Monday, October 16, 2017

Falvey Gives Twins A Leap In Year One

In looking back to some of the things I wrote about Derek Falvey and Thad Levine upon being hired last fall, I stumbled upon a piece that focused on Twins acquisitions. Namely, how well does Minnesota utilize the trade market, and does it work in their favor. You can read that piece here, but the conclusion was that Terry Ryan left plenty to be desired on that front. A year in, Falvey is providing reason for excitement.

Over the course of 2017, the Twins found themselves in a unique position and made a couple of swaps. Despite being positioned well above expectations, they found themselves fading at the deadline and moved some key players as sellers. As they rallied down the stretch and made the Wild Card game, the addition of young talent in the organization should only further the group as a whole in the future.

This season, Falvey sent Brandon Kintzler, John Ryan Murphy, and Huascar Ynoa out. The Ynoa move brought in Jaime Garcia for one start, prior to flipping him to the New York Yankees. The returns included strong prospects such as Zack Littell, Tyler Watson, and Gabriel Ynoa. A Triple-A, and big league ready, pitcher was included in Dietrich Enns, and Minnesota even nabbed some international bonus money. It's one thing to grade these deals on their own, but I think the more important note is what they as a whole say about Falvey.

First and foremost, the new front office was willing to go above and beyond to make sure the return benefitted them. In dealing for Jaime Garcia, the Twins gave up little in Ynoa because they were able to assume the bulk of the veteran starter's salary. They then essentially bought Littell from the Yankees by not sending any of Garcia's money with him. Falvey was able to orchestrate a set of moves that benefitted the organization in one of their greatest deficiencies (starting pitching) and the only cost was a monetary value.

The other standout for me was the acquisition of Gabriel Moya. Despite not being a flamethrower or an overpowering reliever, Moya's numbers at Double-A in 2017 were exceptional. John Ryan Murphy had no place in Minnesota, and had simply become a remnant of how bad the swap for Aaron Hicks really was. Falvey was able to acquire Moya, a player of value and need, in exchange for a guy that served no benefit to the organization going forward.

Heading into this offseason and beyond, it will be through adept trade acquisitions that Falvey and Levine can make their mark. While the Twins farm system isn't what it was, it is rich in certain areas, and that allows for the organization to use prospects as assets. There was a time that Terry Ryan either didn't part with those types of pieces, or you'd prefer he didn't in fear of the return. With the Twins positioned for a lengthened period of success, supplementing the big league roster is a must. That will come from both free agency as well as trades, and the gentlemen at the helm seem more than capable.

If there's a name I'd watch out for over the winter, it's probably Nick Gordon. With Royce Lewis in the system, and Wander Javier blossoming, shortstop may be among Minnesota's best area on the farm. Gordon alone isn't going to command top tier pitching, but he could be packaged along with other pieces to help the Twins in a different way than simply debuting on the roster.

Given baseball being an uncapped sport, teams are allowed to spend to their heart's content. That means organizations like Minnesota, without a massive TV deal, will always find it hard to play in the upper echelon of bankroll. Knowing what internal assets you posses, and how to use them, is going to be huge for the organization moving forward. It's been a very small sample size thus far, but there's nothing to suggest a cause for concern here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Grading Out The 2017 Twins: Relief Pitching

With the Minnesota Twins now finished with both the regular and postseason portions of their 2017 Major League Baseball season, it's fair to look back on the year that was. This group matured, and turned around a catastrophic 2016 effort to once again give steam to a young team going places. It was a group effort, but breaking down individual performances is a must as well.

In order to provide some brevity, we'll make this a three part series. Today, grades will be handed out to the starting pitching. Monday we looked at the offense, Tuesday was the starting pitching and today concludes with the relief group. In 2017, Minnesota had 26 different pitchers make relief appearances. We're going to analyze eight, which is the amount that the Twins generally had at their disposal over the course of the year.

All of the groundwork is out of the way, let's get into it.

Tyler Duffey C

After working solely as a starter in his first two big league seasons, Duffey made 56 appearances in 2017 out of the bullpen. He pitched just over half (71.0) of his total innings from a year ago (133.0). In relief, the expectation is that the velocity plays up some, with the hope that the strikeout numbers climb as well.

Duffey picked up a mph (92.3) on his fastball, and just under one more K/9 (8.5) this season. Despite having a strong 3.72 FIP, he finished with a mediocre 4.94 ERA. Giving up 10.0 H/9, Duffey simply allowed too many batters to reach. He had 10 appearances allowing at least 2 runs, and didn't do much to move the needle for Minnesota. I think he fits better in the pen going forward, but the hope has to be that he trends back towards his dominating college self.

Taylor Rogers B

On the season as a whole, Rogers has some strong numbers with a few underlying issues. The 3.07 ERA is great, but he dipped down to 7.9 K/9 and allowed 3.4 BB/9. On top of that, his FIP climbed to 4.09. After being lights out in the first half, Paul Molitor continued to ride him against righties and found the youngster getting exposed.

Rogers hasn't really ever been great against righties, and that should be the expectation going forward. He's serviceable in that scenario, but is a true weapon against left-handed batters. If used properly, and maybe a bit less often, Rogers should be a solid middle-to-high leverage option for Minnesota.

Matt Belisle B

One April 26, Belisle made his 10th appearance of the season. Following a 5 run blowup, he owned a 7.00 ERA. From there on, he pitched another 51.1 innings to the tune of a 3.51 ERA allowing just a .646 OPS against. Minnesota installed him as the closer, and he recorded nine saves down the stretch. For the first time since 2010, Belisle cracked the 8.0 K/9 (8.1) mark.

While he's hardly anything flashy, and wasn't suited for the closer role, Belisle came through on the one-year deal Minnesota handed him. A free agent again going into 2018, Minnesota could look at bringing him back. He's not going to push the needle much, but Belisle showed he had enough left in the tank for his age-37 season.

Ryan Pressly C

Expected to be one of the best pieces in the Twins pen this year, Ryan Pressly stumbled a few times. The 1.5 HR/9 was a career worst, and they generally seemed to come at the worst times. Owning among the highest velocity in the Twins pen, Minnesota needs Pressly to be on his game more often going forward.

The strikeouts were there (9.0 K/9) and the walk numbers didn't jump off the page. Pressly experienced a couple demotions on the year, and while it wasn't a great campaign as a whole, he ended on a solid note. In 2018, Molitor will need the fireballer to return to a lockdown option in the late innings.

Trevor Hildenberger A

If you were unaware of how good Hildenberger could be, you probably weren't reading the right places. With strong minor league numbers throughout his career, he was the often left out name among the group including Jake Reed and Nick Burdi. The sidearmer isn't a high velocity guy, but it is far from just a gimmick as well.

Hildenberger worked his way into the late innings for Molitor and rewarded the club nicely. A 9.4 K/9 with a 1.3 BB/9 in his debut season was plenty nice to see. The 3.21 ERA has room to go down next year, and he should be a lock as a go-to guy going forward.

Buddy Boshers D+

Coming out of nowhere a year ago, Boshers did enough to hold on throughout the season. He worked virtually the same amount this season, but took steps backwards everywhere. Less strikeouts, more walks, terrible FIP, and allowed way too many homers.

As a lefty killer, Boshers was serviceable enough. The .655 OPS against versus lefties got him through the year, but there's other guys that can do that job, and do it better. Molitor does have a level of comfort with him it seems, but I'd be shocked if he has a role in 2018.

Alan Busenitz B+

It took a while for Molitor to take off the training wheels, but across 31.2 IP, the lone standing return for Alex Meyer turned out to be a great pickup for Minnesota. Busenitz owned a 1.99 ERA but did have some suspect areas as well. You'd like to see more than 6.5 K/9, and the 1.1 HR/9 isn't ideal either. That said, Booze throws heat, and has the looks of an impact arm in relief.

There shouldn't be much doubt that Busenitz needs to be penciled into the Twins 2018 Opening Day relief corps. He could begin in a middle relief role and push for more high-leverage work as the season goes on. I'd like to see him trend up a bit more across the board, but in his debut, there's a lot to like here.

Dillon Gee B+

Having spent arguably too much time in the minors prior to being promoted to the active roster, Gee was huge for Molitor and the Twins in 2017. As a reliever, he worked 33.1 IP and compiled a 1.35 ERA. The strikeout numbers were serviceable at 7.6 K/9, and he limited walks, Gee is never going to be a lockdown guy as a starter or reliever, but he was the best long reliever Minnesota has had in quite some time.

Going into next season, the Twins should be adding a handful of impact relief arms. Guys that can push velocity and generate strikeouts is a must for this group. Having Gee back there to pick up the pieces after short starts is a good decision though, and if he can replicate his 2017, that's a really nice asset.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Grading Out The 2017 Twins: Starting Pitching

With the Minnesota Twins now finished with both the regular and postseason portions of their 2017 Major League Baseball season, it's fair to look back on the year that was. This group matured, and turned around a catastrophic 2016 effort to once again give steam to a young team going places. It was a group effort, but breaking down individual performances is a must as well.

In order to provide some brevity, we'll make this a three part series. Today, grades will be handed out to the starting pitching. Monday we looked at the offense, and Wednesday will conclude with the relief group. While the Twins got starts from a ridiculous amount of different arms (16), this will focus on the five that turned in the most work.

All of the groundwork is out of the way, let's get into it.

Ervin Santana A

Over the course of the year, there wasn't much more of a steadying presence on the mound than that of Ervin Santana. He started strong out of the gates, and finished well down the stretch. There was a bit of a lull in the middle, but the final numbers resulted in a 3.28 ERA along with a 7.1 K/9 and a 2.6 BB/9.

Santana wasn't flashy, and he's never been as much, but his repertoire allowed for consistent production. For the bulk of the year, his slider had good bite, and he was able to keep opposing hitters at bay. Homers once again were an issue for him, but there's little reason not to feel good about Santana taking the mound for another 30-plus starts with Minnesota in 2018.

Kyle Gibson C+

More than any other starter for the Twins, it was a tale of two seasons for Gibson. He was demoted to Triple-A Rochester, and cast off for Jaime Garcia at one point. Through his first 16 starts of 2017, he owned a terrible 6.31 ERA and was allowing opposing hitters a .934 OPS off of him. After making some tweaks, mid-July began a new narrative. Over his final 13 starts, Gibson owned a 3.76 ERA and allowed just a .701 OPS to opposing hitters.

For years, Twins fans (as well as the front office) have hoped Gibson would round out into the first round selection he was taken as. A sinkerballer with the ability to keep the ball in the yard, the hope was that Gibson would be a ground ball machine that doesn't give up much of anything. That hasn't been the case thus far, but the second half of 2017 provides plenty of reason for excitement. Gibson will be tendered a new deal this offseason, and hoping he can be a rotation fixture in 2018 is a good place to be.

Jose Berrios B+

With Berrios, the Twins saw growth but also the volatility of young arms. Posting a 3.89 ERA on the year, the Puerto Rican native has to feel good about how his season went. With an 8.6 K/9, he flashed the ability to strike out plenty of big league hitters. There were a lot of high points, and only a few clunkers mixed in.

Coming off a tough showing his rookie year, Berrios established himself a a big league difference maker this season. Going into 2018, it's a certainty that he's a lock for the Minnesota rotation, and it will be interesting to watch him push his ceiling. He has flashed true ace ability, and Minnesota desperately needs that trend to continue. Another step forward for Berrios a year from now, could have him entering some end of season award discussions.

Adalberto Mejia C

When acquired from the Giants in exchange for Eduardo Nunez, the Twins had to be thrilled getting a capable big league arm. Mejia had began to appear on top 100 prospect lists, and he looked the part of a back-end big league starter. Across 21 outings this season, a 4.50 ERA was indicative of being virtually who he was billed to be.

Mejia isn't flashy by any means, and while he can strike batters out (7.8 K/9), he also needs to work on limiting free passes (4.0 BB/9). Getting deep in games was a struggle for him this season, and that's going to need to be a focus going into 2018. Pitch economy, as well as command are areas for growth. He'll be fighting among a group of options to round out the rotation a year from now.

Bartolo Colon C-

Although the long time veteran's 5.18 ERA is anything but exciting on paper, it was such a necessary addition for Minnesota. Picked up from Atlanta after a dismal start to the year, Colon provided a leverl of certainty for the Twins. He found a better defense to help him out, and continued to be a command artist in his elder years (1.7 BB/9).

It sounds like Colon wants to pitch again next season at age 45. He's survived this long simply by throwing strikes, and that's something the Twins needed from a fifth guy when he stepped in. I can't imagine a scenario in which he's back with the organization to start next season, but he showed that he still has a little more to give, and he helped the Twins down the stretch. It was rarely pretty, but given what the other 11 guys who made starts for Paul Molitor's squad this year did, it was relatively effective.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Molitor Returns, What's Next?

The Minnesota Twins have announced that Paul Molitor will be back for the 2018 season, and in fact has signed a three-year deal to remain with the club. While there was some uncertainty as to whether or not this would get done, it's now time to look ahead. Off of a postseason berth, and the best season in recent history, the Twins have plenty of reason to look ahead on 2018 with excitement.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were tasked with making a decision on Molitor this offseason. After being mandated to keep him in 2017 by ownership, they now had to work out a new deal. With that part of the process done, I think we can begin to infer a couple of truths that lie ahead in the not-so-distant future. What are they you might ask? Well, let's dig in:

Brian Dozier remains a Twin:

There wasn't going to be another offseason in which the Twins shopped their second basemen. Now coming off a Wild Card game, and again with a solid season under his belt, Dozier wasn't going anywhere. The market wouldn't have been substantially better, and as was the case last offseason, he remains more important to his current team.

Dozier will be playing in the final year of a 4-year, $20 million deal he signed prior to the 2015 season. At the time, I had noted that Minnesota may have been better off signing into at least one of his free agent years. The 30 year-old Dozier is in line for a payday, and a contract extension makes a ton of sense. He's been the best second basemen not named Jose Altve over the past three years, and it's fair to expect him as a key cog in the Twins next postseason run.

Rebuild? It's time to go:

I'm not sure you could categorize 2017 as a rebuilding year for the Twins. Instead, it seemed much more like a feeling out process. No drastic moves were made in the offseason, and both Derek Falvey and Thad Levine really just took time to get acclimated with the organization. A handful of low risk, low reward deals were handed out, and the needle movement was as non-existent as you may have expected.

Fast forward to where we are now, and it's full on time for the Twins to supplement. Glen Perkins and Hector Santiago come off the books, freeing up some substantial money. The best of Minnesota's 25 man roster remain pre-arbitration, and there's a real ability to add right here and now. Pitching needs some help, while there's room for at least one bat, and the relief corps could use a significant step forward. Expect the new front office to put their stamp on this team in the immediate future.

Molitor's reinforcements:

To say I was shocked that Paul Molitor was handed a three-year deal may be a bit much, but there wasn't any way he was managing again on a year-by-year basis. Bypassing the two-year commitment, I think Molitor likely made some concessions with his bosses. I'd expect a new pitching coach to come in, and some expanded evidence of the staff around the Twins skipper.

James Rowson performed admirably in his first year as hitting coach, and I think we witnessed the fingerprints of Jeff Pickler on the game. Jeremy Heffner has also been brought in with a more analytical background, and the hope would be that Molitor utilizes those abilities a bit more on a game-by-game basis. Bullpen management and bunt decisions remain the largest contentions against Molitor, but in year two under the new regime, I'd be far from surprised to see a little bit of a style change.

Expectations heighten:

As things stand not only for the Twins, but also considering the rest of the AL Central, the playoffs should be a worst case scenario for the home nine. With Cleveland continuing to field a strong team going forward, they'll be the divisional favorites. From there, the Central is void of any real competition, and the Twins, much like the Indians, should feast upon that.

On their own, this Twins team is a young group with abundant talent. Giving them a handful of games against hapless teams like the White Sox, Tigers, and Royals should only increase their odds. A perfect storm is brewing, supplement this group and take advantage of the situation. For at least the next three years, Minnesota should find themselves in the Wild Card game at worst. With some additions, good baseball, and a few key breaks along the way, the sky could be the limit for this group.

Grading Out The 2017 Twins: Offense

With the Minnesota Twins now finished with both the regular and postseason portions of their 2017 Major League Baseball season, it's fair to look back on the year that was. This group matured, and turned around a catastrophic 2016 effort to once again give steam to a young team going places. It was a group effort, but breaking down individual performances is a must as well.

In order to provide some brevity, we'll make this a three part series. Today, grades will be handed out to the starting lineup. Tuesday will focus on the starting pitching, and Wednesday will conclude with the relief group. While there were additional efforts from secondary players, bench and rotational players will be skipped over for this exercise.

All of the groundwork is out of the way, let's get into it.

Catcher- Jason Castro C+

Castro turned in a .242/.333/.388 line for the Twins in the first of a three-year deal signed this offseason. Brought in mainly as a defensive addition, it's hard to suggest the new backstop was anything but an addition. Coming off a terrible tandem in Kurt Suzuki and Juan Centeno, Castro provided certainty over 110 games for Minnesota. His .720 OPS was passable, and he launched double-digit (10) HRs for the fifth straight season.

Most importantly for Minnesota however, was how valuable Castro was behind the dish. Ranked 11th (of 110) in framing runs by Baseball Prospectus, he was a massive improvement from the Suzuki a year ago (92nd of 104). Castro also posted a 26% caught stealing rate (in line with a league-wide 27%). On his own, he was a huge boost for the organization. Given his work with the pitching staff, it's hard to argue that he didn't directly influence a group that saw a good deal more success as well.

First Base- Joe Mauer A+

Now in his fourth season playing first base, Mauer turned in his greatest campaign at the new position. He has to be considered the front runner for the AL Gold Glove as he ranks near the top in all defensive categories. When on the diamond, both infield teammates as well as pitchers had to know they had as much of a sure thing at first base as possible.

At the plate, Mauer flashed ability that made him look like a glimmer of the player he used to be. With a .305/.384/.417 slash line, he posted an .800-plus OPS for the first time since 2013. He batted .300 again for the first time since that same year, and if there was increasing doubt as to his Hall of Fame chances, he brought them to a screeching halt. The local kid looked all Hometown Hero once again.

Second Base- Brian Dozier A

Coming off a season in which trade rumors ran rampant, and thoughts of regression appeared more certain than not, Dozier did his thing once again. Despite a traditional slower start, his bat heated up as they calendar did as well. After the All-Star break, Dozier slashed .301/.391/.587 with 21 homers. He finished the year with 34 long balls, and looks primed for an extension this winter.

Dozier posted a second consecutive season with an fWAR north of 4.5, and has become the best second basemen in baseball not named Jose Altuve. Minnesota could be kicking themselves for not extending him into free agency sooner, but Dozier appears like a player that should be at the core of a team making the playoffs consistently for the next few years to come.

Shorstop- Jorge Polanco B+

The hope was that Polanco could step in, arguably out of position, and solidify what has been a massive hole for the Twins in recent years. While he was able to accomplish that over the course of the 162 game season, it wasn't without some hiccups along the way. Despite a mid season slump coinciding with the loss of his grandfather, Polanco put up a .256/.313/.410 slash line. From August 2nd through the end of the year, Minnesota's shortstop hit .316/.377/.553 and sent 10 balls over the fence.

At short, while still being below average, Polanco was hardly a deficiency. Owning just a -1 DRS across 1,119 innings, he made massive strides against a -8 DRS mark in 406 innings a year ago. His range also remained limited, but again, not nearly as much as the year prior. Arm strength will always be an issue for Polanco, but it appears the offseason work he put in did a great deal to solidify him in a starting role. For now, Polanco is hardly a problem Minnesota needs to look into.

Third Base- Miguel Sano B

Arguably no player had a more frustrating season for the Twins than Miguel Sano. That's not to say he struggled or had a bad year, but when he got down, he never really was afforded the opportunity to get back up. Coming off a significant dip in production a year ago (.781 OPS in 16, .961 OPS in 15), Sano was needing to get back to his rookie numbers. The power looked there all season long, and despite playing in just 114 games, he hit 28 homers. The strikeout numbers climbed as well though, and play at third base remained average at best.

For the early portion of the year, Sano had to be the team's MVP. He was an offensive catalyst, and the power was only overshadowed, among young hitters, by the likes of Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger. With 173 strikeouts and just 54 walks, he was on the same record breaking trail from a year prior. The average was higher at .264, but plenty of production had been left on the table as the rookie season plate discipline wasn't there. Sano can stick at third, I think shedding some pounds can help him. He's an offensive threat, but honing it in some is a must as well.

Left Field- Eddie Rosario B

At the plate, it was Rosario who emerged for the Twins. With a .290/.328/.507 slash line, he easily put up the best numbers of his career. With 27 homers, he threatened for the team lead, and a career best 37.6% chase rate no doubt helped to paint a new picture. He also swung through a career low 11.9% of strikes, and enjoyed a career best 78.3% contact rate. Being just a bit more calculated at the plate paid big dividends for the Twins polarizing outfielder.

On defense, things continue to sag. After being incredibly valuable his rookie season, Rosario has been on a negative trend ever since. With -10 DRS posted across 1,257 innings this season, he cost the time in left field. There were plenty of errant or miscalculated throws, and his routes could use some real work. Rosario is an athlete with a big arm, but at times, he tries to survive on those realities alone.

Center Field- Byron Buxton B

At Twins Daily, I voted Buxton as my team MVP. It may be hard to wrap your head around this grade given that context, but let me explain. Buxton started out dismally at the plate, and that was well documented. He did however, completely revamp his swing at the big league level. While the final result was just a .728 OPS, he actually had an .804 OPS from Jun 2nd on. At the plate, Buxton turned it on when it mattered most, and despite the slow start, he became among the Twins most valuable hitters down the stretch.

With Buxton, offense is never going to overshadow just how good he is in the field though. In center, he's a lock for the AL Gold Glove, and was worth an MLB best 24 DRS. His range was consistently apparent, and it was on the back of Buxton that many Twins pitchers found themselves surviving. He's an asset in every sense of the word with the glove, and that along makes him an All Star caliber player. If the offense stays throughout a full season, the rest of the league will be put on notice.

Left Field- Max Kepler C-

If there was one youngster looking to take a step forward, but failed to do so, it was easily Kepler. After a .734 OPS and some breakout notions last season, the hope was that Kepler would leap forward this year. When the dust settled however, he owned just a .737 OPS and replicated many of the same statistics he put up a season ago.

Arguably the most frustrating development for Kepler this season was his struggles against left-handed pitching. Despite being able to hold his own on the farm, Paul Molitor went virtually full platoon with Kepler. He was sat regularly down the stretch, and lesser bats, as well as gloves, saw playing time in his place. Going forward, Kepler is going to need to tighten his approach at the plate as a whole, and the Twins can be hopeful that it's 2018 where Kepler makes his presence known.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Five Pieces To Change Minnesota Fortunes

With the dust still settling on the Wild Card loss to the New York Yankees, it's probably early for some to be thinking about the offseason for the Twins. That being said, we've officially entered that portion of the program, and this will be the first true offseason for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to tip their hand.

A year ago, Falvey and Levine were new to the organization, and looking to evaluate more than they sought out making waves. Additions came in the form of low risk, low reward types, while the current roster was viewed under a microscope. As we've seen towards the end of the 2017 schedule, internal decisions have been put in process, and there's been a handful of shakeups throughout the organization.

Looking towards the 2018 season, the Minnesota Twins find themselves in a good place. The AL Central, aside from the Cleveland Indians, should be in the doldrums. Another playoff berth should be the expectation, and challenging for the division could be a realistic thought with some well timed additions. So, in bolstering the 25 man roster, here's five acquisitions the Twins should be keen on making.

Starting Pitching x 2

There's been more than enough talk of the Twins needing an ace. That couldn't be more true, but in reality, that's a need of virtually every team in baseball. Ace's don't grow on trees, and when they hit the market (which is rare), everyone jumps at acquiring them. Yu Darvish would be more than a nice piece for Minnesota, and the Levine connection is there, but Minnesota simply isn't going to be able to compete with other suitors. I'd imagine both Los Angeles and Texas will be at the top of his list, and that's a tough duo to crack.

More realistically, the Twins adding capable middle-of-the-rotation starters makes a ton of sense. Hector Santiago is gone and bringing in more back end fodder like that doesn't do anything for the growth of the club. Names like Lance Lynn and Tyler Chatwood would be near the top of my list. Adding two pitchers of that ability gives the Twins four set starters by including Jose Berrios and Ervin Santana. That makes for a good amount of depth competing for the final spot, and puts the organization in a much better place on the mound.

Relief Pitching x 2

I'm generally not a fan of spending on relievers. There's so much uncertainty year over year, and most of the time, big money deals in the pen can flame out. The reality for the Twins however, is that they lack strikeout arms in the bullpen. Aside from Ryan Pressly, there isn't much velocity among the Twins relief corps, and not being able to get timely strikeouts is a problem. I'm a believer in the young arms Minnesota has in the system, but they've been stalled for a myriad of reasons. It's time to bolster that group from outside.

Getting some real velocity for the Twins to call upon in the late innings is a must. If Minnesota is going to hand out a couple of deals in the $7-10 million range, I'd be more than ok seeing that come in relief. Names like Addison Reed or Bryan Shaw would be at the top of my list, with some consideration for a Jake McGee or Luke Greggerson type. The reality is the more games the Twins can close out late, the better off they'll be a year from now. The pen has been as much a deficiency as the starting pitching has, and it's time to rectify both.

Right-handed bat x 1

Throughout the course of the season, one of the Twins greatest issues on offense was the lack of another right-handed power bat. While Robbie Grossman filled in nicely at DH, he leaves plenty to be desired. The reality is, his greatest asset at the plate is his ability to work counts and draw walks. There's a lot more potential in a right handed power bat that Minnesota left on the table. Down the stretch, having that at your disposal would've been a nice boost for the club.

Going forward, there is a little reason to be cautious here as Miguel Sano likely won't play the field forever. When he does have to shift to a full time DH role, making sure any player brought in also has a position is a big deal. That being said, the pipe dream would probably be Carlos Santana. He's a plus defender at first base, a switch hitter, and brings plenty of pop. From there, someone like Mitch Moreland may be a fit as well. There was a good deal of interest in Mike Napoli last offseason, but that appears to have been a bullet dodged.

I'd be far from surprised if the Twins aren't active on both the free agent market as well as the trade front this offseason. Derek Falvey has displayed a keen ability to identify talent, and this club is very close to making that next step. Allowing the 25 man roster to be boosted with some key additions could be more than enough to get this club over the hump. For the first time in years, the Twins will see a new regime have their way with the offseason process, and that's something that should absolutely be welcomed.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Brian Dozier ambushed a 23 year old starter in over his head on Tuesday night in the Bronx. As the first batter of the game, the Minnesota Twins second basemen sent a towering pop up into the left field bleachers. A feat only possible in the Cracker Jack box that is Yankee Stadium, the good guys jumped to an early lead. After an Eddie Rosario homer, the Twins had staked themselves to a three run lead in the first inning, and then the end came.

There's really no point in rehashing what took place in the one-game Wild Card for the Twins. You lived it, I lived it, and we find ourselves here, with another loss to the dreaded Yankees. A recap serves little purpose in this space, but instead, let's take a look at where it all went wrong:

Squandered Opportunity

Following the three-run lead, which was nice enough, Minnesota failed to tack on. After knocking Severino out of the game recording just one out, the Twins left runners on second and third with neither of them scoring. Over the course of the game as a whole, hitting with runners in scoring position was a problem for the Twins. Tacking on runs against a strong Yankees lineup was a must going into the contest, and it was a place the club consistently fell short.

Veteran Presence

In the lead up to the game, I suggested numerous times that Severino was a welcomed foe due to his age. At 23, that was a huge moment, and the Twins capitalized off of that fact. What wasn't anticipated, is that Ervin Santana would crumble as well. Despite being a big league vet, he pitched scared and failed to attack any opposing batters. While his slider was anything but sharp, he nibbled for the entirety of the two innings he gave Minnesota.

Needing to respond to his team's hot start with a zero, Santana promptly coughed up the lead in the bottom half of the inning. Allowing Yankee hitters to take him deep in counts, Santana's first went walk, single, pop out, home run. Across 64 pitches, Santana threw just 35 strikes. There was an unshakeable feeling of a guy on the mound pitching scared. Despite having a lead, Santana refused to attack opposing hitters, and New York had their way with him dictating at bats. It was as bad of a performance as we've seen from Santana in years.

Lineup Black Hole

Over the second half of the season, the Twins have been among the best run scoring teams in baseball. That's true in part because they've consistently had a next man up attitude, and put forth solid at bats to keep the line moving. At the bottom of the lineup, that couldn't have been further from the truth during the Wild Card game.

In their seven combined at bats, both Jason Castro and Robbie Grossman gave the Twins zero competitive offerings. Castro flailed at three strikeout pitches out of the zone, while Grossman whiffed three times on his own. Neither is an offensive juggernaut, but the former should be expected to battle, while the latter's greatest asset is his on-base prowess. Each time they stepped in the box, both Castro and Grossman were nonexistent for Minnesota.

Judge Rises

Before the game, I opined that two things needed to happen for the Twins to win this game. Severino needed to leave with New York trailing, and Aaron Judge could not go deep. Minnesota took care of the first half, but Jose Berrios allowed Judge to make his mark.

While it's maybe not fair to say they lose if Judge homers, the momentum swing that carries with it does Paul Molitor's squad no favors. In reality, the three-run homer was back breaking, but even if it had been a one-run shot in the first, Judge brings out the crazy in that stadium. The crowd definitely rides the wave of each Aaron Judge at bat, and letting them have that moment was never going to be a winning proposition.

There's a few other things to nitpick at. I wasn't a fan of Molitor removing Santana in the 3rd inning. Having settled down some, I would've seen what he could give you, at least until a runner reach, in the next frame. That being said however, the Twins did themselves no favors to keep this game in check. After taking the bull by the horns, they promptly allowed it to walk away.

While veterans like Santana, Castro, and Grossman failed to help the home nine on this night, it was some of the youngsters in the lineup that came up biggest. Going into 2018, this team will continue to turn over to it's rising stars, and continuing to pair them with other big league talent should only pay dividends.

Tuesday night in New York was a sad, but all too often realized, way to end what was a great 2017 season. With the book closed here though, it's time to begin writing a new story.