May 22, 2012

Twins Notes: Marquis, Parmelee, Sano, old friends, and Babe Butera

• Sunday on Gleeman and The Geek we talked about Jason Marquis' latest clunker of a start and how much longer the Twins could possibly stick with him in the rotation. It didn't take long for an answer, as the Twins designated Marquis for assignment seven starts into a $3 million deal given to the 33-year-old veteran who was supposed to help stabilize a shaky rotation. Minnesota native and former Gophers star Cole De Vries was called up to take his spot.

Marquis now goes in the same pile as Ramon Ortiz, Livan Hernandez, and Sidney Ponson, each of whom were signed more for their veteran-ness than ability and got booted from the rotation after performing terribly. Those four pitchers combined to cost the Twins around $12 million for 303 innings of a 5.88 ERA and in each case the terrible performances were entirely predictable, although certainly Marquis was even worse than anyone could have expected.

He posted an 8.47 ERA and allowed 33 runs in 34 innings with more walks than strikeouts and nine homers, as opponents hit .371/.434/.629. To put that in some context, consider Albert Pujols is a career .325/.417/.609 hitter, so Marquis basically turned every batter he faced into a souped-up version of this era's best hitter. He wasn't throwing strikes, he wasn't keeping the ball in the ballpark, and he ranked dead last among MLB pitchers in swinging strikes.

When the Twins signed Marquis this winter I called it "an uninspired pickup made necessary by payroll slashing" and noted how odd it was for Terry Ryan to praise his ability to "throw the ball over the plate" when in reality his career walk rate was identical to Francisco Liriano's at 3.5 per nine innings. Marquis' awful control shouldn't have been a surprise, but all the homers from a ground-ball pitcher were unexpected and turned a questionable signing into a disaster.

• Unfortunately the Chris Parmelee situation played out exactly as I'd feared when the Twins chose to focus on an impressive September call-up and strong spring training while dismissing a mediocre track record. They had Parmelee skip Triple-A despite hitting just .282/.355/.421 in two seasons at Double-A and then relegated him to the bench when he predictably struggled in the majors, demoting him to Rochester when Justin Morneau came off the disabled list.

Parmelee was and still is a decent prospect with some long-term upside, but at no point has he ever looked like a potential star and it's silly to expect a 24-year-old to go directly from slugging .421 at Double-A to thriving in the majors. Hopefully the less than ideal development decisions won't keep him from getting back on track in Rochester and hopefully the Twins will cease taking such short-term views of their prospects.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus wrote an article for about the minors' best power-hitting prospects and 19-year-old Twins phenom Miguel Sano sits atop the list:

For one scout, "the list begins and ends with Sano." Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $3.15 million in 2009, Sano hit 20 home runs in 66 games in the rookie-level Appalachian League last year. As one of the youngest players in the Midwest League this year--the toughest offensive circuit among full-season leagues--expectations, at least statistically, were tempered.

Apparently nobody told Sano, though, as he leads the Midwest League in home runs (11) and total bases (85) while hitting .287/.406/.625 in 38 games. He just turned 19 last weekend, and for players this young, power is usually overwhelmingly on the projection side of the ledger. We haven't see this kind of in-game power from a player so young in low Class A since Giancarlo Stanton was known as Mike.

Giancarlo Stanton hit .293/.381/.611 with 39 homers in 125 games at low Single-A in 2008 as an 18-year-old and was in the majors five months shy of his 21st birthday, quickly emerging as one of the league's top sluggers. He's now 22 years old with 290 career games for the Marlins and has hit .263/.344/.523 with 65 homers, trailing only Pujols, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez in Isolated Power among all active right-handed hitters.

Nick Blackburn is back on the disabled list, although this time at least it's not an arm injury. Since signing a four-year contract extension in March of 2010 he's thrown 343 innings with a 5.31 ERA and .306 opponents' batting average. During that time Blackburn's strikeout rate of 4.3 per nine innings is MLB's worst among all pitchers with 250-plus innings. He's making $4.75 million this season and under contract for $5.5 million next year.

P.J. Walters has gone from Triple-A depth to spot starter to being secure in the big leagues based on two decent starts and the Twins reaching the bottom of an already shallow barrel for rotation reinforcements. He's allowed four homers through 12 innings with the Twins, which gives Walters a total of 16 homers allowed in 63 career innings as a big leaguer and ranks as the sixth-highest home run rate in MLB history among all pitchers with 60-plus innings.

• One-time top prospect turned minor-league veteran Joe Thurston signed with the Twins for Triple-A depth in late April, but went 4-for-43 (.093) in 15 games and was released last week. They also cut Triple-A first baseman Aaron Bates, who re-signed with the Twins after hitting .316/.408/.439 in 106 games for Rochester last season only to hit .238 in 28 games this year. After back-to-back 90-loss seasons got their manager fired Rochester is on a 62-82 pace.

Wilson Ramos, whom the Twins misguidedly traded to the Nationals for Matt Capps in July of 2010, will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. That lessens the chances of Ramos' departure haunting the Twins, but it doesn't actually make the trade less bad any more than, say, selling your house for $100,000 below the market rate only to see the new owners accidentally burn it down makes that decision less bad.

Lew Ford, who last played in the majors for the Twins in 2007 and is now 35 years old, signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles and took over as the leadoff hitter and center fielder on their Triple-A team. Since being dropped from the 40-man roster by the Twins in late 2007 he's played for multiple organizations at Triple-A along with the independent league Long Island Ducks and teams in Mexico and Japan.

Steve Tolleson never reached the majors with the Twins, getting dropped from the 40-man roster in February of 2010, but he had a brief cup of coffee with the A's that year and the 2005 fifth-round pick is now back in the big leagues with the Orioles. Tolleson was no more than a marginal prospect, cracking my annual top-40 list just once at No. 37 in 2010, but he always looked capable of being a useful utility man.

• San Diego's ex-Twins middle infield is no more, as the Padres released Orlando Hudson with about $5.5 million remaining on his contract and placed Jason Bartlett on the disabled list. Hudson quickly latched on with the White Sox, who're his fifth team in five seasons, and he's apparently going to play third base for the first time in his career.

• Old friend J.C. Romero may finally be finished at age 36. He debuted for the Twins in 1999.

• In blanking the Twins last week Indians right-hander Derek Lowe became the first pitcher to throw a complete-game shutout without a strikeout since Scott Erickson in 2002.

• Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Oswaldo Arcia are the only hitters in the Twins' entire farm system with an OPS above .800, and none of them are above Single-A or older than 21.

Ben Revere had just one total extra-base hit in 23 games at Triple-A, so naturally he has four extra-base hits in four games back with the Twins. Play right field, hit for power. Easy!

• Not only is he hitting .360 in nine games since being recalled from the minors, Drew Butera became the sixth position player in Twins history to pitch when he mopped up in Sunday's blowout loss. Better yet, Butera averaged 91.1 miles per hour with his fastball, topped out at 94.4 mph, and struck out Carlos Gomez in a scoreless inning. Butera's average fastball clocks in higher than Marquis, Blackburn, Walters, Carl Pavano, Scott Diamond, and Liam Hendriks.

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  1. Aaron is much too classy to rub the dumpting of Marquis in Robby Incmikoski’s face, but he would have been well within his rights to do so given that Twitter exchange a few weeks back.

    This spring I criticized Aaron for being too pessimistic about Parmelee given his performance last year. I was obviously wrong, and Aaron was once again right. At some point when a guy is right over and over again, it becomes apparent that he really knows what he’s talking about. Does anyone from the Twins read this blog? Because they could do a lot worse (and a lot better than they are doing now) than to hire Aaron.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — May 21, 2012 @ 10:53 pm

  2. Scary Fact: Lew Ford had an OPS above .800 for good portion of his minor league career, including all of AAA and AA. Does the Twins’ farm system not even have a few Lew Ford’s?

    Comment by Ryan — May 21, 2012 @ 10:57 pm

  3. And while mop-up duty is probably not a great predictor of pitching success in competitive situations, Butera was throwing some real heat. The guys on the radio didn’t believe the radar gun. He struck a guy out! (ok it was Carlos Gomez) Lets try him out when we are down only 4-5 runs (after Blackburn’s next 2 inning start) instead of double digits.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — May 21, 2012 @ 10:59 pm

  4. As much as anyone – I have been quick to point out Drew Buterrible’s faults as a major league hitter.

    In all fairness to Mr. Butera – I should be just as quick to point out:

    1) The stones it takes to ask to take the hill in a major league game. Seriously, even his most staunch critics must give him this much.


    2) 94 on the gun is impressive, but more impressive to me – the guy has a freeking straight change that ran 76-79 with near identical arm action?!?!?!

    3) Of course this probably has a bit to do with him being a full time catcher, but he exhibited a most admirable quality in his approach to pitching. Look in to see what Mauer called, then throw the damn ball.

    4) On the other hand – it would have been funny to see him shake off Joe just once…

    Comment by Karl — May 21, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

  5. Figures that if Drew Butera hit like a pitcher for long enough, he’d get the chance to try and pitch like one, too.

    Comment by Salt-Man Z — May 21, 2012 @ 11:39 pm

  6. “4) On the other hand – it would have been funny to see him shake off Joe just once…”

    Would have been better if, like most of the staff, he requested someone other than Mauer as his personal catcher

    Comment by mrgerbik03 — May 22, 2012 @ 12:10 am

  7. Maybe the Capps deal was only selling the house for $20,000 under market now. The Twins have gotten 2 more than serviceable seasons (so far) from Capps and he definitely has trade value now. Depending on who they get I’m not too upset with the deal. He’s a legit closer this season and probably one of 3 players (Capps, Span, Willingham) playing above expectations that isn’t roster filler.

    Comment by Savvyspy — May 22, 2012 @ 7:26 am

  8. while I agree that the Twins, or some other club, would be smart to consider hiring Aaron, it would mean he would have to leave the house once in a while and make eye contact with real people. I suppose he could work in the capacity that he does now, just not publicly sharing his findings, but I don’t think the Twins are ready to give up on finding “good clubhouse” guys.

    Comment by spoofbonser — May 22, 2012 @ 7:48 am

  9. Aaron, your analysis of journeyman players and minor league stats as predictors of big league performance are so “spot-on” that I seldom give any credence to the statements of Twins management until I see what you have to say. Unfortunately this means I have no illusions that this franchise can compete for even the division title in the next several years. *sigh*

    Comment by Martin Arrowsmith — May 22, 2012 @ 9:02 am

  10. I don’t have any recent experience rooting for a team this bad, so I need a ruling; as far as bad teams go, is this team pretty status quo, or are the 2012 Twins in fact one of the bigger train wrecks in baseball history? Definitely feelis like the latter, but I need context

    Comment by Leon — May 22, 2012 @ 9:41 am

  11. I’m waiting for the inevitable moment when someone in the Twins organization advises Sano to start hitting the ball the other way and make more contact.

    Comment by Jason W — May 22, 2012 @ 9:41 am

  12. Leon, the Twins themselves were worse in the mid 90’s. This is nothing special as far as bad teams go, and it can and will get worse. How? When the team is this bad AND there are literally zero past, present, or future stars on the roster. This Twins team still has Mauer, Morneau, Liriano, etc., i.e. players who are at least capable of eliciting some hope or excitement. You haven’t reached rock bottom until you have an entire team full of placeholders, journeymen, Rule 5 picks, and the like. And it can get worse than that still, as it did for the mid- to late-90’s Twins, when you layer on top of all that a terrible string of drafts. Oh, and the threat of contraction. Can’t forget about that. So you don’t even have to look outside the franchise to find a bigger train wreck.

    Comment by thegeneral13 — May 22, 2012 @ 11:23 am

  13. Aaron lost weight and bought a car, and I think he’s ready for the world. And its not like eye contact is something the Twins care about – look at the last couple of third base coaches. Get this man a job.

    I think these Twins are more pathetic than the mid-90s Twins because in the 90s the payroll was in line with the quality of the teams. Now we have a much bigger payroll, and a fancy new stadium to bankroll the team, and the Twins are still the worst team in baseball.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — May 22, 2012 @ 11:32 am

  14. AG,

    Despite your word of advice, expect Sid to point to Ramos’ injury as justification for the Capps trade. That’s how we roll in Minny.

    Comment by vg — May 22, 2012 @ 11:48 am

  15. Yeah yeah yeah, but when Capps is named an all-star you can all bite me. After an abysmal 2011, that trade has turned out well for the Twins in 2012. Capps has shown both the willingness and the ability to improve his game, and that split-fingered fast ball he learned from Guardado will keep him in his current role for a long time.

    Comment by Dave T — May 22, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

  16. Don’t look now, but Terry Doyle has better numbers in AAA than Cole Devries (including over 9k/9). Bet they’re wishing they hadn’t cut him after 9 IP.

    Comment by Alex — May 22, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

  17. I’ve got a serious question about Drew Butera – why is he not a pitcher? 94 mph?! If he spent some time with a good pitching coach and learned some mechanics, couldn’t he hit 96 or 97? If he can control it, that sounds like a big league pitcher to me. Considering what a horrible hitter he is, and has been throughout the minors, why hasn’t converting him to a pitcher been tried? Is it common for position players to be able to throw over 90 mph?

    Comment by Dave — May 22, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

  18. I hope this is just a case of needing to break out the “Not sure if serious…” tag, but you guys talking about how great Capps is this year realize he was signed for the 2012 season as a free agent, right? Nothing he does this season counts as value received in exchange from the Ramos trade.

    Comment by DK — May 22, 2012 @ 4:19 pm

  19. It makes sense carrying 12 pitchers now, but only if Butera is considered the 12th.

    Comment by ML — May 22, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

  20. The worst Twins season ever was 1981, when they went 41-68-1 in a strike shortened season and had nothing…..NOTHING…..on the roster. There was no hope at all for the future on that team. John Castino–the closest thing they had to hope–began his post-ROtY slide and still managed to lead the team in BA with a .268. The rest of the lineup was filled with aging, washed up old farts like Rob Wilfong and Gary Ward and Sal Butera (oy, that name) who had no future in the majors. Dave Engle was an outfielder, before they made him a catcher and he got the yips and couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher.

    Their rotation was made up of a bunch of “whos?” like Albert Williams and Brad Havens, and an aging Jerry Koosman finishing his career with a miserable turn.

    September finally brought a breath of fresh air when they promoted some guys named Laudner, Gaetti and Hrbek and we got a glimpse of a better future. Until then, though it was ugly. UGLY. Even worse than those 1990s disasters.

    Comment by Tom — May 22, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

  21. Tom – you were right about 1981 except in referring to Gary Ward. Ward was only 27 that season and would combine to hit 47 homers with 67 doubles the next two years.

    Comment by KC — May 22, 2012 @ 10:14 pm

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