July 4, 2011

Twins Notes: Musical closers, All-Star wars, and main attractions

Ron Gardenhire stuck with Matt Capps as the closer following Saturday's implosion, but then pulled him with two runners on base and one out yesterday rather than let the right-hander blow back-to-back saves. Glen Perkins wriggled out of Capps' mess for his first career save, leading to postgame speculation that there could be a permanent change in the ninth inning, but Gardenhire downplayed that talk by saying Capps "is still our closer."

With a 4.63 ERA and league-leading six blown saves in 19 chances Capps has certainly pitched poorly enough to warrant a demotion and Perkins has been the Twins' best reliever all year, so giving him an opportunity in the bullpen's top role makes sense. However, removing Capps from the ninth inning would likely just mean giving him chances to blow leads in earlier innings and installing Perkins as closer would put him in a far more rigid, potentially less impactful role.

Perkins has been so valuable in large part because Gardenhire has been willing to use him in basically any situation. He's worked every inning from the fifth to the tenth, seeing significant action in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. He's come into games to protect small leads, but also to keep things close with small deficits or keep things tied with the score knotted. And he's been used a ton, appearing in 31 of 59 games while on the active roster.

As a closer that would all change because Perkins would mostly be limited to pitching the ninth inning with a lead of 1-3 runs. No more putting out fires in the seventh frame, no more pitching the eighth inning down a run, and no more working every other day. Decreasing his workload some may not be a bad thing, but moving Perkins into a role with far more rigid usage won't help matters much overall and would likely just mean Capps sliding into a prominent setup gig.

• In terms of Capps-related mistakes trading Wilson Ramos to get him last season and paying $7.15 million to keep him this season were both worse than sticking with him as closer, where he's perfectly capable of converting saves 80 percent of the time just like every other halfway decent reliever. Perhaps demoting Capps would improve things in the ninth inning, but in order to do that the Twins would have to weaken things in the seventh and eighth innings.

And beyond the immediate on-field domino effect, putting Perkins in a role where he can rack up saves will make him significantly more expensive in future seasons even if his actual value stays the same or even decreases. No one has been harder on Capps and the Twins' decision to acquire Capps than me, but any change that simply involves him in a different high-leverage inning isn't as big as the misguided focus on the save statistic would have you believe.

If the Twins feel they have to remove Capps from the ninth inning it makes more sense to give Joe Nathan another crack at closing and see if his impressive outings since returning from the disabled list are a genuine sign of his old stuff gradually coming back. Nathan's future price tag isn't a factor, his current role doesn't involve a heavy workload anyway, and stringing together some solid outings over the next few weeks might resuscitate his trade value.

Capps isn't as terrible as the six blown saves would suggest, but he's also not a good closer. Never has been, never will be. He's basically Jon Rauch, minus eight inches and a bunch of ink, and plus a beer belly. I've hammered that point home before, so I won't get back into it, but I will say that only two active pitchers with 100 saves have fewer than 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings. One is Danys Baez, who has a 5.03 ERA since 41 saves in 2005. The other is Capps.

Michael Cuddyer was chosen for the All-Star team yesterday, following in the grand tradition of previous Twins representatives like Ron Coomer, Tim Laudner, Dave Engle, Leo Cardenas, Gary Ward, Joe Mays, Doug Corbett, and Cristian Guzman. Assuming that Scott Baker isn't a last-minute pitching replacement this will be the Twins' first year with just one All-Star since 2004. In the six seasons since then the Twins averaged 2.67 representatives per year.

• Incidentally, through exactly half of the season here are the Twins' leaders and trailers in the Baseball-Reference.com-calculated Wins Above Replacement (WAR):

LEADERS              WAR          TRAILERS             WAR
Denard Span          3.5          Tsuyoshi Nishioka   -1.5
Scott Baker          2.8          Justin Morneau      -1.0
Michael Cuddyer      1.5          Jim Hoey            -0.8
Glen Perkins         1.1          Matt Tolbert        -0.7
Jason Kubel          0.9          Joe Nathan          -0.7

I have no problem with Cuddyer getting the nod. He's not a great player and isn't even having a great season--ranking 23rd in OPS and 47th in WAR among AL hitters--but the one-player-per-team rule forces the Twins to send someone and Denard Span is hurt, plus the pitching staff is tougher to crack than the bench. Mostly, though, I couldn't care less about the All-Star game and always have a hard time getting worked up about the picks one way or another.

• Like every other Twins injury this year Jason Kubel's sprained left foot has kept him out for significantly longer than the team's initial return timetable. First he hoped to miss just a couple days, then he aimed to avoid the disabled list, then he was optimistic about returning after the minimum 15 days on the shelf, and now he's already missed 35 days and counting following a setback while rehabbing in Fort Myers. "Day-to-day" equals "one month" in Twins speak.

Rick Knapp, who was the Twins' minor-league pitching coordinator for a dozen years before leaving the organization in 2008 to become the Tigers' major-league pitching coach, was fired yesterday after 2.5 seasons on the job. Knapp was often credited with being a key part of the Twins' organization-wide focus on throwing strikes, but under his watch Detroit ranked 12th, 7th, and 12th in walks and 5th, 11th, and 12th in ERA among AL teams.

David Dorsey of the Fort Myers News Press did a feature on Aaron Hicks, who turned things around following a slow start and is now batting .280/.392/.424 with 26 extra-base hits, 46 walks, and 11 steals in 66 games at high Single-A. His power has been slow to develop, but Hicks' plate disciplines continues to stand out for a 21-year-old, his switch-hitting has become more balanced, and his defense in center field consistently draws positive reviews.

• Saturday marked the start of the international signing period and the Twins' highest-profile pickup is Miguel Gonzalez, a 16-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic who signed for $650,000. Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Gonzalez "draws attention for his ability to pound the strike zone with a fastball that reaches the low 90s" and "has feel for pitching beyond his years." He even predicted the Twins would sign him.

• For all his ups and downs this year Alexi Casilla is hitting .244/.312/.346 through 74 games. His combined line during the previous three seasons: .256/.316/.344. Same old, same old.

Kris Humphries sat through a two-hour rain delay before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Friday, was mostly booed by the Target Field crowd, fired low to Rene Rivera, and then went back into a suite to sit with fiancee Kim Kardashian, who was the much bigger attraction among Twins players and media members:

On a related note, when things go wrong at least Capps isn't as scary as the guy he replaced:

And that angle doesn't even display the neck tattoos.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota law firm Snyder Gislason Frasier LLC, so please help support AG.com by considering them for your legal needs.

June 15, 2011

Twins Notes: Immobilized, underrated, grated, deteriorated, and elevated

• Just when the Twins are finally getting key players healthy Justin Morneau has been put on the disabled list. And not with symptoms from last year's concussion or the neck pain that led to cortisone injections last month, but because of a wrist injury the origin of which was never really explained. Answers given last night were oddly vague, but Nick Nelson had a source tell him that "Morneau's wrist injury was the result of a locker room tirade after a strikeout."

Whatever the case, the Twins announced last night that Morneau's wrist will be "immobilized" for 10 days. General manager Bill Smith explained that "we're looking at this as a short-term event," but nearly every recovery timetable the Twins have issued this season has proven to be wildly optimistic. Morneau being shut down with Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka on the verge of rejoining the lineup is unfortunate, but Morneau hasn't looked like himself anyway.

He showed some flashes at various points, but was never able to string together any kind of hot streak and went 2-for-27 following a two-homer game on May 31. Morneau was batting .345 with 18 homers and a 1.055 OPS in 81 games at the time of his concussion last July. After nine months on the sidelines he's hit just .225 with four homers and a .619 OPS in 55 games this season. At this point some more time on the DL might be the best thing for Morneau.

• With the Twins now playing well enough to get people thinking about winning the thoroughly mediocre division MinnPost boss Joel Kramer passed along 2007 analysis from Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus examining the largest comebacks of all time. Baseball Prospectus recently made its archives free and the article is worth checking out, as you can see where the Twins overcoming their current deficit would rank and where their amazing 2006 comeback fits.

Carson Cistulli at Fan Graphs crunched the numbers and concluded that Denard Span might be the most underrated player in baseball. I wouldn't go quite that far, but twice in the past week I've written that Span has been the Twins' most valuable all-around player this year and both times multiple comments and e-mails strongly disagreed. His performance has definitely flown under the radar, so hopefully the concussion doesn't derail Span's season.

• Speaking of Span being underrated ... I couldn't care less about the All-Star game, but given what I wrote here last month about the local media's treatment of Michael Cuddyer (and the reaction I got from some members of the local media) it was amusing to see Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune devote an entire column to Cuddyer being deserving of an All-Star spot with a .273/.339/.423 hitting line and versatile but poor defense.

• With every Matt Capps blown save giving up Wilson Ramos for a "proven closer" looks even worse. Capps is 24-for-31 (78 percent) converting saves since the deal, whereas Jon Rauch was 21-for-25 (84 percent) prior to being replaced and is now 7-for-9 (78 percent) in Toronto while earning half as much as Capps. Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently wrote that Rauch "might have been a keeper if his personality hadn't grated on the Twins."

Flawed logic regarding the closer role led to mistakenly thinking Capps was a big upgrade over Rauch, poor decision-making led to paying a premium for that non-existent upgrade in the form of a top catching prospect, and the Twins compounded the problem by evaluating Rauch based more on personality than performance or cost. Ramos' current OPS is 30 points above average for a catcher and he's thrown out an MLB-high 50 percent of steal attempts at age 23.

• Christensen also penned a lengthy article about something that has been a frequent topic in this space, which is that the oft-repeated notion of "playing the right way" and "doing the little things" being "the Twins way" has become more perception and less reality with each season. National media members and people who mostly pay attention to other teams haven't caught on yet, but I'm glad to see someone with a mainstream audience busting the myth.

• My grandpa has said for years now that Toby Gardenhire will eventually be the Twins' utility infielder, which I've always laughed off because ... well, he's a career .230/.293/.268 hitter in the minors and nepotism can only go so far, right? Maybe. Tyler Mason wrote a lengthy profile of the manager's 28-year-old son for FSN's website, and between the "Toby Gardenhire moves closer to MLB debut" title and article's content it no longer seems so far fetched. An excerpt:

Gardenhire, now with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, is closer than ever to his dream. A call to the majors, however, would mean something more for him: the chance to be coached by his father, Ron, the Minnesota Twins' manager. "Having my dad up there, it would probably just be an added bonus," said Toby Gardenhire, 28, who is primarily a shortstop but has been a jack-of-all-trades in the minor leagues.

"If somebody told me Toby's the guy, we think he deserves a shot to come up here, I don't know how I'd handle it, to tell you the truth," said his dad. "I'd have to regroup. But I know he's worked really, really hard and he's played very well. If that ever happens, it would be a really, really cool thing."

Gardenhire is hitting .254 with a .291 on-base percentage and .349 slugging percentage in 39 games at Rochester for a .640 OPS that's dead last on the team. Yet his dad says "he's played very well" and "has actually swung the bat very, very well." Triple-A manager Tom Nieto says "he's really progressed." Mason notes his "elevated play." Meanwhile, even Drew Butera beat Gardenhire's career OPS by 70 points in the minors. I'm starting to think my grandpa is right.

Anthony Slama's latest "opportunity" lasted all of two games, as the Twins didn't even see fit to give him a chance when they had the league's worst record and a bullpen in flux. He has a 2.10 ERA and 370 strikeouts in 274 innings as a minor leaguer, including a 2.71 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 106 innings at Triple-A, yet is 27 years old with a grand total of seven games in the majors. Slama isn't going to be great, but he might be useful and they'll never know.

• If the Twins opt to move Mauer to another position in 2012 they ought to call the Reds. John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote recently that catcher prospect Devin Mesoraco "killing it in Triple-A" may soon force the Reds to call him up, at which point "a lot of teams would likely be interested in Ramon Hernandez or Ryan Hanigan." Hernandez is 35 years old, but Hanigan is a 30-year-old career .275/.375/.365 hitter with a good arm under team control through 2014.

• Old friend J.J. Hardy hasn't been injury free in Baltimore, missing a month with a strained oblique muscle, but he's yet to make an error in 37 games while hitting .299/.371/.493 for an .864 OPS that ranks third among all MLB shortstops. He's played so well that Orioles president and former Twins general manager Andy MacPhail wants to keep Hardy from becoming a free agent after the season by signing him to a contract extension before the All-Star break. Sigh.

• Earlier this week Nick Nelson and I had a Twitter discussion about Francisco Liriano and all this "pitch to contact" stuff, which Sean Schulte at Hitting The Foul Pole pieced together along with his own take.

• To preview the (now rain-shortened) Chicago series marvelously named White Sox blogger J.J. Stankevitz asked me some questions over at Beerleaguer.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota computer repair shop TCPC Services, so please help support AG.com by considering them for your computer problems.

May 12, 2011

Proving closers and expensive saves

When the Twins traded Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for Matt Capps last July 30 they touted Capps' status as a closer. And not just any closer, they repeatedly said. Capps was a "proven closer" and an "experienced closer" and an "All-Star closer." Regardless of their wording, the message was clear: They felt that Capps' track record as a closer for the Pirates and Nationals made him a major upgrade over Jon Rauch, who'd been filling in for the injured Joe Nathan.

I hated the move at the time, writing that a prospect as good as Ramos was far too big a price to pay for Capps, whose save totals masked the fact that his actual performance was merely setup-man caliber and not significantly better than Rauch. That stance was viewed as heresy by many Twins fans. After all, they said, the Twins had acquired a proven, experienced, All-Star closer and that would allow them to remove Rauch from a role he clearly was ill-suited to fill.

However, once you strip away the labels and perceptions there simply wasn't much difference between the two pitchers. And certainly not enough difference to warrant giving up a prospect like Ramos for the right to pay Capps three times as much money as Rauch. At the time of the trade Rauch had a 3.05 ERA and was 21-for-25 converting saves. Since the trade Capps has a 2.86 ERA and is 21-for-25 converting saves. And the similarities go even further:

                  IP      ERA     SV     BS     SO/9     BB/9     HR
Rauch then        38     3.05     21      4      6.3      2.1      3
Capps since       44     2.86     21      4      6.1      1.6      4

One pitcher was a career-long setup man whose stint as a fill-in closer was largely treated as a failure. One pitcher was touted as an experienced, proven, All-Star closer whose presence in the ninth inning was apparently worth giving up one of baseball's top catching prospects. And just as their respective numbers beyond save totals suggested at the time of the deal, there's been almost no difference between the two pitchers since the deal.

Well, except that Capps is now being paid $7.15 million by the Twins in his final season before free agency and Ramos is hitting .295/.356/.462 as the Nationals' starting catcher at age 23. Closing is a role, not a skill, and the success rate is 75-80 percent for mediocre relievers, 80-85 percent for good relievers, and 85-90 percent for elite relievers. Paying a premium for an 80-85 percent guy just because he'd done it before was an increasingly costly error in logic.

April 25, 2011

Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you

Catching up with old friends in new places ...

Matt Guerrier signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Dodgers and got off to a great start in Los Angeles with 11 straight scoreless innings before coughing up five runs Saturday. Guerrier has filled largely the same role with the Dodgers that he did with the Twins, working the seventh and eighth innings setting up closer Jonathan Broxton while recording more than three outs in five of his first 10 appearances.

Brian Fuentes has been filling in for the injured Andrew Bailey as the A's closer, converting six of seven save chances with a 4.09 ERA and 10-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings. He was unable to find a full-time closing opportunity as a free agent and settled for a two-year, $10.5 million deal at age 35. Bailey is due back early next month, at which point Fuentes will slide into a setup role alongside former Twin and original AG.com favorite, Grant Balfour.

Jon Rauch also stumbled into a brief stint filling in as Toronto's closer with Frank Francisco sidelined to begin the season. Just as he did for the Twins last year Rauch did a perfectly solid job in the role, converting all three save chances before Francico returned 18 games in, and he has a 2.25 ERA and 6-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings overall. Dating back to last year Rauch has converted 24-of-28 saves with a 2.98 ERA and 52/18 K/BB ratio in 66 innings.

• Obviously the three-year, $13 million contract helped, but Jesse Crain also talked about the opportunity to be in the mix for saves as one of the reasons for signing with the White Sox. Chicago's bullpen has been a mess, with closer Matt Thornton blowing four saves already and manager Ozzie Guillen trying all kinds of different combinations late, but Crain has yet to get a crack at closing duties despite a 1.93 ERA and 11-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings.

Orlando Hudson got off to strong start in San Diego while oddly batting third in the Padres' lineup, but a recent slump has knocked his overall line down to .229/.349/.271 in 21 games. Of course, even that .620 OPS is still much higher than the Twins have gotten from Alexi Casilla (.485), Matt Tolbert (.469), Luke Hughes (.448), and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.519) in the middle infield and Hudson is playing half his games in the majors' most pitcher-friendly ballpark.

• I didn't like the Twins' decision to trade J.J. Hardy after he was above par offensively among shortstops and outstanding defensively in the 101 games he was healthy enough to be in the lineup, but they have to be smiling after he lasted just six games with the Orioles before being placed on the disabled list. Hardy is out until mid-May with a strained oblique and one of the two minor-league relievers the Twins got for him, Jim Hoey, has been thrust into a setup role.

Brendan Harris was also traded to Baltimore in the Hardy swap or more accurately dumping $1.25 million of his $1.75 million salary on the Orioles was part of the Twins' side of the deal. No one will ever be able to explain why the Twins handed Harris a two-year, $3.2 million deal last January, but after spending most of last season at Triple-A he failed to make the Orioles out of spring training and is once again struggling in the International League.

Wilson Ramos has overtaken Ivan Rodriguez as Washington's starting catcher and all of a sudden articles have popped up explaining how the Twins don't regret trading a 22-year-old top catching prospect for the right to pay $10 million for one-and-a-half years of Matt Capps. I'm sure the timing is purely coincidental. Ramos is hitting .351 with surprisingly decent plate discipline early on, giving him a .302/.347/.414 career line through 34 games.

Dealt for Single-A reliever Paul Bargas in December after the Twins settled on Drew Butera as their preferred backup catcher, Jose Morales is now backing up Chris Iannetta in Colorado and playing sparingly in the early going. He owns a career line of .295/.374/.358 in 81 games, but the Twins never trusted his glove. Bargas unfortunately has been hospitalized due to a neurological condition, with general manager Bill Smith describing him as "very sick."

Nick Punto's one-year, $750,000 contract with St. Louis got off to a rough start when he underwent hernia surgery within days of reporting to spring training, but he's healthy now and already starting regularly in place of injured second baseman Skip Schumaker. I thought the Twins should have re-signed Punto as long as the money was no more than $1 million and the projected role was minor. For all his faults, he'd be their best middle infielder right now.

Pat Neshek not only won a spot in the Padres' bullpen out of spring training after being lost on waivers for nothing by the Twins, he threw eight innings with a 2.25 ERA and .222 batting average against. However, while I'm happy to see Neshek doing well and didn't understand cutting him loose, his 7-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio is anything but impressive, his average fastball has clocked in at just 85.6 miles per hour, and now he's been optioned to Triple-A.

• Traded to the Braves for Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond last month in one of the most confusing Twins moves in a long time, Billy Bullock has struggled at Double-A with a 12.15 ERA through 6.2 innings. He thrived at Double-A in the second half of last season, but his shaky control has been a big problem with six walks. Diamond, meanwhile, has a 3.48 ERA and 13-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in three starts at Rochester.

Rob Delaney was lost on waivers to Tampa Bay in late January when they Twins dropped him from the 40-man roster to make room for Dusty Hughes. Delaney failed to make the Rays out of spring training, but has a 2.45 ERA and 14-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings at Triple-A and will likely get a chance in Tampa Bay at some point this season. Hughes has been a mess so far, living up to his mediocre track record by allowing seven runs in seven innings.

Ron Mahay left the Twins as a free agent, signed a minor-league deal with the Dodgers only to be released in the final week of spring training, and has latched on with the Diamondbacks at Triple-A, continuing a career-long pattern of having to prove himself anew seemingly every season despite consistently solid numbers. He might finally just be out of gas at age 40, but Mahay has a career ERA of 3.83 that includes a 3.49 mark in the previous five seasons.

Dennys Reyes beat out Hideki Okajima for the left-handed specialist role in the Red Sox's bullpen coming out of spring training, turning a minor-league deal into $900,000 in guaranteed money, and then got demoted to Triple-A one week into the season after four shaky outings. Reyes cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Pawtucket, but the $900,000 salary is locked in whether "Big Sweat" gets called back up to Boston or not.

Yohan Pino, a right-hander the Twins swapped to the Indians for Carl Pavano in mid-2009, was traded to the Blue Jays last week for cash considerations. Pino was a mid-level prospect when the Twins dealt him, posting standout numbers in the minors despite mediocre raw stuff, and now he's organizational filler at age 28. Pavano was an impending free agent back then, but went on to re-sign with the Twins twice and has a 4.09 ERA in 326 innings since the trade.

March 23, 2011

Twins Notes: Fifth starters, old friends, bullpens, and short shelf lives

Ron Gardenhire announced yesterday that Scott Baker will be in the rotation alongside Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, and Brian Duensing, which means Kevin Slowey is bullpen bound despite a 39-21 record and 4.42 ERA in 82 career starts. Winning percentage is a mostly useless stat, but it's still notable that Slowey is headed to the bullpen with a .650 mark that ranks second to Johan Santana in Twins history among pitchers with 50 decisions.

I'm of the belief that both Baker and Slowey deserved rotation spots ahead of Blackburn, but with Gardenhire awarding Blackburn a starting job weeks ago that was clearly never an option and short of that Baker over Slowey is the right call. Baker is the longest-tenured member of the rotation and has a 4.33 ERA in 138 career starts, including a 4.49 mark in 29 outings last season after drawing the Opening Day assignment. He's a perfectly solid mid-rotation starter.

Slowey fits that description as well, but his durability has been in question since returning from late-2009 wrist surgery and there's been various speculation that the Twins aren't thrilled with his demeanor. It also likely didn't help Slowey's cause that he's not signed to a multi-year deal and is owed $2.7 million this season, whereas Baker is under contract for $11.5 million through 2012. To his credit, Slowey apparently took the demotion to the bullpen in stride yesterday.

Whether he'll be an effective enough reliever to gain Gardenhire's trust in a high-leverage role is unclear. Slowey has all of four career relief appearances, half of which came when he was a 23-year-old rookie in 2007, but has a 2.74 career ERA in the first inning and like most relievers the short appearances should help lessen the importance of his mediocre secondary stuff. As a reliever Slowey can focus on his fastball and slider while leaning less on his iffy changeup.

Of course, Slowey may not be long for the bullpen anyway. Rarely do teams make it through a 162-game season using just five starters, leaving Slowey just an injury away from being called back into rotation duty, and it wouldn't be surprising if teams have expressed trade interest in an affordable 27-year-old mid-rotation starter under team control through 2013. Shopping him seems natural, especially if they think No. 1 prospect Kyle Gibson will be ready by midseason.

• Dumped by the Twins and claimed off waivers by the Padres earlier this week, Pat Neshek flew from Florida to Arizona and tossed a perfect inning with two strikeouts yesterday. His first strikeout victim? None other than Carlos Gomez. Neshek is reunited with Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson, the latter of whom is already annoying new teammates with the same motor mouth that reportedly helped guarantee his departure from the Twins after one season.

Alex Burnett was seemingly never viewed as a strong Opening Day bullpen option thanks to last year's second-half fade and he's been assigned to Triple-A. He jumped all the way from Double-A to the majors and then struggled in 14 appearances following a midseason demotion to Rochester, so some more time there at age 23 is probably a good thing. I'm still convinced Burnett can eventually be a solid bullpen contributor, perhaps this season.

• Burnett returning to Triple-A, Neshek going to San Diego, and Slowey moving to the bullpen did a lot to clear up the relief picture. Slowey joins Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, and Jose Mijares as locks, with Dusty Hughes and Glen Perkins looking like clear favorites to serve as second and third lefties behind Mijares. That would leave just one open spot, presumably for a righty, with Jeff Manship, Jim Hoey, Kyle Waldrop, and perhaps Carlos Gutierrez as candidates.

Trevor Plouffe entered camp with at least an outside chance of pushing Matt Tolbert for the utility man job, but was 7-for-34 (.216) with seven strikeouts versus just one walk at the plate and was an absolute disaster defensively, making six errors in 16 games. He'll head to Triple-A for the fourth straight season, leaving Tolbert and Luke Hughes to duke it out for the backup infielder gig. For whatever it's worth, Hughes is in a 0-for-13 slump following a hot start.

• Last week I linked to a study showing that the Twins promote their position player prospects through the minors slower than every other organization and the first round of spring training cuts included a couple assignments that will add to those numbers. Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson were sent back to Double-A after playing 111 and 103 games there last year. Benson led New Britain in homers and OPS, so his repeating the level is the epitome of that study.

Ben Revere spent last year alongside Benson in New Britain's outfield, but he was assigned to Rochester in a move that makes it very clear he'll be the first outfielder called up if needed. Obviously no surprise after Revere spent most of September with the Twins last year, but his moving up the ladder while Benson stays behind is interesting given that Benson topped his OPS by 128 points at Double-A. Revere is more polished than Benson, but has far less upside.

• There's been very little talk about left-hander Scott Diamond potentially making the Opening Day roster and Rule 5 picks must be sent back to their original team if they aren't kept in the majors all season, but the Twins reportedly may try to work out a deal with the Braves to keep him without the Rule 5 restrictions. He hasn't been impressive this spring, but Diamond has a chance to be a useful back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever at some point.

• Injuries to Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel mean Jon Rauch looks likely to start the year as the Blue Jays' closer and the Twins kick off the season with a three-game series in Toronto.

• It was fun while it lasted, but Gardenhire is already too in on the whole "just fire it through the internet" thing for the humor to really continue much longer. Based on various beat writer accounts of his media briefings the past couple days, Gardenhire has been jokingly mentioning the internet, blogs, and Twitter seemingly every other sentence and has apparently also come up with his own set of accompanying sound effects. We'll always have the t-shirt, at least.

• Speaking of beat writers, Jon Marthaler of Twinkie Town put together some brilliant advice for Rhett Bollinger as he replaces Kelly Thesier at MLB.com.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »