March 22, 2012

Twins demote $14.5 million flop Tsuyoshi Nishioka to Triple-A

This time last spring there was genuine excitement surrounding Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but one year, one broken leg, and 68 terrible games later the Twins demoted their $14.5 million investment to Triple-A. Nishioka was a colossal failure and reportedly showed no signs of improvement early in camp, but I'm still surprised that the Twins demoted him as part of the second round of cuts and did so without an obvious in-house utility infielder alternative.

Expectations for Nishioka were inflated by winning the Japanese batting title in 2010 with a .346 average, but that was fueled by an unsustainable .395 mark on balls in play and his prior track record wasn't nearly as impressive. With that said, based on his career numbers my "optimistic" projection for Nishioka was .275/.335/.375 and as a 26-year-old Gold Glove winner at both shortstop and second base he seemed likely to be a mediocre regular at worst.

Instead he was simply the worst, hitting .226/.278/.249 with horrible defense that included no idea how to turn a double play as a second baseman and not enough arm strength to make routine plays as a shortstop. In retrospect it's hard to fathom how the Twins could have scouted him extensively and concluded that he was worth $14.5 million, and that mistake was compounded by trading J.J. Hardy for pennies on the dollar to make room for Nishioka.

In addition to a fluky batting average Nishioka's lack of power, questionable arm strength, and the fact that Kaz Matsui was an awful shortstop despite winning multiple Gold Glove awards in Japan were all obvious red flags for his transition to the majors. However, at the time my problem with the Hardy-for-Nishioka swap was far more about misguidedly dumping Hardy than about signing Nishioka to what seemed like a fairly reasonable, albeit risky, deal.

Of course, those decisions can't be undone and the $14.5 million is a sunk cost, so sending Nishioka to the minors makes sense whether the Twins think he still has a chance to be a useful role player or they simply don't want anything to do with him. Either way he'll get plenty of playing time at various positions in Rochester while making $3 million and the Twins owe him another $3 million for 2013, plus a $250,000 buyout of a $4 million option for 2014.

As for who'll take Nishioka's place on the roster, assuming the Twins carry 12 pitchers that leaves just four bench spots and three of them are reserved for Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, and either Drew Butera or J.R. Towles. Plouffe played shortstop for seven seasons in the minors, but was so bad there as a rookie that the Twins are committed to using him strictly in the outfield. Hughes is a poor defender at second base who has no business at shortstop.

All of which means the Twins need someone capable of playing shortstop for that final bench spot, although it's possible they could treat starting second baseman Alexi Casilla as the de facto backup shortstop behind Jamey Carroll and then use Hughes at second base whenever Casilla is needed at shortstop. That could work, at least in the short term, although when your starting shortstop is 38 years old having a true backup on the roster seems like a better idea.

Brian Dozier is the only decent upper-minors middle infield prospect in the entire system and the Twins haven't been shy about talking him up, but he's yet to play an inning at Triple-A and has just 78 games above Single-A. Dozier is already old for a prospect at 25, so furthering his development and suppressing his service time perhaps aren't as important as usual, but it would certainly be very uncharacteristic for the Twins to call him up to fill a part-time role.

Instead the better plan would be to let Dozier spend two months at Triple-A while the Twins find out if they're contenders and give the final bench spot to a true utility infielder who can handle shortstop defensively and is more suited for sporadic playing time as a backup. Ideally the Twins should have a few in-house options who fit that description, but Pedro Florimon and Michael Hollimon are probably the closest fits and neither warrants a big-league job.

Typically near the end of spring training teams try to pass players through waivers while setting their 40-man roster and making decisions on non-roster invitees, so the Twins should be able to snag a decent utility man off waivers or acquire one in a minor trade. It's not a role that requires much beyond a solid glove, so I'd let a a non-prospect keep the spot warm while Dozier hopefully thrives in Rochester, where his double-play partner would be ... Nishioka.

March 20, 2012

“Gleeman and The Geek” #33: Nishi, Baker, and Bullpen Ace-Makers

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" was recorded at Wild Boar in Hopkins and we had multiple beers of choice. Topics included Tsuyoshi Nishioka's demotion to Triple-A, Scott Baker's elbow problems and potential rotation replacements, Justin Morneau's latest health issues, what to make of spring training performances, why optimistic injury updates often aren't worth a damn, remembering Brad Radke, and pimping myself out to Hormel.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 33

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

March 19, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

15. Madison Boer | Reliever | DOB: 12/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2011-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     RK+    15      0     2.60      17.1      13      1      31      2
         A-      8      0     6.75       8.0      12      0      12      1

During the previous 11 drafts the Twins used a first-round pick or supplemental first-round pick on a college pitcher 10 times and took at least one college pitcher within the first 75 picks each year but 2001, 2006, and 2007. Last year Madison Boer was their first college pitcher at No. 87 overall after the 6-foot-4 right-hander from Eden Prairie had a 2.27 ERA, .234 opponents' batting average, and 74-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 99 innings as a junior at Oregon.

Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that Boer worked in the low-90s as a starter, but also spent time in the bullpen and was clocked as high as 96 miles per hour as a reliever. After signing for $405,000 he debuted at rookie-level Elizabethon and was quickly promoted to low Single-A Beloit, working exclusively as a reliever while combining to throw 25 innings with a 3.91 ERA and absurd 43-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Experienced college pitchers dominating low-level competition is par for the course in the Twins' farm system, so Boer's performance this year will be much more telling. For now the Twins plan to give him an opportunity as a starter, where Boer projects as a potential mid-rotation option, but his early success and increased velocity as a reliever suggest his fastball-slider combo might find a more impactful long-term home in the bullpen.

14. Hudson Boyd | Starter | DOB: 10/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2011-1

Selected out of a Florida high school with the No. 55 overall pick in last year's draft that the Twins received as compensation for losing Jesse Crain as a free agent and signed away from the University of Florida for a $1 million bonus just before the deadline, Hudson Boyd was the first high school pitcher taken by the Twins with a first-round pick or supplemental first-round pick since Kyle Waldrop in 2004.

Boyd was part of the Twins' ongoing but thus far very inconsistent effort to add "power arms" to the organization, as Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report compared him to Jonathan Broxton and Bartolo Colon for mid-90s heat as much as a 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame. He signed too late to debut last season and figures to begin his professional career as a rookie-ball starter.

Without even throwing a professional pitch yet Boyd immediately becomes one of the highest-upside pitchers in the Twins' entire organization and his path to the big leagues could speed up considerably if he's eventually shifted to the bullpen. Whatever the case, he's certainly an against-type pick by the Twins and a prospect who could be much higher on this same list next year.

13. Travis Harrison | Third Base | DOB: 10/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2011-1

Last year the Twins used the supplemental first-round pick they received as compensation for losing Orlando Hudson as a free agent to select high school slugger Travis Harrison, a third baseman who became the first high school position player they've taken in the first round for his bat more than his tools since Chris Parmelee in 2006. Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that Harrison "easily rates as the best high school bat" in California.

He was already 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds at age 18, so while Harrison was a third baseman in high school he could wind up shifting across the diamond or to an outfield corner. Jonathan Mayo said during MLB Network's draft coverage that Harrison has impressive power potential, but there are questions about his approach at the plate. Baseball America's take was similar, noting his "above-average power potential" but also his difficulty "adjusting to breaking balls."

For an organization largely devoid of power-hitting prospects after years of focusing on speed and athleticism in the draft a right-handed-hitting corner infielder with plenty of pop in his bat was certainly a welcome addition. Twins scouting director Deron Johnson called Harrison "the best bat left on the board" with the 50th pick and they signed him away from USC for a $1.05 million bonus shortly before the August 15 deadline, meaning he'll debut this season.

12. Chris Parmelee | First Base | DOB: 2/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     A+     501     .258     .359     .441     16     44     65    109
2010     A+      93     .338     .430     .463      2      5     13     11
         AA     463     .275     .341     .389      6     33     43     70
2011     AA     610     .287     .366     .436     13     48     68     94
         MLB     88     .355     .443     .592      4     10     12     13

Chris Parmelee was the 20th overall pick in the 2006 draft and through his first four seasons was a rare Twins prospect with power and plate discipline. He also struck out a ton and batted just .250, so two years ago the Twins overhauled his approach at the plate to sacrifice homers and walks for contact and singles. He went from hitting .250 with a .200 Isolated Power and 26 percent strikeouts to hitting .285 with a .135 Isolated Power and 15 percent strikeouts.

That change is dramatic and no doubt raised his stock within the organization, but Parmelee's overall production remained mediocre and a first baseman slugging just .416 with 19 homers in 253 games at Double-A isn't encouraging. However, when pressed into action by the Twins' numerous injuries and promoted from Double-A to the big leagues in September he hit .355 with four homers, six doubles, and nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (13) in 21 games.

Parmelee looked great in September, showing power and patience and just about everything else you'd want to see from a 23-year-old, but 21 impressive games in the majors don't wipe away 653 underwhelming games in the minors and there are plenty of questions about him being more than an adequate regular. Parmelee has yet to play at Triple-A, so he'll likely begin this season in Rochester while the Twins find out if Justin Morneau can stay in the lineup.

11. Adrian Salcedo | Starter | DOB: 4/91 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK-    11     10     1.46      61.2      60      1      58      3
2010     RK+    16      8     3.27      66.0      55      3      65     10
         A+      6      6     6.26      27.1      42      3      16      8
2011     A-     29     20     2.93     135.0     131      4      92     27

Adrian Salcedo has been pounding the strike zone since the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2007, walking just 56 batters in 355 innings despite generally being young for the level of competition. That alone is enough to make him a solid prospect, particularly since his raw stuff features a low-90s fastball, but Salcedo's upside is in question because his strikeouts have vanished.

He had 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings in rookie-ball, but has managed just 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings at Single-A. That includes 92 strikeouts in 135 innings at low Single-A last season, which is the only thing that keeps his 2.93 ERA for Beloit as a 20-year-old from being extremely impressive. Salcedo didn't miss many bats, but he issued just 1.8 walks per nine innings and served up only four homers in 562 plate appearances.

Salcedo is 6-foot-4 and skinny, throws relatively hard already, and gets praise for his solid off-speed stuff, so there's reason to be optimistic about him adding a couple more miles per hour while upping his strikeout rate. If that happens he has No. 2 starter potential, but barring that he looks like a future mid-rotation starter who fits the Twins' preferred pitching mold perfectly.

March 16, 2012

Link-O-Rama

Ricky Rubio is adorable, with or without a functioning ACL.

Try as she might, Mila Kunis is in no danger of losing Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com status.

• My theory is that they didn't know what to do with 1,200 crumpled one-dollar bills.

• I've always wondered about the origins of my last name and this obviously fits.

Glen Perkins signed a $10 million contract extension and met Elton John.

Pamela Hill Nettleton was one my favorite professors (and people, period) at the University of Minnesota, so it's not surprising that she raised a helluva son.

• I was really getting into Luck on HBO, so this is unfortunate on multiple levels.

• As a television junkie, the history and process of naming shows is fascinating and weird.

• Not only did I drive all the way to Uptown for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode, I parallel parked for the first time since I used to regularly go to a dentist on Grand Avenue in 1999. Seriously, so you better listen.

• My trek to Uptown was so out of character that it spawned an amusing Twitter hashtag.

Gerald Green returned to the NBA with one of the best in-game dunks you'll ever see:

It seems like a decade since he disappointed with the Timberwolves, but Green is only 26.

Merrill Markoe describes why I always attend blogger get-togethers, but rarely plan them.

• Shockingly, it turns out that eight-pound hamburgers named after people with reconstructed elbows are really, really bad for you.

• Just in case you thought the Dodgers' ownership situation couldn't get any crazier.

• Lifelong residents know "Minnesota Nice" often equals "Minnesota Passive Aggressive."

• My blog-mate Craig Calcaterra wrote an interesting post about why access in sports writing isn't as important as what you actually do with the access.

Ozzie Guillen got his first ejection as Marlins manager out of the way early.

• As always any mention of being a John Mayer fan opens me up for mockery, but this is sad.

David Ortiz's life should be hosted by Maury Povich.

• Last week I wrote about eating Hormel "natural choice" chicken on a regular basis while losing 150 pounds in one year and then this showed up on my doorstep:

I talked about buying a new car for months without getting a freebie, but I'll certainly take it.

• On a related note, people are actually using my recipes.

• My first thought upon reading this story? It makes me feel better about buying a Honda Fit.

• My longtime boss was named to Sports Business Journal's annual "40 Under 40" list.

• New manager Robin Ventura won't have to watch that clip of Nolan Ryan beating him up when the White Sox are in the Texas.

• I finally saw The Descendants. It wasn't bad and I'm a big George Clooney fan, but it's easily one of the most overrated movies I've ever seen.

• I've never not enjoyed Harris Wittels on a podcast and his appearance on "Who Charted?" with Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack is no exception.

• My latest podcast subscription: "Stop Podcasting Yourself" with Graham Clark and Dave Shumka. Their recent episode with the aforementioned Vilaysack is a good place to start.

• If you liked the new "Gleeman and The Geek" theme song, check out the band responsible.

• Thanks to Jay Boller for the kind words and for including me in such good company.

• Finally, in honor of Perkins' new best friend this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Amoreena" by Sir Elton:

March 15, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

20. Chris Herrmann | Catcher | DOB: 10/87 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2009-6

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     RK+    277     .297     .391     .453      7     22     33     40
2010     A+     408     .219     .310     .301      2     22     41     74
2011     A+     106     .310     .404     .425      1      7     15      6
         AA     406     .258     .380     .392      7     26     64     68

Chris Herrmann played mostly left field at the University of Miami and stayed in the outfield to begin his professional career, but the 2009 sixth-round pick has since moved behind the plate while showing enough to possibly stick at catcher long term. He's still rough around the edges defensively at age 24, totaling 11 errors and seven passed balls in 108 games, but Herrmann has also thrown out 37 percent of steal attempts.

He's not quite a full-time catcher, seeing about half of his action last year as a corner outfielder and designated hitter, but even as a part-time catcher with some question marks defensively Herrmann is the closest thing the Twins have to a decent prospect at the position. Offensively his primary skill is fantastic plate discipline, as Herrmann tied for the system lead with 79 walks in 121 games between high Single-A and Double-A last year while striking out only 74 times.

Unfortunately he also batted just .269 and is a career .258 hitter with just 17 home runs and a .377 slugging percentage in 287 games. As a full-time catcher with sound defensive skills the walk-drawing alone could be enough to make him a starting-caliber all-around player, but if instead Herrmann ends up as a defensively challenged part-time catcher and part-time corner outfielder the bar will be raised enough offensively that he'll need to add some power.

19. Corey Williams | Reliever | DOB: 7/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2011-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     RK+     7      0     3.86      11.2      12      0      11      5

As a Vanderbilt freshman Corey Williams made a name for himself on YouTube with a clip that's been viewed a half-million times showing him taking a line drive off the leg and recovering to get the out at first base before writhing in pain with what turned out to be a shattered kneecap. And if watching someone's kneecap explode on the field isn't enough, the X-rays are equally cringe-inducing.

Williams recovered from the gruesome injury but wasn't effective as a sophomore, throwing 38 innings with a 4.49 ERA and 37-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a reliever, but the Twins picked the left-hander in the third-round on the basis of his mid-90s fastball. And according to Baseball America he may have gone even earlier if not for the assumption he'd be a tough sign, which is why the Twins had to spend double the recommended slot amount with a $575,000 bonus.

He debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton with a 3.86 ERA and 11-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12 innings. Between college and the minors he's thrown just 67 innings during the past three years, so staying healthy and getting some consistent work should be the primary goal for Williams in 2012. He has the raw stuff to move pretty quickly through the system if the Twins keep him as a reliever.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     A-     418     .266     .329     .455     13     40     30    104
2010     A-     247     .289     .381     .474      4     24     24     65
         A+     301     .272     .347     .349      1     15     28     75
2011     A+     138     .264     .326     .388      3      9     13     36

Angel Morales was the Twins' third-round pick out of Puerto Rico in 2007 and emerged as one of their top prospects by showing an impressive power-speed combo in the low minors. He was a rookie-ball monster in 2008, hitting .301/.413/.623 in 54 games, and then slugged .455 at low Single-A as a 19-year-old. His power disappeared in 2010, but Morales hit .280 with a .362 on-base percentage while improving his plate discipline between two levels of Single-A.

Even while he was thriving as a young center fielder in the low minors Morales' high strikeout rates stood out as a potential red flag, but it was injuries that did him in last season. He repeated high Single-A and missed all but 37 games with an elbow injury, struggling when in Fort Myers' lineup and then going unpicked in the Rule 5 draft when the Twins opted against protecting him with a 40-man roster spot.

Morales is still just 22 years old, so if healthy he's capable of re-emerging as a top prospect this season, but five years into his pro career he's yet to advance past Single-A and his upside remains more about physical tools than actual production. Staying in the lineup will be the biggest key for Morales in 2012, but he also needs to either cut down on the strikeouts or rediscover the power he displayed early on.

17. Max Kepler | Left Field | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    153     .286     .346     .343      0      7     13     27
2011     RK+    221     .262     .347     .366      1     15     23     54

Signed out of Germany as a 16-year-old in 2009 and given an $800,000 bonus that ranks as the highest ever for a European position player, Max Kepler's first two pro seasons have been encouraging despite modest raw numbers. He's hit a combined .272/.347/.356 in 87 games between two levels of rookie-ball, upping his power from non-existent to sub par last season at Elizabethton while maintaining a solid walk rate.

Kepler is years from potentially entering the Twins' plans and at this point it's tough to even get a feel for what type of player he might become, but for a raw teenager to hold his own right away is certainly a positive sign. His physical tools include above-average speed and athleticism, leaving center field as a possible long-term home, and at 6-foot-4 he should add significant strength along the way.

In addition to being an intriguing prospect Kepler also has a very interesting back-story, as his American-born mother and Polish-born father met while starring together in the Berlin ballet. Kepler should provide a clearer picture of his upside if the Twins let him take a crack at full-season competition for the first time in 2012, but it's important to remember that he didn't turn 19 years old until last month.

16. Niko Goodrum | Shortstop | DOB: 2/92 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2010-2

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    128     .161     .219     .195      0      4      9     34
2011     RK+    230     .275     .352     .382      2     15     21     56

Niko Goodrum had one of the worst debuts you'll ever see from a second-round pick, batting .161 with 34 strikeouts in 36 games at rookie-ball after the Twins selected him 71st overall out of a Georgia high school in 2010. Those struggles weren't overly alarming because Goodrum was considered very raw at the time of the draft and last season the switch-hitting shortstop's impressive physical tools were on full display.

He moved up one level of rookie-ball and hit .275/.352/.382 with 15 extra-base hits and eight steals in 59 games for a star-studded Elizabethton lineup that also included Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. Goodrum still had trouble making consistent contact, whiffing 56 times in 230 plate appearances, but he also drew 21 walks and finished the Appalachian League season on a very strong note by hitting .341/.438/.489 in 26 games during the final month.

Like most teenage shortstops he made a ton of miscues, committing 24 errors in 54 starts, but Goodrum's arm is shortstop-caliber and depending on how his 6-foot-3 frame fills out there's a shot he could play the position long term. Goodrum also saw some action at second base and seemingly has the skills to be a center fielder if moving away from the infield proves necessary. He's a long way from the majors, but ranks among the Twins' most intriguing prospects.

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