modest, but there's room for more missed bats in the future given his low-90s fastball velocity combined with a hard slider and changeup that are considered to be assets already. A 19-year-old posting a 3.02 ERA while walking 38 batters and serving up nine homers in 155 innings at low Single-A is impressive, and Burnett's low opponent's batting average shows that he's been very tough to hit even without racking up huge strikeout totals yet.

18. Danny Valencia | Third Base | DOB: 9/84 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-19

2006 RK 211 .311 .365 .505 8 21 15 34
2007 A- 271 .302 .374 .500 11 26 28 54
A+ 250 .291 .332 .422 6 16 16 48

Selected by the Twins in the 19th round of the 2006 draft despite putting up relatively modest numbers at the University of Miami, Danny Valencia skipped his senior season to begin his pro career and then immediately bested his college production by hitting .311/.365/.505 in 48 games at rookie-ball. After playing primarily first base during his pro debut, the Twins made Valencia a full-time third baseman last year and he made the jump to full-season ball by starting out at low Single-A.

He hit .302/.374/.500 with 11 homers, 26 total extra-base hits, and a 54-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 66 games to earn a midseason promotion to high Single-A. Valencia continued to hit for average at Fort Myers, batting .291 in 61 games, but saw both his power and plate discipline decline significantly. Between the two levels of Single-A he batted .297/.354/.462 with 17 homers, 42 total extra-base hits, and a 102-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 127 games.

Valencia played well in his first full season, but an experienced college hitter beating up on low-minors competition is to be expected and the deterioration of his strikeout-to-walk ratio after moving up to high Single-A is concerning. His bat will ultimately have to carry him thanks to limited defensive skills, although Valencia's long-term outlook improved by spending the entire season at third base given the organization's lack of quality options at the position.

17. Ryan Mullins | Starter | DOB: 11/83 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2005-3

2005 RK 11 11 2.18 53.2 34 4 60 13
2006 A- 27 26 3.86 156.1 157 14 139 53
2007 A+ 10 9 1.98 54.2 50 4 56 12
AA 14 14 3.99 85.2 87 5 68 23
AAA 4 4 10.57 15.1 28 2 11 5

Ryan Mullins posted a 3.12 ERA and 223-to-62 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 271.2 innings as a three-year starter at Vanderbilt University before the Twins grabbed him in the third round of the 2005 draft that has already produced Garza and Kevin Slowey. A 6-foot-6 southpaw with modest velocity, Mullins had a 2.18 ERA and 60-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53.2 innings at rookie-ball after signing and then posted a 3.86 ERA and 139-to-53 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 156.1 innings at low Single-A in 2006.

He began last year by posting a 1.98 ERA and 56-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54.2 innings at high Single-A and had a 3.99 ERA and 68-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 85.2 innings at Double-A after a midseason promotion. A second promotion followed, this time to Triple-A, but he was knocked around in four starts at Rochester. Mullins' limited stuff will likely keep him from developing into more than a mid-rotation starter, but southpaws who throw strikes and keep the ball on the ground are good bets.

Mullins induced nearly two ground balls for every fly ball last season and has served up a total of 29 homers in 365.1 career innings, including just 11 long balls in 155.2 innings between three levels last season. Between coaxing ground balls and handing out just 2.6 walks per nine innings during his career, Mullins figures to continue having success despite mediocre strikeout rates and should reach Minnesota at some point this season.

16. Brian Duensing | Starter | DOB: 2/83 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2005-3

2005 RK 12 9 2.32 50.1 49 4 55 16
2006 A- 11 11 2.94 70.1 68 3 55 14
A+ 7 7 4.24 40.1 47 4 33 8
AA 10 9 3.65 49.1 51 6 30 18
2007 AA 9 9 2.66 50.2 47 2 38 7
AAA 19 19 3.24 116.2 115 13 86 30

Brian Duensing missed nearly two seasons following Tommy John surgery while at the University of Nebraska, but returned to go 8-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 2005 before the Twins selected him in the third round of the draft that June. Duensing signed quickly and debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton, where he predictably thrived against inexperienced competition. Already 23 years old when the 2006 season began, the Twins decided to push Duensing aggressively through the system in his first full year.

He started out at low Single-A, moved up to high Single-A around midseason, and ended the year at Double-A, posting a 3.51 ERA in 159 innings between the three levels. Duensing stayed at Double-A to begin last season, posting a 2.66 ERA in nine starts, and then made 19 starts with a 3.24 ERA after a promotion to Triple-A. His rapid rise through the system and 3.25 ERA in 216.1 career innings between Double-A and Triple-A are impressive, but Duensing's secondary numbers aren't nearly as strong.

Since moving past Single-A he's managed just 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings while allowing a .262 opponent's batting average, which hint against future stardom. Those numbers certainly aren't bad and his control is good, but beyond ERAs there's little in his track record to suggest that he's capable of being more than a mid-rotation starter. Duensing is nearly MLB-ready, but he's already 25 years old and his limited upside is closer to Mullins than previous fast-rising pitchers like Garza or Slowey.

February 15, 2008


  • A new season of NBCSports.com's "Fantasy Fix" show began earlier this week and the first episode features me talking with host Tiffany Simons about star players who switched teams during the winter (you can probably guess which player we discussed first). Whereas last season I simply linked to each new episode, thanks to our new partnership with MSNBC.com I'm now able to embed the videos here for your viewing enjoyment:

    We'll be shooting one new show per week for the next month or so, but once Opening Day nears the schedule calls for two new episodes per week through the end of the season. We also have some special season preview shows planned and I'll be flying to New York next month to shoot the episodes in studio. Whether radio or video I've always greatly preferred in-studio to over-the-phone, although I'm a little worried that viewership will plummet once Tiffany isn't the only person on camera.
  • On a related note, it may be a while before pictures like this one cease making me sad.
  • Former St. Paul Pioneer Press writer and current ESPN.com columnist Jim Caple recently attended Twins fantasy camp, where he made the mistake of charging the mound on Bert Blyleven.
  • Perhaps Latrell Sprewell wasn't lying after all about that whole "I've got a family to feed" thing.
  • After noting earlier this week that Justin Morneau recently got engaged, several readers pointed out that his fiancee has a MySpace page:

    Sadly, Krista Martin hasn't accepted me as a "friend" yet.

  • Much like HBO's usual haul at the Emmys, Rotoworld recently took home a bunch of hardware at the annual Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) awards in Denver this week, winning the honors for Best Fantasy Online Service, Best Unique Contest, Best Fantasy Draft Kit, and Best Fantasy Magazine. Along with the industry leading four site-wide awards, Gregg Rosenthal was named Fantasy Football Writer of the Year.

    Gregg is responsible for first bringing me to Rotoworld back when I was still pretending to be a college student, asking me to contribute to their annual baseball magazine after reading my work in the early days of this blog. In the years since then he's become a co-worker and friend, but in addition to being one hell of a nice guy he's among the hardest-working people I've ever met. The award couldn't have gone to a more deserving person and it's great to see Rotoworld recognized within the industry.

  • Speaking of Rotoworld, my latest column over there discusses using early Average Draft Position (ADP) information to find undervalued players in the middle rounds.
  • Ashley Judd showing up at games to cheer for the University of Kentucky basketball team doesn't seem so quaint when they're getting drilled by Vanderbilt.
  • In what is no doubt her greatest accomplishment since becoming a candidate for the still-vacant Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com throne, Marisa Miller graced the cover of the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue this week. Along with a 50-photo gallery devoted entirely to Miller, SI.com also features a video of her boxing that includes some pretty ridiculous visuals and this quote: "I actually look forward to the beating now":

    Miller can't take a bad picture and the cover shot is pretty good, but this one is my favorite. Shockingly, she continues to look relatively decent with clothes on too.
  • Hopping into the wayback machine for a moment, here's an article about Livan Hernandez's rubber arm that I wrote for The Hardball Times back in June of 2005. Little did I know then that he'd steadily decline over the next two seasons before signing with the Twins.
  • Jamie Mottram left AOL Fanhouse last year to start up a new blogging empire at Yahoo! Sports and whether you like MLB, NBA, or NFL the early results are pretty strong.
  • Elisha Cuthbert's odds of reclaiming the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com title took a big hit when she cut her hair way too short and started hanging out with Paris Hilton, but her stock is slowing beginning to rise again. On the other hand, she recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and I can't decide if she was actually cute and charming or boring and just really good looking.
  • Speaking of hanging out with Hilton, John Mayer thankfully used his D.A.R.E. training to just say no.
  • Sure, my own school's student newspaper wouldn't have me, but at least the University of Dallas' version is willing to throw me a bone.
  • Wade Townsend starred at Rice University and was the eighth overall pick in both the 2004 and 2005 drafts, but hasn't been the same since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2005. Fortunately he may have a second career to fall back on after recently winning a World Series of Poker circuit event worth $77,042.
  • A new blog to check out: MN Sports Chat.
  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Alexi Murdoch doing an acoustic, solo version of "Orange Sky":

  • February 14, 2008

    Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

    Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 26-30, 31-35, 36-40

    25. Angel Morales | Center Field | DOB: 11/89 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2007-3

    2007 RK 143 .256 .357 .405 2 11 12 44

    After stockpiling young arms with extremely pitching-heavy drafts for most of the past decade, the Twins selected high-school position players with each of their first four picks last June. Puerto Rican center fielder Angel Morales was the third of those four choices, signing for $235,000 and reporting to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he slid over to right field because of the presence of speedy first rounder Ben Revere in center.

    Considered a good all-around athlete and a strong defender in center field with an outstanding arm, most of the draft-day questions surrounding Morales centered on his inconsistent and raw approach at the plate. Morales' pro debut saw him strike out in 31 percent of his plate appearances, which is an alarmingly high rate, but he also showed decent plate discipline and solid gap power while stealing 11 bases in 38 games as a 17-year-old playing in a very tough environment for offense.

    Morales is very much a work in progress, but the skills are certainly there for him to develop into an impact player and his debut was a promising one all things considered. He may have to lag behind Revere as they travel up the organizational ladder simply to get consistent reps in center field, which is fine given that Morales is 18 months younger and a much less refined player at this point. He's a long way from the majors, but Morales is worth watching.

    24. Paul Kelly | Shortstop | DOB: 10/86 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2005-2

    2005 RK 165 .277 .358 .365 2 8 14 36
    2006 A- 423 .280 .352 .384 3 29 32 60

    Taken out of a Texas high school by the Twins in the second round of the 2005 draft, Paul Kelly hit .277/.358/.365 in 40 games in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League after signing. He moved up to low Single-A in 2006 and batted .280/.352/.384 in a pitcher-friendly environment before a knee injury cut his first full season short after 95 games. Initially expected to make a full recovery in time for 2007, Kelly instead missed essentially the entire season, playing in just two games.

    At 21 years old Kelly is still young enough to make up for the lost development time, but a knee injury that ends one season and wipes out another is a big concern for a shortstop whose bat may not be an asset much further down the defensive spectrum. He showed league-average power during his first two pro seasons, which is good for a player who was young for the level of competition, but most of that was gap power and he doesn't project as much more than a 10-homer threat.

    A high-school pitcher, Kelly boasts one of the organization's strongest arms and was considered a solid defensive shortstop before the injury, but knee problems could change that. Kelly's glove will ultimately determine the bulk of his value, but he has the on-base skills and doubles power to become a more capable hitter than his raw numbers suggest. Of course, he'll have to get back on the field and stay healthy first, which is why this season figures to reveal a lot about Kelly's long-term outlook.

    23. Yohan Pino | Starter | DOB: 12/83 | Throws: Right | Sign: Venezuela

    2005 RK 12 12 3.72 67.2 68 3 64 13
    2006 A- 42 7 1.91 94.0 69 4 99 20
    2007 A+ 19 9 1.73 67.2 47 2 64 17
    AA 9 8 5.13 47.1 57 6 40 9

    Despite little fan fare and a fastball that doesn't crack 90 miles per hour, Yohan Pino has consistently put up excellent numbers since being signed out of Venezuela in 2004. After a strong showing in the rookie-level Appalachian League in 2005, Pino made his full-season debut in 2006 and went 14-2 with a 1.91 ERA, 99-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .198 opponent's batting average in 94 innings at low Single-A before going 6-0 with a 1.67 ERA in the Venezuelan winter league.

    He continued to compile ridiculous numbers after moving up to high Single-A last season, posting a 1.73 ERA, 64-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .192 opponent's batting average in 67.2 innings to earn a midseason promotion to Double-A. He struggled there for the first time as a pro, but even with a 5.13 ERA managed a fantastic 40-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 47.1 innings, showing that he was anything but overmatched.

    Pino's raw stuff has never matched his on-field results and the Twins have been naturally skeptical of his success, repeatedly shifting him back and forth between the rotation and bullpen. He now has a 2.86 ERA, 267-to-59 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and just 15 homers allowed in 276.2 career innings, and at some point performance should take precedence over velocity. He won't be handed any opportunities, but Pino will be tough to ignore if he can put together a strong showing at Double-A in 2008.

    22. Mike McCardell | Starter | DOB: 4/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2007-6

    2007 RK 12 10 2.14 63.0 40 5 95 8

    A two-way college star at Division II Kutztown University, Mike McCardell hit .367 with a .570 slugging percentage and posted a 2.30 ERA, 173-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .176 opponent's batting average in 137 innings during his final two seasons. The Twins liked him more as a pitcher when they selected him in the sixth round of June's draft and McCardell made them look smart by dominating at two levels of rookie-ball after signing.

    A big, 6-foot-6 right-hander with a low-90s fastball who split time between the rotation and bullpen in college, McCardell went 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA and amazing 95-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 63 innings as a starter during his pro debut. His numbers are sure to come down to earth as he faces more experienced competition, but the Twins had success in the past uncovering a small-college standout who produced exceptional numbers without overpowering stuff.

    That's obviously not to suggest that McCardell will automatically follow in Kevin Slowey's footsteps by emerging as a top-notch prospect, because there are certainly plenty of small-college gems whose success doesn't translate to the pros. However, the possibility definitely exists, the Twins have a decent eye for such pitchers, and he's off to a good start. This season will be key for McCardell, who figures to begin the year at Single-A and could move quickly through the Twins' system.

    21. Brock Peterson | First Base | DOB: 11/83 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2002-49

    2005 A+ 485 .250 .332 .401 12 35 46 102
    2006 A+ 500 .291 .356 .497 21 46 40 93
    2007 AA 455 .285 .382 .476 15 40 44 90

    A Washington high schooler who was picked by the Twins in the 49th round of the 2002 draft, Brock Peterson began his pro career in 2003 as a third baseman and struggled defensively while hitting .290/.404/.473 in 61 rookie-ball games. He switched to first base and moved up to low Single-A in 2004, but hit just .256/.337/.348 in 124 games. Promoted to high Single-A the next season, Peterson hit just .250/.332/.401 in 119 games and was asked to remain at Fort Myers in 2005.

    He responded to repeating the level by putting together a breakout season, batting .291/.356/.497 with 21 homers, 56 total extra-base hits, and a 93-to-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 121 games. After topping the league-wide OPS by over 150 points in an extremely pitcher-friendly environment, Peterson showed that it was no fluke by moving up to Double-A last season and hitting .285/.382/.476 with 15 homers, 40 total extra-base hits, and a 90-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 112 games.

    Peterson tends to get overlooked despite being one of the most productive hitters in the organization over the past two seasons. Still just 24 years old despite never receiving an in-season promotion and repeating a level, he's arguably the best bet to potentially become an impact bat that the Twins have in the upper minors, but has no clear path to an everyday gig in the majors with Justin Morneau, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel seemingly all around for the long term.

    February 12, 2008

    Twins Sign Livan Hernandez

    Faced with the possibility of an entirely 26-and-under rotation following the trade of Johan Santana, the Twins predictably acquired a veteran starter yesterday by signing Livan Hernandez to a one-year deal worth $5 million plus $2 million in incentives. With a pair of All-Star appearances and a World Series MVP, Hernandez is a relatively big name. However, heading into his 13th big-league season he's far from the same pitcher who starred as a rookie for the Marlins during their World Series run in 1997.

    If not for coming one-third of an inning short in 1999, Hernandez would have 10 straight seasons with at least 200 innings, which is why nearly every article about the signing describes him as an "innings eater." While the label is accurate, Hernandez's innings have decreased dramatically in both quality and quantity in recent years. Since winning 15 games with a 3.20 ERA and 178-to-57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2003, Hernandez has experienced a steady and significant decline in performance:

    YEAR    GS     IP   IP/G     ERA    WHIP     OPS     SO%    BB%   K/BB
    2003 33 233 7.1 3.20 1.21 .691 18.4 5.6 3.3
    2004 35 255 7.3 3.60 1.24 .698 17.7 7.0 2.5
    2005 35 246 7.0 3.98 1.43 .770 13.8 6.6 2.1
    2006 34 216 6.4 4.83 1.50 .797 13.3 7.5 1.8
    2007 33 204 6.2 4.93 1.60 .863 9.9 8.5 1.2

    Hernandez's ERA, WHIP, OPS against, strikeout rate, and strikeout-to-walk ratio have all gotten worse in four straight seasons. During that time his ERA jumped from 3.20 to 4.93 while his OPS against rose from .691 to .863, and he lost a staggering 46 percent of his strikeouts. Over the past two years he's averaged fewer innings per start than ever before and Hernandez's control has gotten worse with age, culminating with last year's walk rate ranking as his worst since his first full season.

    And all of that took place in the NL, where pitchers bat and the overall competition has been weaker. Hernandez will now take his mid-80s fastball and rapidly declining numbers to the AL for the first time in his career and the results don't figure to be pretty. He had a tough time keeping his ERA under 5.00 in the NL over the past two seasons--allowing the most hits and second-most homers in the league last year--and even including his prime Hernandez's career mark during interleague play is 4.91.

    He's a decent bet to crack the 200-inning mark again, but only because the Twins figure to hand him the ball 33 or 34 times. His actual performance figures to be well below par. Hernandez's relatively big name and "innings eater" label are likely enough for many Twins fans to approve of the signing--and a dieting Boof Bonser surely welcomes another big-gutted hurler--but his performance last season was every bit as bad as Ramon Ortiz's performance in 2006 (the year before he signed with the Twins):

                        GS      IP      ERA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    Hernandez '07 33 204 4.93 .308 .371 .499 .863
    Ortiz '06 33 191 5.57 .297 .362 .486 .845

    Hernandez managed to post an ERA that was a half-run lower, but the .308/.371/.499 hitting line that opponents produced against him was actually slightly worse than the .297/.362/.486 mark that hitters turned in while knocking Ortiz around (although Hernandez was calling a much tougher ballpark for pitchers home). The hitting lines produced against Ortiz in 2006 and Hernandez in 2007 both look fairly similar to the career marks that Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have posted at the plate:

                    AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    Hernandez .308 .371 .499 .863
    Mauer .313 .394 .459 .853
    Ortiz .297 .362 .486 .845
    Morneau .276 .340 .498 .838

    Like Ortiz in 2006, last year Hernandez essentially turned the hitters he faced into a cross between Morneau and Mauer. Similar struggles in the year before joining the Twins aside, signing Hernandez for $5-7 million is less of a mistake than handing $3.1 million to Ortiz last season. Hernandez has been a better pitcher than Ortiz during their respective careers and even in the midst of a steady decline figures to be a better pitcher for the Twins.

    Ortiz's track record suggested that he had little chance of being even mediocre for the Twins, while Hernandez at least looks somewhat capable of potentially supplying the team with 200 innings of an ERA around 5.00. Beyond that, after trading Santana and losing both Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva to free agency the Twins had plenty of payroll room to work with, making a one-year commitment for somewhere between $5 million and $7 million less hurtful than usual.

    Of course, there are still much better ways to spend $5-7 million and despite all the usual talk of the team desperately needing a "veteran starter" the Twins had no shortage of rotation options between Bonser, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Nick Blackburn, and Philip Humber, not to mention guys like Zach Day, Kevin Mulvey, Brian Duensing, Brian Bass, Ryan Mullins, Anthony Swarzak, Oswaldo Sosa, and Kyle Waldrop (among others) as backup plans.

    The Twins have succeeded because of young talent and have often won in spite of their annual pursuit of veteran mediocrity. Signing guys like Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, Tony Batista, and Juan Castro had little benefit and wasted money, hurt the team, and held back better, younger players. Rather than pay $5-7 million for a five-something ERA while the rotation at Triple-A Rochester dominates the International League, the Twins could have trusted their stockpile of young arms while using that money elsewhere.

    Hernandez's salary would go a long way toward draft and international bonuses, where frugality has lessened the Twins' ability to acquire high-end prospects. An extra $5-7 million may not mean anything this season, but it could be a big help come 2010 and using that money to ink players to long-term contracts before then is another superior option. With that said, given as much as $25 million in payroll room following key departures the Twins no doubt felt pressure to spend money immediately.

    Throwing $5-7 million at a formerly good pitcher who'll struggle to keep his ERA below 5.00 is far from a disaster and Hernandez's durability certainly carries some value, but if ever there was a time to trust young talent and avoid wasting money on veteran mediocrity this season was seemingly it. Young and unproven are not synonymous with bad, and the Twins had more than enough quality rotation options to get through the season without paying Hernandez $200,000 per start.

    A rotation headed by Liriano, Baker, Bonser, and Slowey, with Humber, Perkins, Blackburn, and others taking their turns would have been plenty effective and there's an argument to be made for there being value in letting everyone gain experience and take lumps together in a rebuilding year. On the other hand, there's also an argument for many of those pitchers benefiting from additional seasoning in the minors or bullpen, and delaying service-time clocks will allow the Twins to control them longer.

    Beyond that, it's possible that Hernandez could fetch a decent prospect in a midyear trade or barring that garner a supplemental first-round draft pick after the season if he's again ranked as a Type B free agent. Both on the field and off the field Hernandez is not without value and overpaying for veteran mediocrity is much more palatable this season, but like with Craig Monroe's $3.82 million deal there were perhaps better ways to spend money that's apparently burning a hole in the team's pocket.

    February 10, 2008

    Twins Notes: Wedding Bells, 20 Pounds, and Scary Stuff

  • In addition to his new six-year, $80 million contract extension, Justin Morneau recently revealed that he's engaged to "a Minnesota girl" named Krista Martin, who he's been dating since mid-2006. Martin has played a part in this blog's increased readership without even knowing it, because thousands of people have arrived here while looking for information about her on various search engines. Here's a picture of the future newlyweds:

    And just so that those new readers arriving here by way of Google and Yahoo! don't leave tremendously disappointed, here's a picture of Martin sans shades:

    This concludes the "Aaron pretends to be C.J." portion of today's entry.

  • Trading Johan Santana to the Mets was far from ideal for the Twins, but it's essentially the perfect fit for Santana. He joins a perennial contender in a weaker league where he'll face pitchers instead of designated hitters, now calls one of MLB's most consistently pitcher-friendly ballparks home, should receive much-improved offensive support from a lineup that includes multiple MVP-caliber hitters, and will get a chance to put his own solid hitting ability to work.

    Thanks to interleague play, Santana threw 182.2 innings against National League teams while with the Twins. He went 16-4 with a 2.27 ERA, 191-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .187 opponent's batting average while hitting .258/.281/.355. There's an awful lot of room for Santana to ultimately be viewed as a disappointment in New York given the tremendous hype and massive long-term contract, but he's in position to put together some amazing numbers for the Mets over the next few seasons.

  • Twins management asked Boof Bonser to lose weight this winter following a disappointing season that included questions about his in-game stamina and to his credit Bonser has reportedly lost about 20 pounds. Kelly Thesier of MLB.com noted last month at TwinsFest that "Bonser's clothes now seem to hang off him," but since 20 pounds likely only represented about six or seven percent of his total weight last season it's more of a step in the right direction than some sort of life-altering amount.

    Whatever the case, with Santana gone the Twins are counting on Bonser to provide some stability in the rotation given that his 48 career starts are tied with Scott Baker for the most on the staff. Compared to his rookie season Bonser lost 12 percent of his strikeouts and handed out 50 percent more walks last year, but also did a better job keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark. There's no doubt that Bonser struggled, but his 4.60 xFIP suggests that he pitched better than his ugly 5.10 ERA shows.

  • When the Twins traded for Craig Monroe earlier this offseason and then signed him to a one-year deal worth $3.82 million plus incentives, my criticism of the move was two-fold. First, he simply isn't very good at this point. Second, he's vastly overpaid compared to similar players. The "simply isn't very good" part was clear immediately because of Monroe's .219/.268/.370 hitting line last season and .254/.300/.439 mark over the past three years combined.

    It took a couple months for the "vastly overpaid compared to similar players" part to become clear, but sure enough Monroe's salary predictably sticks out like a sore thumb now that numerous other veteran, platoon-caliber bats have settled for low-paying jobs or are still attempting to latch on somewhere with minor-league contracts despite just days remaining until spring training. Compare Monroe's salary and production over the past three years to some similar players who were available to the Twins:

                            OVERALL          vs LEFTIES          SALARY
    Craig Monroe .254/.300/.439 .281/.332/.481 $3.82 million

    Emil Brown .279/.340/.428 .289/.353/.488 $1.45 million
    Tony Clark .266/.332/.546 .269/.357/.462 $900,000
    Bobby Kielty .260/.335/.399 .313/.372/.494 $800,000
    Kevin Mench .266/.318/.445 .305/.361/.558 Minor-league deal
    Mike Sweeney .279/.339/.467 .283/.358/.478 Minor-league deal
    Craig Wilson .248/.338/.420 .266/.368/.445 Minor-league deal
    Morgan Ensberg .255/.375/.490 .270/.409/.541 Minor-league deal

    Over the past three seasons all seven of the above players have hit better than Monroe both overall and against left-handers, often by wide margins. Despite that, unless the Twins cut Monroe next month and eat $600,000, he'll make more than the guaranteed money in all seven contracts combined. In other words, the Twins could have signed all seven of those guys for less of a commitment than they'll likely end up making to Monroe, who's been the least productive player in the entire group since 2005.

  • Rick Aguilera grabbed the No. 18 spot in my ongoing Top 40 Minnesota Twins series and now he's been elected as the 19th member of the team's Hall of Fame.
  • Shortly after the Twins traded for Delmon Young in November, Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III wrote an article in which he quoted an unnamed scout who "compared him to Frank Robinson." Then a couple weeks ago LEN3 discussed telling Rod Carew about that same scout's previous Young-Robinson comparison during a conversation they had at TwinsFest. Carew replied that he'd "heard the same thing about his potential."

    Carew has forgotten more about hitting than I'll ever know and part of LEN3's job is passing along information that sources have told him about players, but repeatedly suggesting that Young can be compared to Robinson is a pretty clear case of team-friendly spin and it's something that some fans have already begun repeating as dogma. Meanwhile, compare the actual numbers from Young and Robinson through the age of 21:

                  G      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+    HR     K/BB
    Robinson 302 .307 .378 .543 139 67 1.73
    Young 192 .293 .319 .419 94 16 5.59

    As you can see, there's absolutely no comparison. Robinson was already a Hall of Fame-caliber player through the age of 21, batting .307/.378/.543 in an extremely low-scoring era to rank as one of the elite hitters in baseball. He smacked 67 homers, controlled the strike zone well with just 1.73 strikeouts for every walk, ranked among the league leaders in most offensive categories, and made two All-Star teams with a pair of top-10 MVP finishes.

    Meanwhile, through the same age Young has hit just 16 homers in 192 games while showing poor plate discipline and striking out 5.5 times for every walk, producing a measly .319 on-base percentage and .419 slugging percentage that makes him a below-average hitter. Many smart people believe that Young has the potential to become a great hitter, but Robinson was already a great hitter at Young's age and any comparison between them is based on something other than actual performance.

  • Ron Gardenhire remains irrationally terrified of a mid-game injury potentially causing the Twins to lose the designated hitter on days when both Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond are in the starting lineup:

    Those situations where last year, where we had Mauer DHing and Redmond catching, those are scary stuff. So, you know what, you can put a situation where if you catch Redmond, you DH Morneau to give him a break, and play Joe at first base a day or two, that would be wonderful, probably for his legs and probably for Morneau's.

    Gardenhire has repeatedly talked about his phobia of that scenario over the years and the Twins lost talented young players in order to misguidedly keep Chris Heintz on the roster as a third-string catcher solely to avoid that situation, but being forced to play by NL rules for a few innings is hardly "scary stuff." There are far worse things, like having Heintz on the roster or keeping Mauer on the bench to avoid a situation that rarely occurs and is perfectly manageable when it does.

  • Phil Miller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Jesse Crain "is ready for spring training as he normally would be" after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in May. "I'm throwing five times a week," Crain said. "I do two bullpens two times a week, and everything is fine. No pain at all." Crain has made great progress, but a torn labrum and rotator cuff is just about the worst possible combination for a pitcher, making him far from a sure thing to return at full strength. So far, so good.
  • Former Official Whipping Boy of AG.com Luis Rivas--who has gotten a grand total of 11 at-bats in the big leagues since mercifully being let go by the Twins in 2005--recently signed a minor-league contract with the Pirates.

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