April 19, 2012

Sorry, mate: Twins designate Luke Hughes for assignment

Jason Marquis' return forced the Twins to open a roster spot and rather than drop a pitcher, cut loose Sean Burroughs, or option Chris Parmelee to Triple-A they designated an out-of-options Luke Hughes for assignment. I'm no fan of a 13-man pitching staff and Parmelee, like Ben Revere, would be better off playing regularly in Rochester if he's going to continue sitting often in Minnesota, but it's tough to imagine Hughes coming back to haunt the Twins.

For one thing he's largely superfluous with Trevor Plouffe around, as Hughes offers a similar skill set with less upside and bigger flaws. And beyond that he simply isn't very good. Hughes was never a top prospect, peaking at No. 17 on my annual Twins farm system ranking in 2009 before falling to No. 23 in 2010 and No. 33 last year. He hit .224/.285/.342 in 102 games for the Twins and .257/.319/.440 in 118 games at Triple-A, and turns 28 years old in August.

Hughes is capable of being a useful bench bat or platoon starter versus left-handers, but he's a tweener in that his second base and third base defense is sub par and the higher offensive standard for that role at first base or an outfield corner is likely over his head. He strikes out too much, doesn't walk enough, had poor batting averages in Rochester and Minnesota, and his good but not great power is nothing special for part-timers at offense-driven positions.

Keeping him around would have been fine and the Twins had several other reasonable choices that would've allowed them to do so, but ultimately Hughes is a marginal major leaguer who seems finished developing and those are the types of players teams designate for assignment all the time. He might clear waivers, in which case the Twins could stash him at Triple-A minus the 40-man roster spot, but even if Hughes gets claimed the loss is minimal.

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April 18, 2012

Twins Notes: Baker, Liriano, Perkins, Sano, Willingham, and Casilla

• As expected Scott Baker underwent surgery yesterday to repair the flexor pronator tendon in his elbow, but while he was under the knife Dr. David Altchek discovered ulnar collateral ligament damage and performed Tommy John surgery as well. Apparently the torn UCL didn't show up on the initial MRI exam or last week's follow-up version, so instead of a six-month recovery timetable Baker will likely be out for 12 months.

So in the span of two weeks Baker went from having an MRI exam that the Twins described as "good news" to needing "cleanup" surgery to undergoing Tommy John surgery. I'm of the opinion that there was never any chance of the Twins exercising his $9.25 million option for 2013, but now that isn't even a consideration. And at this point any injured Twins player who doesn't seek a second opinion from someone outside the organization is an idiot.

Francisco Liriano turned in his third straight clunker last night, failing to make it out of the third inning. Through three starts he has an 11.91 ERA and .407 opponents' batting average while throwing 138 strikes and 103 balls. It's become increasingly popular to say that Liriano's struggles are mental and I'm sure there's plenty of truth to that narrative, but it's also worth noting that his raw stuff is simply nowhere near as good as it was in 2010, let alone in 2006.

As a rookie Liriano's average fastball was 94.7 miles per hour and in 2010 it was 93.7 mph, but since the start of last season it's 91.6 mph. It certainly isn't shocking that a one-time power pitcher would lose confidence as his velocity vanishes and his fastball becomes far more hittable. Perhaps it's a chicken-or-egg scenario and there's no doubt that he's failed to make adjustments, but to suggest that his collapse is entirely mental seems way too simplistic.

Glen Perkins hopefully won't follow Baker's progression from optimistic diagnosis to career-altering surgery, but he underwent an MRI exam on his forearm after coughing up the lead Sunday. No structural damage was found and he's avoided the disabled list ... so far. Dating back to his final 20 appearances of last season Perkins has a 5.56 ERA in his last 23 innings, although that includes 24 strikeouts and his velocity hasn't dipped.

Miguel Sano is off to a huge start at low Single-A, homering yesterday for the fifth time in 12 games. Despite being the sixth-youngest player in the entire Midwest League and not turning 19 years old until next month Sano is hitting .256/.408/.692 and has already drawn nine walks after a total of just 23 walks in 66 games last season. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus recently got a first-hand look at Sano and came away very impressed.

Baseball Prospectus subscribers can read the full scouting report, but the short version is that Goldstein was surprised by the vastly improved patience Sano showed at the plate and was awed by the exceptional power as "his bat goes through the zone violently with plenty of explosion from his mid-section and hips." Goldstein even described Sano's defense at third base as better than expected, although that meant "merely bad" instead of "laughably awful."

Josh Willingham, like Sano, also hit his fifth homer yesterday, taking over the AL lead and joining Kirby Puckett in 1987, Kent Hrbek in 1982, and Bobby Darwin in 1972 as the only Twins hitters with five homers through the first 11 games of a season. So far at least the Willingham signing looks every bit as good as it did at the time, although as a left fielder he makes a good designated hitter.

Alexi Casilla is off to another slow start, which is an annual tradition at this point, and while looking over his career numbers with the Twins this comparison to a similarly disappointing middle infielder popped into my head:

                         G      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     SB
Casilla with Twins     418     .251     .309     .336     .645     51
Player X with Twins    565     .262     .307     .383     .690     78

Longtime readers of AG.com may recognize "Player X" as Luis Rivas, who was without question the player who received the most criticism during the first four years of this blog's existence. Rivas was released by the Twins at age 25 and was out of the majors for good at age 28, which is how old Casilla will be in two months. It's time to stop treating him like some sort of prospect with impressive upside.

Trevor Plouffe has now committed 13 errors in 465 innings as a big-league shortstop, which is the equivalent of around 40 errors per full season and a startling number for someone who was a shortstop for 680 games in the minors. That includes 242 games as a Triple-A shortstop, during which time Plouffe made 47 errors. In other words, at this point Plouffe is a shortstop like Michael Cuddyer was a second baseman. He needs to start mashing left-handers.

• Last season Twins pitchers ranked dead last among MLB teams in strikeouts by a wide margin and they're back in 30th place again this season with just 54 strikeouts through 11 games. By comparison, Nationals pitchers lead baseball with 117 strikeouts in 12 games. And not surprisingly the combination of the fewest strikeouts in baseball and a sub par defense has added up to MLB's fourth-worst ERA.

• In addition to his hitting .293/.383/.415 through 11 games another positive sign for Joe Mauer is that he stole a base Monday night after a grand total of one steal in 219 games during the past two seasons. On the other hand nearly 60 percent of his balls in play have been on the ground, which is a disturbingly high total even considering he's always been a ground-ball hitter.

• Mauer isn't alone in his worm-killing, as Twins hitters collectively lead baseball with a ground-ball rate of 55.1 percent. No other team is above 51.6 percent and only two other teams are above 50 percent. And because it's really hard to hit a ground ball over the fence everyone not named Willingham has combined for four homers in 358 plate appearances.

Matthew Bashore, the 2009 first-round pick who was released by the Twins last month after injuries derailed his career, has signed with the Yankees.

"Gleeman and The Geek" made its radio debut this week with 70 minutes of non-stop Twins talk, so give it a listen if you haven't already. We'll be live on KFAN again Sunday at 4:00.

This week's blog content is sponsored by PickPointz, where you can make predictions, pick games, and win prizes for free. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

April 17, 2012

Twins claim Clete Thomas off waivers, demote Ben Revere to Triple-A

Late in spring training the Twins essentially chose Chris Parmelee over Ben Revere for the final starting job and once that happened it made sense for them to find a new fourth outfielder via the waiver wire or an inexpensive trade rather than keep Revere around to play sparingly in a reserve role. Sure enough they came to that realization after using Revere for just 11 plate appearances in eight games, claiming Clete Thomas off waivers from the Tigers.

Despite homering in his Twins debut Thomas has a pretty limited skill set with plenty of flaws and resembles a replacement-level player more than he does a starter, but that's basically what the fourth outfielder role calls for anyway and as a 28-year-old veteran of 255 games at Triple-A and 145 games in the majors he's far better suited for a little-used bench gig than the 23-year-old Revere.

And that's coming from someone who's been very skeptical of Revere's upside, but whatever chance he has of developing into an above-average regular is better with him actually playing in Rochester rather than sitting in Minnesota. Revere played just 32 games at Triple-A before the Twins' never-ending injuries last season accelerated his timetable, so while sending him back there after 134 games in the majors isn't ideal it makes sense developmentally.

Odds are Revere will be back in the majors relatively soon and hopefully that return will come because he thrived at Triple-A, but there will also be an opportunity for him if someone gets injured or Parmelee proves that he could use some time in Rochester himself. Whatever the case, in the meantime the Twins are better off using Thomas as a defensive replacement and spot starter because that's the role both his current and future ability fit best in.

Thomas was actually the Twins' fifth-round pick in 2002 out of high school, but he chose to play college ball at Auburn instead of signing. Three years later the Tigers picked him in the sixth round and three years after that Thomas cracked their Opening Day roster as a 24-year-old despite underwhelming production in the minors. He spent two seasons going back and forth between Triple-A and the majors, hitting .253/.336/.391 in 142 games for the Tigers.

Knee surgery knocked Thomas out for most of 2010 and he spent all of last season at Triple-A, hitting .251/.314/.401 with 12 homers and an ugly 130-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 113 games. He still managed to make this year's Opening Day roster, but Thomas was designated for assignment after appearing in three games without getting a plate appearance. And then, naturally, he was claimed off waivers by the Twins and homered in his second at-bat.

Coming back from microfracture knee surgery is extremely difficult, so if you give Thomas some benefit of the doubt he's likely better than he looked at Triple-A last season. On the other hand his .253/.336/.391 career line in the majors is nearly identical to his .252/.336/.409 career line at Triple-A, so at 28 years old it's fairly easy to conclude that what you see with Thomas is probably what you'll get at this point.

He doesn't walk a lot and strikes out too much, which drags down his average, but Thomas has enough pop for 10-15 homers, enough speed for 10-15 steals, and (before the surgery, at least) enough range to back up all three outfield spots. That isn't someone who should play regularly, but for the occasional start versus righties and some late-game defense or running he's a reasonable enough fit while the Twins hope Revere will prove too good for that role.

This week's blog content is sponsored by PickPointz, where you can make predictions, pick games, and win prizes for free. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

April 16, 2012

“Gleeman and The Geek” #37: Radio Radio

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" was recorded at ... KFAN's studio. Topics for the podcast's radio debut included Clete Thomas' big first impression, Ben Revere's demotion to Triple-A, what the rotation looks like after injuries to Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn, why Liam Hendriks is sticking around, and what the future holds for Francisco Liriano and Alexi Casilla. And once the radio show ended we did a podcast-only "extra innings" segment too.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 37

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

Note: Thursday night John Bonnes (and some guy named Paul Molitor) will be taking part in the "Tix for Tots" event at Target Field. There's a Q&A session, a silent auction, and wine tasting, so it should be a fun time for a very good cause. For details click here.

April 13, 2012

Link-O-Rama

• "Gleeman and The Geek" makes its radio debut on KFAN this Sunday afternoon at 4:00, so tune in to 100.3-FM or listen online at KFAN.com. We've never done a live show on the actual airwaves before, so the first one could be an adventure. One nice thing about doing the show in a studio at a radio station (as opposed to on an iPad at a bar like we did for the first 36 episodes) is that we'll be able to take live phone calls from listeners.

• My announcement earlier this week included most of the key details, but for more about the KFAN show and what it means for the podcast listen to the discussion at the beginning of this week's episode. Short version: It's good news, assuming you're not sick of listening to us.

Jeff Gray's early work for the Twins shows the absurdity of pitcher "wins."

Torii Hunter fought the wall at Target Field and the wall won.

• There's hard living and then there's playing multiple seasons for the Orioles.

• Jabar Gaffney of the Redskins made excellent use of Twitter and definitely won't regret it.

• Weirdly, my vacation pictures from the annual SABR convention have never looked like this.

• Speaking of which, happy 25th birthday to Brooklyn Decker.

• Minnesota native and terrible, confrontation-seeking umpire Bob Davidson finally gets the attention he deserves.

• New York reporters and columnists have been unsuccessfully predicting Mariano Rivera's demise for literally a decade.

• Almost everything about this article is great, but here's my favorite sentence: "Most of her clients are men, but she said anyone can hire her service."

• Some of the numbers for internet pornography usage are amazing, including the fact that one website gets more page views than ESPN.com and CNN.com combined and the industry as a whole accounts for more than one-fourth of all data transferred online.

• For some reason this picture of Alison Brie cracked me up.

Raul Ibanez has switched teams, leagues, and positions, but he remains every bit as hilarious to watch defensively.

Jason Marquis paid for his (temporary) Double-A teammates to have steak and lobster for their postgame spread while building up his arm strength in New Britain, which is the kind of thing a nice person with $50 million in career earnings would do.

• And thankfully it sounds like Marquis' daughter is doing much better after her accident.

• Remaking the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony video for "1st Of Tha Month" with pugs is genius:

I can't even imagine how long that took to choreograph and shoot, but hopefully everyone involved knows it was worth every second.

• For just $59 you can eat an eight-pound hamburger named after Stephen Strasburg that contains more calories than I typically eat in an entire week.

• Someone arrived at AG.com via Google search for the phrase "Aaron Gleeman fried rice."

Christian Laettner napping on a bus, because why not? He looks peaceful.

This is my favorite part of Mad Men so far this season.

• Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is the best, as always.

• I've never been able to understand the appeal of hanging out at a coffee shop all day, so this Minneapolis Star Tribune article by Peter Funk was very interesting.

• Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton looks just like Bruno Mars.

• Here's hoping the best announcer in baseball history gets well soon.

• It's good to know that Rachel Bilson is keeping herself ready for The O.C. reunion some day.

Ben Heller of Grantland took offense to something I wrote on Twitter about Orlando Cabrera nine months ago and his article includes praise of "magical things" and Cabrera's "aura" and Bert Blyleven's analysis. Very weird.

Jim Thome started a game at first base for the first time since June 13, 2007.

• Elbow surgery for Scott Baker likely means the end of his Twins career.

Jamie Moyer pitching at 49 is incredible, but check out what Satchel Paige did at 59.

• One of my favorite national writers, Joe Posnanski, is leaving Sports Illustrated for a new gig with USA Today and MLB Advanced Media.

• After watching Lena Dunham's quirky and very enjoyable movie, Tiny Furniture, on Netflix last year I'm excited to see her new show on HBO.

• My fellow Portlandia fans will enjoy Carrie Brownstein's appearance on Marc Maron's podcast and David Cross' appearance a few days later was really good too.

• Deep thought inspired by Twitter conversations: Parents should make sure kids know the importance of choosing their first concert. Mine was Tevin Campbell and Babyface opening for Boyz II Men, and now I'm stuck with it forever.

• This week's blog content is sponsored by GoBros, a locally owned family business offering quality outdoor gear and free shipping. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Radio Radio" by Elvis Costello:

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