October 26, 2008

Twins Notes: Outrights and Throwing Strikes

  • Bill Smith and company cleared some space on the 40-man roster over the weekend, sending Julio DePaula, Oswaldo Sosa, Sergio Santos, and Ryan Jorgensen outright to Triple-A. That means all four players passed through waivers unclaimed, allowing the Twins to retain them in the organization while removing them from the 40-man roster. Sosa is the most surprising name on the list, because not so long ago he was considered one of the Twins' better pitching prospects.

    Sosa placed No. 9 in my ranking of the Twins' top prospects in 2007 and was No. 12 heading into this season, but had a tremendously disappointing season between high Single-A and Double-A, posting a 5.66 ERA and 80-to-75 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 105 innings. He's still just 23 years old and one bad season doesn't completely wipe away his potential, but Sosa's stock has dropped significantly and any possible MLB future may now be in the bullpen after he was initially viewed as a long-term starter.

    As a ground-ball machine with strong minor-league numbers DePaula once looked like an intriguing reliever prospect, but he was awful during a 20-inning stint with the Twins in 2007 and then fell apart at Triple-A this year, posting a 5.70 ERA and 65-to-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 77.1 innings after thriving at Rochester the previous season. DePaula may still turn things around enough to be a viable middle reliever in the majors, but at 26 years old he's running out of time.

    Santos is a former first-round pick who the Twins claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in mid-May, but he hit an execrable .228/.266/.341 in 112 games at Triple-A and now sports a .248/.304/.393 hitting line in seven minor-league seasons. Jorgensen is standard Triple-A filler who got a September call-up to act as the Twins' third catcher due to Jose Morales' injury. Like Chris Heintz and Corky Miller before him Jorgensen can be easily replaced and had no real business on a 40-man roster to begin with.

  • When longtime minor league pitching coordinator Rick Knapp left the Twins last week to become the Tigers' pitching coach my take was that "it's tough to say how much of a loss Knapp represents considering how little media coverage is given to the non-MLB members of the organization." John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press recently asked Matt Garza to shed some light on Knapp's contributions to the Twins:

    I'm excited for Rick, he deserves the job with the Tigers. He's been the Twins' pitching coordinator for the last 11-12 years, and all he did was run pitchers through there and get them on a good plan. That's why the Twins are where they are right now. They wouldn't be there without him running that minor league pitching staff.

    His big thing is throwing strikes. He wants you to be able to throw any pitch in any count for a strike. That's his philosophy. Rick sticks to the process. He's going to do a very good job with the Tigers. He's a good dude.

    Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson rightfully gets a ton of credit for the pitching staff annually ranking among the MLB leaders in fewest walks, but rarely does a young pitcher arrive in Minnesota with sub par control. Much of that is due to the Twins drafting pitchers who display good control in high school or college, but clearly the minor-league system and development philosophy play huge parts. Fort Myers pitching coach Eric Rasmussen has been named as Knapp's replacement.

  • On related note, Kevin Slowey issued fewer walks per nine innings than any pitcher in baseball this year, but delving a little deeper into his stats shows especially ridiculous control versus right-handed hitters. He faced 344 right-handed batters and handed out a grand total of three walks while striking out 57 and allowing a .246/.254/.383 line. Not only did his ratio of 19 strikeouts per walk versus righties lead baseball, the next-best mark was Mike Mussina at 8.3-to-1 and no other starter was above 7-to-1.

    Of course, the flip side is that Slowey's strikeout-to-walk ratio in 309 plate appearances versus lefties was "only" 66-to-21 and they hit .277/.330/.502 off him. Slowey's approach works extremely well against righties, but it'll be interesting to see if he starts using his changeup more often in an effort to neutralize lefties. He threw a changeup 7.8 percent of the time this year, which ranked 52nd among 89 pitchers who logged at least 160 innings (sandwiched between Matt Garza at 7.9 and Scott Baker at 7.3).

    Cincinnati right-hander Edinson Volquez led baseball by throwing a changeup 31.9 percent of the time, and interestingly was nearly as effective against lefties (.249/.342/.358) as righties (.214/.316/.344). If you're curious, Johan Santana ranked third with 28.7 percent changeups and Brad Radke tossed 17.4 percent changeups during his final two years (detailed pitch data isn't available before that). As a team, the Twins threw the seventh-fewest changeups in MLB, so a big increase for Slowey might be unlikely.

  • In recapping June's draft, Baseball America named Michael Tonkin the Twins' "best late-round pick" and offered this interesting report on the 30th-round selection:

    Tonkin, whom the Twins signed away from Southern California for $230,000, is the brother-in-law of Twins OF/DH Jason Kubel. Tonkin is projectable at 6-foot-6 and has shown velocity, reaching 94 mph, and usable secondary stuff, including a changeup with armside run and sink. He needs strength and consistency.

    It doesn't make any sense, but for some reason the notion of Jason Kubel having a sister amuses me.

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

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