May 16, 2012

Getting to know the Twins’ draft options with the No. 2 overall pick

Not all draft classes are created equal and unfortunately for the Twins they've stumbled into a bad year to have their first top-10 pick since 2001 and five other top-100 selections. There's no year in which having the No. 2 overall pick won't allow a team to potentially land a future star-caliber player, but the consensus on this year's pool is that it lacks the elite-level talent typically available that high in the draft and isn't even particularly strong in overall depth.

Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton is widely considered the highest-upside prospect in the class, but several prominent draft analysts have suggested that he might not even be a top-five pick in many years. Stanford right-hander Mark Appel was once viewed as the clear-cut top college prospect and still sits atop many mock drafts, but his mid-90s fastball comes with more question marks than a typical college ace linked to the No. 1 pick.

In other words, the Twins are even bad--or at least unlucky--at being bad. And that's not just the opinion of various outsiders publicly analyzing the draft for an audience at Baseball America or or Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff for his thoughts on the overall quality of the draft class and he didn't pull any punches:

At this moment in time, this crop of talent is not very good. Last year, there was about seven or eight guys that were high end. We had eight guys with an 8 [on the 2-8 scouting scale]--the highest value you can give a guy--and this year we have zero.

It's worth noting that last year's class was considered unusually deep in elite-level prospects, with Jim Callis of Baseball America writing recently that "there were seven No. 1 overall pick-caliber talents available." Still, based on the above quote Radcliff is seemingly saying that the Twins' highest-rated targets in this year's draft wouldn't have been among their top eight targets in last year's draft and that's very discouraging for a team picking No. 2 overall.

Of course, lamenting the lack of elite-level talent isn't going to change anything and on June 4 the Twins will pick someone No. 2 regardless of where that someone would have been picked in other years. Whichever one of Buxton and Appel the Astros pass on with the No. 1 pick will seemingly be the favorite to land with the Twins one spot later, but that's far from guaranteed and a handful of total prospects could be in the mix. Let's get to know them ...

Byron Buxton, Georgia high school center fielder

Keith Law of says:

By far the best upside prospect ... his body and off-the-charts athleticism have earned him comparisons to players from the Uptons to Matt Kemp to Eric Davis to Willie Mays. If you want raw tools, this is about as good as it gets. ... There are risk factors here. Buxton has hit for very little power this spring ... raising questions about what his actual power ceiling might be.

Callis of Baseball America says:

A five-tool center fielder ... Buxton has emerged as the consensus top talent and compares favorably with [last year's No. 5 overall pick Bubba] Starling, his parallel as 2011's best athlete available.

Mark Appel, Stanford University right-hander

Numbers: Appel has started 12 games for Stanford this season, throwing 94 innings with a 2.68 ERA and 95-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Conor Glassey of Baseball America says:

Appel has the ingredients to be a front-line starter. He has a pro-ready body at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds to go along with his mid-90s fastball that touches 98. He throws a hard slider that has the potential to be an out pitch and his changeup has improved. ... The knock on Appel is that he hasn't dominated like most highly-ranked pitchers have in the past.

Law of says:

Appel has shown consistently above-average stuff all spring, but his command has come and gone and concerns over Stanford's abuse of his arm may keep him from going in the top two overall picks. ... The problem is that hitters seem to square up Appel's stuff more than they should given its quality and velocity.

Kyle Zimmer, University of San Francisco right-hander

Numbers: Zimmer has started 12 games for San Francisco this season, throwing 83 innings with a 2.59 ERA and 96-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Glassey of Baseball America says:

Recruited as a position player ... before transitioning into the role full-time last year. ... Zimmer's fastball typically sits in the 94-96 mph range and gets as high as 99 and his hammer curveball is just as good. ... Zimmer pounds the strike zone and throws all four pitches for strikes.

Jonathan Mayo of says:

Zimmer has the makings of four pitches that could be at least major league average. Any talk about the strong, durable right-hander has to begin with his plus fastball that he can run up to 97 mph. ... His curve is a power breaking pitch, one that could be an out pitch at the next level. ... He is a very consistent strike thrower.

Mike Zunino, University of Florida catcher

Numbers: Zunino has played 52 games for Florida this season, hitting .320/.379/.645 with 14 homers, 22 doubles, and a 35-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Law of says:

Zunino is the best college bat in a terrible year for college bats. ... He doesn't offer any real plus tools, but there's a lot that's average to above-average and no major holes. ... His weakest tool is his throwing arm, just average arm strength with a somewhat slow release ... I don't think he'll ever have to move, but he's unlikely to be plus back there.

Mayo of says:

Zunino is the best catcher in this draft class and he has the potential to be a very good everyday big league backstop. While he does have a bit of a long swing and can struggle with offspeed stuff at times, he has bat speed and loft, meaning he should have plenty of future power.

Kevin Gausman, Louisiana State University right-hander

Numbers: Gausman has started 13 games for Louisiana State this season, throwing 92 innings with a 2.95 ERA and 112-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Will Lingo of Baseball America says:

Gausman has two premium pitches with a fastball that sits 94-96 mph, touching 98, and he mixes in a low-90s two-seamer. ... Gausman's 85-86 mph changeup is a second plus pitch, but scouts do have significant questions about the development of his breaking pitches.

John Manuel of Baseball America says:

If I were drafting and I wanted a college right-hander this year, I'd go for Gausman. ... I think Gausman has the best combination of size, stuff, projection ... the breaking ball has been there in the past, it should be at least an average pitch, and his fastball and change could both be plus down the line.

In addition to those five prospects California high school right-hander Lucas Giolito was being talked about as the potential No. 1 overall pick before an elbow injury ended his season. Considering the Twins' tendency to shy away from high school pitching and recent bouts with organization-wide pitching injuries it seems unlikely that they'd target him, but if healthy he'd definitely be in the mix.

March 12, 2012

Twins Notes: Perkins’ extension, prospect hyperbole, and 1987 romance

• Two months after avoiding arbitration for this season with a one-year, $1.55 million deal Glen Perkins and the Twins agreed to a three-year, $10.3 million extension that includes a team option for 2016. Perkins would have been arbitration eligible for the final time in 2013, so the extension pre-pays that bill and then covers his first two seasons of free agency while giving the Twins a $4.5 million option or $300,000 buyout for his third season of free agency.

Between his 5.06 ERA as a starter and an injury grievance filed against the team Perkins was deep in the doghouse and close to being discarded, but instead he stayed with the Twins and shifted to the bullpen with great success. Perkins wore down late in the season, but that isn't shocking from a 29-year-old working as a full-time reliever for the first time ever and he still finished with a 2.48 ERA and 65-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62 innings overall.

Perkins wasn't quite as great as his ERA suggested, largely because allowing just two homers in 253 plate appearances isn't sustainable, but his 2.92 xFIP ranked 16th among all relievers with 50 or more innings. And while committing $10.3 million to a 29-year-old with a 4.41 career ERA is certainly risky, Perkins was a completely different pitcher last season thanks to adding 3-4 miles per hour to his fastball moving from the rotation to the bullpen.

Obviously waiting to see if Perkins could duplicate that success before making the commitment would have been ideal for the Twins, but another standout year would establish him as an elite reliever and leave him just one season away from a big contract in free agency. Once a player can sniff the open market the motivation to sign a long-term deal often vanishes, so if the Twins believe the Perkins they saw in 2011 is the real deal they did well to sign him now.

Perkins will get $2.5 million in 2013, $3.75 million in both 2014 and 2015, and $4.5 million or a $300,000 buyout in 2016, all of which will be bargains if he keeps thriving as a reliever. And while the deal also includes incentives based on games finished to raise those salaries if he becomes a closer, by signing Perkins as a setup man the Twins don't have to worry as much about how racking up saves would strengthen his bargaining power and perceived value.

• More and more lately I've been trying to take the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" approach to the local mainstream Twins coverage, but sometimes it's just too tough. Last week Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote a pair of columns about Twins prospects that really had me shaking my head. First he wrote a column entitled "Brian Dozier is going to be the next big thing for Twins" that was full of fawning hyperbole:

Dozier, a shortstop from Tupelo, Miss., is going to be the next big thing for the Twins. The only question is: How soon is next? ... At the moment, there seems to be no alternative [at shortstop]. However, Twins fans should take comfort in knowing this dire situation appears temporary. Because Dozier has been advancing through the farm system at breakneck speed.

Apparently in Powers' mind "advancing through the farm system at breakneck speed" means a soon-to-be 25-year-old who began last season at high Single-A and has yet to play a game at Triple-A. But wait, there's more:

Everyone seems convinced that Dozier is the next big thing. Of course, spring training is all about hope. If you can't get excited over a prospect in spring training, heck, you should be watching a different sport. But in this case, I really do think that "next" is going to be pretty darn quick.

Powers writes that "everyone seems convinced that Dozier is the next big thing." In reality, Dozier appeared on zero prominent top-100 prospect lists and doesn't even rank as one of the Twins' top seven prospects according to John Manuel of Baseball America or Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus or Keith Law of Dozier has the potential to become a solid big leaguer, but the picture being painted by Powers is misleading at best.

And then a couple days later Powers wrote another column with similarly hyperbolic prose touting Chris Parmelee as a future middle-of-the-order slugger:

A true power hitter has a different air about him when he talks about home runs. It's not about getting a good pitch to hit or guessing right on a fastball, but rather it's about a certain feeling that occurs when bat and baseball collide. True power hitters get sort of a faraway look just describing it.

"It's some feeling when you know you got it," Chris Parmelee said. "It's a good feeling, a great feeling." And if the ball is going over the fence anyway, it might as well go waaayyy over the fence, right? "Yeah, why not?" Parmelee said with a chuckle.

Parmelee, like Dozier, has the potential to be a solid big leaguer. He also has a grand total of 19 homers in 253 games and 1,073 plate appearances at Double-A. But wait, there's more:

Called up Sept. 6, Parmelee, a lefty first baseman, hit .355 in 76 at-bats. His on-base percentage was .443, and he had six doubles and four home runs. And those homers traveled a long way. ...

The good news is that he never has lost sight of his best attribute: the ability to hit the baseball a long way. In other words, his role is that of a power hitter. ... Here's a kid who can hit the ball a mile. Put him in the lineup until he shows he doesn't belong there.

Powers makes a huge deal about the four homers Parmelee hit for the Twins in September, using them as evidence that the 24-year-old with zero Triple-A experience should be playing every day in the majors, and repeatedly writes things that make it seem as though he's a big-time slugger. Yet not once in the entire 20-paragraph article does Powers mention that Parmelee had just 19 homers and a .416 slugging percentage in two seasons at Double-A.

J.J. Hardy joined David Ortiz in saying that the Twins coached him not to maximize his power potential, although unlike Ortiz he later clarified the comments to be less critical. Whatever the case, the Twins' homer total hasn't been among the league's top five since way back in 1988 and they've ranked 10th or worse 16 times during that span. They've also had one of the league's top five offenses just three times in the past 19 seasons.

Alexi Casilla didn't look awful and graded out decently statistically in 36 starts at shortstop last year, but apparently the Twins weren't impressed. During an in-game interview on FSN last week Terry Ryan said: "We tried Casilla at shortstop a couple times and it didn't really work out."

Kevin Mulvey, who was acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana deal and then traded to the Diamondbacks for Jon Rauch, has re-signed with the Mets on a minor-league contract after being released by the Diamondbacks. And at age 26 he's little more than Triple-A filler.

• California high school right-hander Lucas Giolito is one of the Twins' potential targets with the No. 2 overall pick, but he'll miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury.

Bobby Valentine, who managed Tsuyoshi Nishioka in Japan for six years, says he predicted Nishioka's broken leg and even warned him about it last spring.

Drew Butera has hit .178/.220/.261 in the majors after hitting .214/.296/.317 in the minors, which makes this article pretty hilarious.

Jason Pridie was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a "drug of abuse," which means the Twins probably won't try to acquire him for a third time.

Doug Mientkiewicz, who last played in 2009, is the Dodgers' new rookie-ball hitting coach.

Joel Zumaya is scheduled for Tommy John surgery and will attempt another comeback.

Gary Gaetti's son is marrying Dan Gladden's daughter.