Thursday, December 31, 2015

Where Do They Fall? 2016 Twins Over/Unders

The Minnesota Twins finished with an 83-79 record in 2015, surprising many, and sticking close to a playoff race up until the final series. In large part, that record was accomplished due to timely performances by some fresh faces. While regression was expected in certain areas, the slack was picked up in others.

As we close the book officially on 2015, the season ahead provides a lot of excitement for the Twins. Looking to expand upon their success a season ago, they will once again need big performances in many different areas. Standing firm with what they have for the most part this offseason, Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor will be looking for big internal contributors.

Similar to 2015, there's some serious regression candidates in the year ahead, just as there are some likely breakout performers. Possibly the largest difference is where they are expected to come from. If 2015 was the year of the hitter for the Twins, it should be on the mound that the biggest impact is felt in 2016.

Here's some insight as to what numbers are likely to be replicated, who should be counted on, and where Minnesota may fall short in the year ahead:

Eddie Rosario over/under 122 games played:

A season ago, Rosario made his big league debut on May 6. He was called up with the intentions of helping the Twins through a brief period of injury need. Instead, he stuck, slashed .267/.289/.459, and played in 122 games for the Twins. There was probably no one higher than myself on Rosario a season ago, but it's 2016 that provides reason for caution.

Rosario has been a free-swinger his entire professional career, but he took it to new levels in the big leagues. Whiffing on 15% of pitches, while chasing out of the zone nearly 50% of the time, there's two big detractors pulling him down. His slugging percentage will be continued to be bolstered by his triple ability, but the power numbers were the best he'd put up in years. His defense will keep him around, but I'd expect Max Kepler to creep into his every day playing time.

Prediction: Under

Joe Mauer over/under .280 batting average:

As much has been made of Mauer, his career slide, and his transition to first base, I still believe there's a very professional hitter there. Whether Mauer returns to a shape of his former self this season or not depends somewhat on his deployment by Paul Molitor. There's no doubt he's going to be the every day first basemen, but where he hits in the lineup is integral.

After experiencing a third straight year of decline, Mauer's 2015 average finished at .265. He batted in the top three of the Twins lineup far too often however, and the slide backwards should make all the difference. Hitting him fifth or lower as I have suggested would be conducive to putting him in situations with runners on base, a situation he has excelled in during his career. Allow him to force pitchers to come to him, and then let Joe go to work. I don't see it happening immediately, the Twins aren't big on change, but if they want the production it should happen sooner rather than later.

Prediction: Over

Jose Berrios over/under 20 MLB starts:

This season, the Twins will enter the year with some of the best pitching depth in the big leagues. That's not to confuse numbers with quality, but rather to suggest they will have the ability to remove ineffective parties at their choosing, and have options waiting. No doubt the best piece that won't begin the year in the rotation is Jose Berrios.

He's going to begin the year at Triple-A Rochester, where he owned a 2.85 ERA in 12 starts a season ago. Should he get off to a fast start, he'll make significantly less starts than that in upstate New York this time around. Berrios has a legitimate argument for the AL Rookie of the Year, and getting 20 plus starts will be paramount to him displaying his ability. To generate that number, he'll need to be up in the big leagues sometime in May, and I don't see any reason he wouldn't be.

Prediction: Over

Byungho Park over/under 30 home runs:

The Twins big splash this offseason was the acquisition of Korean superstar, Byung Ho Park. In winning the big and signing him to a four-year, $12 million contract, Minnesota is expecting good things. No doubt there will be a transition period, but if Jung Ho Kang of the Pirates showed us anything in 2015, it's that the KBO talent can definitely play in the major leagues.

Park strikes out a significant amount more than Kang did, however, he's also viewed as a much greater talent. After hitting over 50 homers each of the past two KBO seasons, the Twins are hoping his power makes Target Field look small. Obviously it's a stretch to believe he's going to launch 50 any time soon in the states, but his power should play just fine. Give Park a bit of the season to settle in, and he'll be a power threat in due time. Unfortunately for the Twins, I think his second year longball total trumps the first one.

Prediction: Under (but just barely)

Over/under four Twins pitchers with double digit wins:

Not surprisingly, the Twins have not have more than two pitchers win double-digit games in a season since 2010. The last 15 game winner was Phil Hughes in 2014, but you must go back to 17-game-winner Carl Pavano in 2010 to find the next. Between injuries and lack of quality outings, Twins starting pitching has left plenty to be desired.

In the year ahead however, I'd expected Twins pitching to look something like it did in 2010 when the dust settles. That season, Minnesota had six double-digit game winners, and Pavano with 17. In the season ahead, I'd be far from surprised to see two Twins pitchers push for fifteen wins, with a handful of others coming in over 10. With the organizational depth, and a rotation filled out using good not great arms, Minnesota's offense should be afforded the opportunity to compete on a nightly basis.

Prediction: Over

The AL Central will be won by a team with over/under 90 wins:

A season ago, the Kansas City Royals took the AL Central title with 95 wins. They used a hot start to get them through a couple of rough patches, and eventually went on to knock off the 90-game-winning New York Mets. Baseball saw just one division, the AL West, crown a champion with less than 90 wins a season ago. That may change in the year ahead, but the Central could be one of the inclusions.

At the top, the Royals are going to rely on their strong bullpen and repeat performances from 2015. The loss of Alex Gordon will no doubt hurt, and they should see more competition at the top. Cleveland remains a trendy and interesting pick to compete, while Detroit and Chicago have both added pieces in big ways this offseason. The Twins have done little to fix their bullpen, but could rely on internal options to provide the change. In total, the division should more evenly beat up one each other. Expecting any one team to run away with it, or anyone to fall off for that matter, shouldn't be a reality.

Prediction: Under (again just barely)

Now just a couple of months away from Spring Training, we will start to see some of these narratives played out sooner rather than later. Regardless, much of how the Twins season goes in 2016 will come from an internal choice to adapt and improve from within. Just how aggressively things are handled remains to be seen.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Twins Record Breaking Rotation

The Minnesota Twins went into the offseason needing to take a look at how to improve their pitching prowess in 2016. While the starting rotation was not necessarily the culprit, the bullpen definitely left a lot to be desired. Although the Twins have a handful of pitchers in the quantity department, the lack of quality starters could end up hurting them.

Knowing that the goal is to make the team better as a whole, sending Trevor May to the bullpen appears to be Paul Molitor's plan of action. It's a good one, and allows the quality across the board to be raised, while using the starting quantity in other ways. Despite having about eight options, Molitor's rotation should be relatively projectable at this point.

After taking a look at the Opening Day lineup and what the production could look like, the focus turns elsewhere. Although we're still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, here's what you can expect the Twins rotation to look like, and some thoughts on how they may perform.

Ervin Santana- RHP

Santana made just 17 starts for the Twins a season ago, being suspended for the first half of the season due to a failed drug test. After being the big offseason acquisition, it was assumed that Santana would headline the rotation. I cautioned that there were some slight detractors that could have Santana performing at less than an ideal level, but it was how he finished that shined the most.

Over his final seven starts, Santana owned a sparkling 1.62 ERA en route to a 5-1 record. He allowed opposing hitters to slash just .209/.275/.294 off of him in that stretch. Although the 4.00 ERA and 4.17 FIP were steps back from his past two seasons, they were also a by-product of a slow start. He was striking out less hitters and walking more batters in his first go round for the Twins. That said, a normal season should do Santana plenty good. Expecting him to pitch to the tune of the 3.24 ERA he owned just two years ago with the Royals is not out of the realm of possibility.

Proj: 12-10 3.88 ERA 4.00 FIP 7.10 K/9 2.8 BB/9

Phil Hughes- RHP

If there was a guy who had a tough act to follow in 2015, it was no doubt Hughes. After being a Cy Young candidate in his first season with the Twins, the former Yankee took significant steps backwards. Once again plagued by the long ball, Hughes' 29 home runs surrendered was tied for the American League lead. Although he finished with a 4.40 ERA, things could have been much uglier had so many of those 29 homers not been of the solo variety.

Expecting Hughes to replicate his 2014 season was always going to be a tough ask. Assuming he'd lead the league in home runs given up despite moving to a much larger park than the Cracker Jack box that is Yankee Stadium was also hard to fathom. In the year ahead, Hughes should flip the script and be one of the best candidates on the Twins for a bounce back year. Dropping his 2015 1.7 HR/9 total back towards his career 1.2 HR/9 mark is where everything begins.

Proj: 12-12 4.13 ERA 4.17 FIP 6.8 K/9 1.0 BB/9

Kyle Gibson- RHP

For what amounted to most of 2015, Kyle Gibson was far and away the Twins best starter. His ERA ranked consistently among the best in the American League, and even with a few clunkers sprinkled in, finished at 3.84 on the year. Gibson isn't flashy, and he doesn't do anything to an extremely high level, but he's very good across the board.

A season ago, Gibson posted career best numbers in ERA, starts, innings pitched, complete games, strikeouts, WHIP, and K/9. Entering his third full year as a big leaguer, the former Twins first round pick should only be expected to take another step forward. At 28, Gibson is a late-bloomer having not debuted until 25 after missing time due to Tommy John surgery. Expect him to build on his impressive 2015 and turn in a similar performance in the year ahead.

Proj: 10-9 4.05 ERA 3.98 FIP 6.6 K/9 2.9 BB/9

Tyler Duffey- RHP

While it's Jose Berrios that generates the most hype of all Minnesota Twins pitching prospects, it was Duffey that drew the Opening Day start at Double-A Chattanooga in 2015 (Berrios pitched game 2). Duffey excelled in Tennessee, and then replicated the success at Triple-A Rochester. When he arrived in Minnesota, more of the same continued, and the Twins were all the better for it.

In his first 10 starts, Duffey compiled a 3.10 ERA backed by a 3.24 FIP. His 8.2 K/9 was much needed for a Twins staff lacking strikeouts, and his walk rate was kept in check at 3.1 per nine. On the surface, his debut season was a resounding success. If you take away his debut game, a six run outing in Toronto, Duffey posted a 2.25 ERA allowing opposing hitters to bat for just a .244 average off of him. A great back end of the rotation option, Duffey gives the Twins some needed punch in 2016.

Proj: 11-9 3.88 ERA 3.90 FIP 7.8 K/9 3.9 BB/9

Tommy Milone- LHP

Rounding out the Twins starting rotation is Milone, the lone lefty, and a very capable big league starter. While he may be a placeholder for the likes of Berrios, Milone is also more than capable of holding down the job. Despite up and down numbers with the Twins in 2015, he posted a 3.92 ERA across 23 starts. He's just a year removed from an even better 3.55 mark in 16 starts with the Athletics.

After being bumped from the rotation a season ago, Milone went to Triple-A Rochester and was absolutely unhittable. His 0.70 ERA across five Triple-A starts in May got him the call back to the big leagues. The rest of the way, Milone traded good and bad performances, but finished with two strong outings against the Royals and Indians. Milone's ceiling probably isn't comparable to that of other pitchers looking to crack the rotation, but there's also a level of certainty in what he'll give you.

Proj: 8-10 4.13 ERA 4.15 FIP 6.8 K/9 2.3 BB/9

The Twins starting rotation, as with all big league teams, is going to shuffle throughout the year. It would be tough to imagine Milone making a full season's worth of starts, and there will be injuries along the way. Jose Berrios will make his much anticipated debut relatively early on, and we could see a few other names push their way in. On Opening Day though, this is what I expect it to look like.

If that's the case, the Twins should feel as though they are in a place that allows them to compete on a daily basis.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Positioning The Twins Lineup For Success

Going into the offseason, the Minnesota Twins offense was set for the most part. With youth on the way, some already inserted, and more internal contributions expected, making a big splash there wasn't necessarily needed. Terry Ryan surprised baseball when he inked Byung Ho Park, and thus far, has done the same in sticking to his guns and not dealing Trevor Plouffe.

That brings us to where we are now. Just a few months from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, the Twins offense shouldn't have many unexpected surprises left. Although other parts of the 25 man roster could use some tweaking, the order should begin to take shape. With that said, here's how I see it best set up for success, and some rough projections of what plays out.

1. Byron Buxton CF

Calling Buxton's debut offensively a disappointment would be an understatement. Baseball's top prospect slashed just .209/.250/.326 in his first 46 big league games. After a brief stint at Triple-A (in which he hit in all 13 games and compiled a .400 avg) Buxton returned to the Twins. Over his final nine games, Buxton hit .318/.348/.682 with four extra base hits. It's a small sample size, but something the Twins hope sparks an offseason of readying for big league production in 2016. I don't see Buxton having the year one-year two splits that Mike Trout did, but he should be significantly better in the year ahead.

Proj: .277/.348/.440 10 HR 25 2B 8 3B 60 RBI 26 SB

2. Brian Dozier 2B

For the first time in his career, Dozier was named to the All Star game. Although he looked like an MVP candidate the first half, he faded significantly down the stretch for the second year in a row. Finishing with a worse average and on base percentage than 2014, Dozier's strikeout totals increased substantially. Dozier actually has worse numbers in the two hole, but profiles as a better fit there. With Buxton on base often ahead of him, his power should play to benefit the Twins more in this role. If he can unlock the key behind a complete season, 2016 should be Dozier's best season yet.

Proj: .243/.330/.412 22 HR 34 2B 3 3B 70 RBI 15 SB

3. Byung Ho Park DH

In the three hole, I really am torn as to whether it's Park or Miguel Sano that makes more sense. Both are going to strike out a healthy (or maybe unhealthy) amount, but Sano has already had his welcome tour in the big leagues. Regardless, rather than move Sano from the cleanup role he's comfortable in, Park gets the nod here. I'm not as concerned about his transition to the big leagues as some may be, and his power will settle in just fine. If the Twins in fact are getting a better, and more powerful Jung Ho Kang, this will be a steal and one heck of a force in the lineup.

Proj: .262/.310/.489 24 HR 22 2B 0 3B 88 RBI

4. Miguel Sano RF

Just typing Sano in right field seems wrong, but here we are. In a worst case scenario, the Twins are going to have an atrocity (think worse than Josh Willingham) in right field, on the flip side though, it could work. What Minnesota can't afford, is that the position shift takes away from Sano's hitting approach. He's still going to strike out a ton, but I'd hope this offseason and spring is focused on developing a more honed in approach at the plate. You can expect Sano to launch plenty of longballs this year.

Proj: .259/.358/.522 35 HR 28 2B 1 3B 102 RBI 4 SB

5. Joe Mauer 1B

In 2016, Mauer's resurgence could be sparked by nothing more than a drop in the lineup. It's something I recently considered here at Off The Baggy. No longer a key production cog, Mauer is afforded the ability to settle in and produce at his own pacer. A professional hitter, Mauer dropping in the order could produce a season that sees him inch back towards the .300 hitter he once was year in and year out. Splitting up the right handed bats, Mauer following Sano makes a lot of sense. Turning in another healthy season, expect Mauer's numbers to be on the uptick from a season ago.

Proj: .289/.387/.400 10 HR 33 2B 2 3B 67 RBI 2 SB

6. Trevor Plouffe 3B

While there was some reason for Plouffe to be on the trade block, the argument was always that he was most beneficial to the Twins. A power hitter that has peaked later in his career, Plouffe has blossomed into one of the best third basemen in the big leagues. Hitting sixth in this Twins lineup only highlights how much talent this squad has offensively compared to recent years. Building on 2015, Plouffe rounds out the group of power hitters ahead of him.

Proj: .250/.319/.427 18 HR 36 2B 3 3B 77 RBI 2 SB

7. Eddie Rosario LF

Getting his first taste of the big leagues in 2015, Rosario did not disappoint. On the surface, his offensive numbers were stellar across the board. What they masked was a free swinging tendency that makes him arguably the greatest candidate for regression in the year ahead. His defense is going to play regardless, but his offensive production remains somewhat of a mystery. He needs to improve upon his 14.5 swinging strike percentage as well as his swinging at pitches outside of the zone at an astonishing 46% clip. He's not going to fall off a cliff, but repeating 2015 is a tough ask.

Proj: .255/.285/.420 12 HR 20 2B 11 3B 60 RBI 15 SB

8. John Ryan Murphy C

No doubt the Twins acquired John Ryan Murphy with the intention of making him their every day catcher. That may no happen from the get go, but it's hard to trust Suzuki after the tough offensive season he had in 2015. Combine that with a 15% caught stealing rate (as opposed to the 32% league average), and the Twins are losing games with Suzuki behind the dish. Murphy owns a .267/.311/.374 career slash line, and is just 24 years-old. The job should be his to run with sooner rather than later.

Proj: .266/.308/.390 12 HR 20 2B 1 3B 58 RBI 24 CS%

9. Eduardo Escobar SS

If last season is any indication, Escobar may be the best Twins number nine hitter in recent memory. After Minnesota dabbled with the idea to bring in Troy Tulowitzki, Escobar outslugged him and every other shortstop for the better part of the season's second half. With career high power numbers, and an above average glove at short, the Twins have found someone who can hold it down for the forseeable future.

 Proj: .261/.311/.403 9 HR 32 2B 3 3B 45 RBI 3 SB

In its current construction this Twins lineup is one filled with power threats. There's also a high probability for strikeouts, so the Twins will need to manufacture runs where they can. Coming off a season in which they trailed on the Kansas City Royals in clutch hitting, Minnesota will want to rely more on consistency than timely production in the year ahead. Things are set up well for Minnesota to replicate their 2015 record. Whether they can take the next step remains the question.


Monday, December 28, 2015

A Resurging Twin Makes The Difference

Going into the offseason, the Twins had laid the groundwork for a competitive team in 2016. They had their deficiencies, namely the bullpen, that needed to be addressed. For the most part however, the organization had internal pieces that could be expected to be counted upon in the year ahead. After bringing in a power bat in the form of Byung Ho Park, the lineup seemed to be in a good place.

What could elevate it even further though, is the resurgence of a once counted upon offensive member.

The most damning statistic for the Twins in the year ahead has to do with repeating a non-repeatable statistic. Despite finishing the season 83-79, Minnesota used clutch situations to their advantage at a very high rate. Looking at FanGraphs, there's two very alarming statistics when it comes to the 2015 Twins. The team owned a +10 in BaseRuns and trailed only the Royals (5.05) in the clutch category, with a mark of 3.81.

First, BaseRuns is a comprehensive team metric that evaluates all of the plays a team was involved in. With the Twins being ten over the average, they performed above the expected result at a very high rate. At the same time, the Twins were also exceptional in clutch situations. With zero being a baseline, many players find themselves somewhere between -1 and 1. FanGraphs equates a player below -1 in clutch situations as poor, and anything above 2.0 as being excellent. While not singling anyone out, the Twins as a whole were a 3.81.

What these two metrics tell us is that Minnesota experience a very high rate of success in categories that are hardly possible to be consistently replicated. If a player was to try harder or play better in high-leverage situations, the argument would have to be made that they were not doing the same in lower-leverage situations, a silly proposition.

This brings us to a player on the Twins that can be considered the gold-standard when it came to clutch performances a season ago. Joe Mauer.

Playing in a career high, 158 games for Minnesota, Mauer slashed a career worst .265/.338/.380 while hitting 10 homers, 34 doubles, and driving in 66 runs. What's astonishing is just how good Mauer was with runners in scoring position a season ago. In 161 plate appearances, Mauer slashing .352/.466/.456 with nine extra base hits, and 52 runs batted in. In those situations, his walk to strikeout ratio was also 30/27. Conversely, when Mauer batted with the bases empty (394 plate appearances), his slash line was an ugly .232/.284/.349. In those situations, his strikeout to walk ratio was a lopsided 27/70.

So what does this tell us? Understandably so, Mauer was a better hitter with runners on bases. Forcing opposing pitchers to be careful to limit damage and not go directly after Mauer, Joe was able to take a more calculated approach at the plate. This led to an increased output, and allowed a very professional hitter to exploit his opponents. When it comes to Mauer's approach in 2015, there's also some interesting developments.

Minnesota noted a desire to have Mauer pull the ball more. Hitting coach Tom Brunansky was working with Mauer to yank the ball with power, rather than his more typical ground balls to the right side of the infield. As a whole, Mauer pulled the ball 30.5% of the time, his highest career mark since 2012 (32.1%). This in turn led to one of his lowest opposite field hitting seasons, going the other way just 32.1% of the time. On top of the difference in his spray chart, Mauer's level of contact was somewhat odd.

Posting the worst mark since 2011 when he hit 18.8% of batted balls "soft," Mauer owned a 16.5% "soft" hit rate. What was positive is that his "hard" hit rate climbed to 29.2%. Owning a career 33.4% "hard" hit rate, Mauer would see a generous increase in his production across the board should he return to his 3.7% mark from 2013.

When considering what Mauer did in high-leverage situations during 2015, his plate discipline is the biggest area needing improvement. A guy who has swung at just under 22% of pitches outside of the strike zone, took hacks at a career worst 27.6% of pitches missing the strike zone last year. On top of chasing more often, Mauer also swung and missed at a career worst 6.2% of pitches. Those two developments no doubt contributed to Mauer's career worst 112 strikeouts.

So, where do we go from here? Well, that's up to Paul Molitor. With Byung Ho Park and Miguel Sano now set to be regulars in the Twins lineup, Minnesota has their three and four hitters set. Putting Trevor Plouffe in that mix as well, the five hole is probably spoken for. That leaves Brian Dozier and Byron Buxton in position to compete for the top two lineup spots, giving Mauer the positioning he looks destined to succeed in, the six hole.

In his career, Mauer has batted sixth just five times (starting just one of those games). He owns two doubles in four at-bats, a negligible sample size. What's important though, is just how good Mauer is with men on base. Over the past two seasons, the Twins first basemen has slashed .303/.418/.418 with runners on base. In those at-bats, he's also owned an 86/89 strikeout to walk ratio. Thanks to the likelihood of baserunners batting from the six hole, Mauer's production should be assumed to be the best since 20134, the last time he was an All Star.

Steamer projections have Mauer getting 610 plate appearances across 136 games in 2016. They suggest he'll turn that into a .274/.355/.390 average with 30 doubles, nine homers, and 61 runs batted in. The strikeout to walk ratio is also projected to remain similar at 108/67. Should Molitor attempt to squeeze Mauer somewhere in his top five, I could see those numbers being very accurate. The disagreement comes from the hope that Molitor makes the sensible change.

Batting Mauer sixth in an improved lineup should yield much more positive results. I'd guess Mauer plays more than 136 games in the year ahead, but regardless, his line in the new batting spot should look something like .290/.397/.400. The doubles production should remain right around 30, with the home runs checking in just shy of the double digit mark. Expect another uptick in runs batted in, which would give the Twins a producer in the bottom half.

While some veterans may take a lineup adjustment as a demotion, Mauer should see it as an opportunity. Returning more closely towards the production his career was once synonymous with seems most plausible in this scenario, and that's something Mauer would be on board with. Minnesota will experience some regression from hitters in the year ahead, but don't be shocked when it's Mauer going the other way, being the definition of resurgence.

2016 Twins Storylines

Before each of you busted out the family traditions, started sipping egg nog, and threw on the Yule Log, I gave an opportunity for Off The Baggy to be the giver of a last minute Christmas gift. In sharing your 2016 Minnesota Twins storyline, an entry to win a copy of the 2016 Twins Prospect Handbook was on the table.

After receiving a handful of entries, there were two that stuck out the most. First, all the way from the Cezch Republic, Matt Findlay provided some really great thoughts. Here was his entry:

If I had to pick an individual storyline, I'd focus on Berrios. Steamer has six guys projected to make more starts than Berrios. All of them have ERAs and FIPs over 4.00, and none of them have a k/9 rate over 7. If they are going to take the next step, they need a homegrown frontline starter, and it certainly looks like Meyer and May aren't going slot at the front of a rotation. Hopefully Berrios will at least show flashes that he could be a top of the rotation guy.

I actually think the bigger storyline centers on Terry Ryan. How will the Twins try to improve their chances at winning a series in the near future? We saw the Astros and Royals build excellent farm systems over the past few years, and some of those prospects obviously played key roles for them last year. On the other hand, they both made aggressive deals for veterans (Royals sending Myers and Odorizzi for Shields and Davis, Astros dealing for Gomez and now Giles). 
 
It will be very interesting to see if Ryan is willing to part with minor league players in order to acquire guys that can stamp the Twins as legitimate contenders. It seems like he might want to go the conservative route to avoid losing a future star, but sometimes you need to give up some promising talents in order to fill immediate needs. It will certainly interesting to see how he plays the next couple of years.
 
Not only do I think Matt hits Berrios being a big contributor right on the head, but his secondary point looms incredibly large. As I've said here at Off The Baggy multiple times this offseason, Minnesota is well positioned to take the next step. Terry Ryan has turned away from making the big move that could elevate the club, and at some point, that may end up hurting him.
Although accumulating prospects is a very nice situation to have, it's about elevating the ceiling at the highest level. Ryan has not followed suit with other up and coming teams in terms of acquiring top tier major league talent. For better or worse, we're about to find out how this ends.

The second winning entry came from Kirby Grutz, who focused on the resurgence of a familiar face. Here's what he had to say:

I believe this season we will see the Joe Mauer of old, the one who was selected to six All-Star Games and hammered his way to five Silver Slugger awards before all of his concussions forced his transition to first base. With the other big sluggers (Park, Sano) throughout the lineup, Mauer won't feel the weight on his back to bring all of the horsepower to the Twins lineup.  Like the days of old, Big Joe's bat will come alive, and we'll see his batting average floating north of .300 once again.  
 
Great things are going to happen in 2016 and our home town man Joe Mauer will be the driving force behind the Twins change in play.
 
No doubt Kirby sees some serious resurgence from Mauer, a guy who has struggled mightily the past few seasons. While I'm not quite as high on Mauer as the paragraph above, I believe we see his production trend back upwards in 2016. After hitting well in clutch situations a year ago, I think Mauer produces in more skill driven categories in the year ahead.
I won't be surprised if Mauer is able to drive his batting average upwards by being a bit more aggressive. The aggression doesn't need to come from swinging earlier or more often, but instead finding his pitch and comfortably driving it to either the opposite or pull side of the field. In 2015, it felt as though Mauer had too much of a concentrated approach trying to accomplish singular goals (power, pull, etc.). Expecting him to settle back in to a complimentary lineup piece, his plus hitting ability should show once again.
 
There's no doubt that 2016 is set up as a big year for the Twins. A team that over-achieved a year ago, it's team to substantiate that the performance was real. If either of these storylines play out, Paul Molitor's team should be in a good place.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Berrios For His First Award?

At some point in the 2016 Major League Baseball season, preferably and likely early on, Jose Berrios will make his much anticipated debut. The Twins top pitching prospect had a significant case to be in the fold a season ago, but it's 2016 in which he should be expected to take off. What may not be expected, yet happen anyways, is Berrios taking home an award at the expense of his teammate.

Going into the 2016 season, the Twins may have more American League Rookie of the Year candidates than any other team in the league. You could make a case for each of Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Byung Ho Park, and Berrios. The pitcher though, may be best positioned to claim the title at the conclusion of the season.

Looking across Major League Baseball to the National League, the framework may have been laid by an exciting New York Mets hurler. In 2014, Jacob deGrom made 22 starts compiling a 2.69 ERA along with a 9.2 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. The numbers bolstered a campaign that ended with deGrom being dubbed the NL Rookie of the Year.

No doubt deGrom's first season in the big leagues was impressive, but where exactly did it come from? deGrom was a 9th round pick by the Mets and failed to debut on any top 100 prospect lists. In four minor league seasons, deGrom owned a 3.62 ERA along with a 7.4 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. His 1.284 WHIP was respectable, and keeping the ball in the yard (allowing double-digit homers just once) helped to position him well on the mound.

By all measures though, deGrom took what was what a strong minor league career and turned it into an unbelievable major league start. So where does that leave Berrios?

The Twins top pitching prospect owns superior numbers to deGrom across the board. His four seasons of minor league ball has accounted for a 2.98 ERA, 9.5 K/9, and a 2.5 BB/9 rate. He's compiled just a 1.122 WHIP, and despite evaluators being worry of his home run ball tendency, he's surrendered more than six just once.

Arguably the biggest knock on Berrios is due to his stature. Many prospect evaluators see him as a middle to back-end of the rotation type due to being just 6'0" (at best). Having a lower throwing plane can lead to pitches having less movement and therefore being easier to follow. What is often disregarded however, is that none of the issues tied to Berrios have yet to rear their head.

The long ball has never been an issue for the Puerto Rican hurler (as noted above), and his 175 strikeouts across just 27 starts in 2015 were incredibly impressive. Virtually unhittable at every level of the minor leagues thus far, those continuing to bet against Berrios seem to be doing so against better judgement.

So what does a 2016 Rookie of the Year campaign look like? That's probably somewhat difficult to project. In his title winning campaign, deGrom made 22 starts for the Mets making his big league debut on May 15. Shut down at no point that season, deGrom was able to make his final start of the year on September 21. If there's a reason that the Twins wouldn't afford Berrios 20+ starts at the big league level in the season ahead, I can't seem to come up with it.

Numbers aside, Berrios should be up with the Twins by sometime in May. Looking at the schedule that lies ahead, sometime over the course of either the Orioles (May 9-11) or Blue Jays series (19-22) seems like a plausible timeline. Both line up at Target Field, and would allow Minnesota to miss any arbitration deadlines.

There's no doubt that deGrom's Rookie of the Year campaign set the bar high in terms of output, but Berrios is more the capable of replicating something similar. It was at Triple-A Rochester in 2015 that Berrios improved to a 2.62 ERA (as opposed to a 3.08 Double-A mark). The youngster seems to rise to the occasion and has no fear of each next level of competition. Expecting him to post a sub 3.00 ERA paired with a 9.0+ K/9 rate in his first big league season seems plausible.

Although Berrios will have stiff competition for the award from within his own lockeroom, the limit may only be in how high he is able to push his own ceiling. Twins pitching is looking at getting a boost in 2016 that it hasn't seen in years, and the culmination of it could truly be something special.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Which Bats Cash In On MiLB Deals?

The Minnesota Twins needed to address a few key areas this offseason. The most glaring issue was no doubt the bullpen, but the biggest splash has come by way of the offense. In signing Byung Ho Park, Minnesota gets a legitimate middle of the order bat. Knowing that winning is about the full 25 man roster however, it's who rounds out the final spots that may make the most difference.

Over the past month or so, the Twins have offered a handful of low-risk, MiLB deals with invites to spring training. Knowing there's at least an opening for a 4th outfielder, someone is going to rise to the top. The question is, who is it?

Buck Britton- 2B

The brother of Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton, Buck comes to the Twins at the age of 29. Yet to debut in the big leagues, and a former 35th round selection, Britton has an uphill battle ahead of him. Britton is an infielder, but has some outfield experience in his career.

Last season playing at Triple-A in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Britton owned a .262/.311/.374 slash line. There's not much speed or power to his game, and extra base hits as a whole are often sparse. A contact dependent utility guy, Britton's appeal to the Twins is more likely as organizational depth.

Chance to make Opening Day roster: 2%

Wilfredo Tovar- SS

Tovar is interesting in that he's just 24, and was once a well-regarded New York Mets prospect. He made his big league debut at 21 and didn't appear in 2015. Despite relatively mediocre minor league numbers, Tovar has actually trended in the right direction offensively of late.

At Triple-A last season, Tovar slashed .283/.327/.356. While he had just 19 extra-base hits, speed was no doubt his game. Tovar stole 30 bases, the first time he's topped the 20 mark in his career. His inclusion in both the Twins organization and spring training is an interesting one. Eduardo Escobar is entrenched as the Opening Day shortstop, but outside of Eduardo Nunez, there's not much depth. Danny Santana is an atrocity in the infield, and Jorge Polanco doesn't profile as a shortstop. If Tovar can hit, he may make more sense than Nunez, and regardless, should be a nice depth addition for the organization.

Chance to make Opening Day roster: 15%

Darin Mastroianni- OF

The first of two former organizational players that the Twins have brought back this offseason, Mastroianni rejoins the fold. The majority of Darin's big league time came with the Twins during the 90 loss campaigns. He spent all of last season at Triple-A between both the Nationals and Phillies organizations.

Owning a .257/.308/.345 slash line in 2015, Mastroianni did much of what his career has been. He picked up 26 doubles, stole a handful of bases (25), and played solid defense. Speed has always been his greatest asset, and he's a defensive replacement at best in the big leagues. With just a .212 career MLB average, he's never going to hit enough to stick. Mastroianni has familiarity with the Twins on his side, but he's probably too one dimensional to be a factor on a Twins team looking to turn the corner.

Chance to make Opening Day roster: 10%

Ryan Sweeney- OF

It's pretty easy to peg the former White Sox and Cubs outfielder as the most intriguing offensive MiLB signing of the offseason. Sweeney is now 30, but owns a career .276 average at the big league level. A competent outfielder over the course of his nine-year career, Minnesota is hoping Sweeney brings more than just a name to Fort Myers.

The oddity to Sweeney's story is that he didn't play organized baseball at all in 2014. After playing 77 games for the Cubs in 2014, Sweeney disappeared. His 2014 saw an uninspiring .251/.304/.338 slash line with just 12 extra-base hits and 20 runs batted in. In 2013, Sweeney posted a respectable .772 OPS across 70 games for the Cubs. Should he be able to replicate that type of performance, the Twins would have found themselves a worthwhile 4th outfielder, and an offensive upgrade over Shane Robinson.

Chance to make Opening Day roster: 51%

Joe Benson- OF

Quite possibly the most exciting MiLB deal the Twins handed out this offseason, former top Twins prospect Benson is back in the organization. After being moved on from in favor of Aaron Hicks, Benson has bounced around some. Following his 2011 MLB debut with Minnesota, he has yet to reach the bigs again.

Having now played for the Rangers, Marlins, Mets, and Braves organizations, Benson finds his way back to where it all began. Nearly making the Braves out of spring training a season ago, Benson ended up playing in Indy ball for a portion of 2015. His affiliated slash line was .248/.351/.361 in 95 games, and he's hoping to make it stick in familiar territory. Once regarded as a five-tool prospect, the 27 year old has some interesting appeal this season. Probably best positioned to compete with Sweeney, Benson also should serve as a nice organizational depth piece.

Chance to make Opening Day roster: 33%

Monday, December 21, 2015

Whose Arm Rises Top The Top?

The Minnesota Twins entered the offseason prior to the 2016 Major League Baseball season with a significant glaring weakness. While the team overachieved a season ago, it was the bullpen that needed the most attention in the months ahead. Although there hasn't been a ton of movement, Terry Ryan seems to have a plan in place.

As things stand currently, it appears the Twins are set to head into the spring with low risk signings in hopes of one or two working out. Despite that being somewhat of a risky proposition, it also signifies that both Ryan and Paul Molitor may be willing to turn to internal options such as Nick Burdi or Jake Reed in short fashion.

Regardless of who ends up becoming a mainstay in the Twins bullpen not only in 2016, but going forward, Minnesota has made some moves to bolster the competition. The question is, who works out like Blaine Boyer of 2015, and which guys are more of the Tim Stauffer mold?

Let's take a look at the three Minor League deals the Twins issued with invites to Spring Training:

Brandon Kintzler- RHP

Unlike the next two names, Kintzler is in an uphill battle from the get go. Regardless of whether Kintzler is the best pitcher Minnesota signed to a MiLB deal this offseason, he's not left-handed. Minnesota has a handful of righties ready for pen action, and that's also where the internal strength lies.

Kintzler, who's 30, pitched just 7.0 big league innings in 2015. He compiled an ugly 6.43 ERA and his 5.13 FIP was the worst mark since his debut season. Owning just a 6.7 K/9 career mark, Kinztler doesn't blow the ball past many hitters, and relies on his defense while walking just 2.5 per nine. Across 2013-14, Kinztler totaled a 2.93 ERA for the Brewers in 135.1 relief innings. His 3.46 FIP was respectable, and at worst, he should be a solid depth addition for the Twins at Triple-A Rochester.

Chance to make the Opening Day roster: 15%

Buddy Boshers- LHP

The 27 year-old lefty brings a smile with his unique name, but make no mistake, the Twins brought him in to compete. Boshers hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2013, his debut season, with the Los Angeles Angels. In 15.1 IP, he owned a 4.70 ERA. It's out of the Independent League that Boshers finds himself leaving now however.

After owning a 3.28 ERA in Triple-A for the Angels organization as a 26 year-old, Boshers left affiliated baseball. Playing in Indy ball in 2015, he was dominant. For Atlantic League, Somerset, Boshers compiled a 1.00 ERA in 54.0 IP. He fanned batters at an impressive 11.8 K/9 pace and walked just 2.3 per nine. Owning a 0.981 WHIP, Boshers was lights out and limited damage in nearly every possible fashion. Although a big step away from Indy ball, Boshers has strikeout stuff and could be an intriguing spring training name to watch.

Chance to make the Opening Day roster: 25%

Fernando Abad- LHP

Abad comes to the Twins as a 30 year-old having spent the previous two season pitching at the big league level for the Oakland Athletics. After a 1.57 ERA in 2014 across 57.1 IP, Abad regressed a season ago. His 4.15 ERA was inflated in part due to a 5.50 FIP, and his 3.6 BB/9 did him no favors as well.

Despite regressing virtually across the board in 2015, Abad struck out a career high 8.5 per nine. He gave up significantly too many homers, 2.1 per nine (his worst make since 2011), and was just shy of 9 hits per nine (8.5). Abad however is just a season removed from a sub-2.00 ERA and has had success in the American League. If he can use Target Field's pitcher friendliness to his advantage, he should be expected to contribute in a big way during 2016.

Chance to make the Opening Day roster: 75%

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Twins Present For You

That's right, it's that time of year, and I'd like to give readers a chance to win the must have Twins Christmas present. Without followers on Twitter or readers here at Off The Baggy, the Twins insight and analysis provided would fall on deaf ears. As much as I enjoy blogging and tweeting Twins information, I know that the interaction between readers is what takes it to the next level.

So, let's get into this giveaway. Each year Seth Stohs (@sethtweets) Jeremy Nygaard (@jeremynygaard), and Cody Christie (@NoDakTwinsFan) put together the most in depth and impressive look at the Twins farm system. Upon completion, it is known as the Minnesota Twins prospect handbook. Here's a description of the project from the 2015 version:

The 2015 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook goes in-depth and provides player bios, scouting reports, statistics and much more on almost 160 Twins minor leaguers. From Abreu to Zoquiel, from Baez to Williams, learn more about some of the Future Minnesota Twins.

This year, I'd like to make sure at least two of my followers and readers get the book as well. I will purchase the copy of your choice (paperback or eBook) for two winners. What gets even better is that not only is entering simple, but it's also interactive.

I want to hear from you!

The 2016 Minnesota Twins season is set up to be one of the most exciting in recent memory. After a near playoff run a season ago, the year ahead should provide an opportunity to take that next step. This gets to your part.

Tell me what you see as the biggest storyline for the Twins in 2016. Is it that Paul Molitor's club turns the corner in the bullpen? Who's the next breakout star? Is the club a dark horse for a World Series run? Come up with your storyline for the year ahead, write a brief paragraph detailing why you believe it to be true, and provide some supporting evidence. On December 25, I'll choose two winners who will be contacted to receive their 2016 Twins Prospect Handbook.

To enter:

  • Email your 2016 Twins storyline to OffTheBaggy@gmail.com
  • Include your name and Twitter handle
  • Must be following @tlschwerz on Twitter
  • Entries must be received by 11:59 pm CT on December 24
I'm looking forward to what you have to say! Not only will the two winners receive Twins Prospect Handbooks, but the two best storylines will also be featured in an upcoming Off The Baggy post.

Go Twins, thanks for reading Off The Baggy, and Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2015

What May The Best Option Be?

The Minnesota Twins had one of the worst bullpens in the big leagues a season ago. While their starting pitching wasn't anything to write home about, they had plenty of arms to kick off games. With Trevor May entering 2016 with a certain level of uncertainty to his role, it becomes a question of how he best helps the Twins.

Thus far during the offseason, Paul Molitor has noted that he's going into Spring Training under the impression he'll use May as a reliever. Although May was brought in as a starter, he flashed the ability to be a very good, if not great bullpen option in 2015. He was a capable starter, and one of the Twins best at times, but again it's the bullpen that needs help.

There is only two ways in which Trevor May's situation can play out. Either he works as a starter for the Twins or he doesn't. At this point, it's probably worth considering what each of those scenarios look like.

Laying the groundwork, here is how the Twins rotation will almost certainly start:
  • Ervin Santana
  • Phil Hughes
  • Kyle Gibson
Those three are all but guaranteed, even if Santana and Hughes flip. From there, the 4th or 5th spot will likely be given to Tyler Duffey. Now how does that make things look with May in the pen? Something like this:
  • Ervin Santana
  • Phil Hughes
  • Kyle Gibson
  • Tyler Duffey
  • Tommy Milone
Considering the Twins will go with seven relievers to start the season, we can begin to assumptively fill out the bullpen as well. Glen Perkins and Kevin Jepsen are locks. Casey Fien was tendered a new contract as can be considered in. Ricky Nolasco needs a spot, and that probably comes in relief. Minnesota has to go with Alex Meyer at some point, and him breaking out this year is a very real possibility. Claiming the lefty relief role vacated by Brian Duensing will be someone along the lines of Logan Darnell, Fernando Abad, or another free agent type. That leaves one opening, given to Trevor May.

If May starts in the rotation, he would likely bump Milone from the starting five. Milone's stuff doesn't play in the pen as he is a soft tossing lefty. With May in the rotation, the seventh and final relief role likely goes to someone along the lines of a Michael Tonkin or Ryan Pressly type.

So, that presents us with our crossroads. Let's take a closer look at the center of both scenarios. Here's Option A:

Tommy Milone starts, Trevor May relieves

Milone owns a career 3.97 ERA as a starter. His 6.5 K/9 is pedestrian, but his 2.2 career BB/9 helps him to limit damage. In his first full season with the Twins, Milone owned a 3.92 ERA and a 4.30 FIP. He had a dominating stint at Triple-A, and then finished the year with the big league club owning mediocre, but respectable, numbers for a number five starter. Operating at the back end of the rotation would also make Milone the likely candidate to be bumped when phenom Jose Berrios is given his chance.

In a relief role during the 2015 season, Trevor May worked 34.1 IP, most of which were high-leverage. He owned a 3.15 ERA and saw an increase in his velocity, now registering in the upper 90s. May struck out 10.3/9 as a reliever and issued just 2.1 BB/9 out of the pen. From July 25 through the end of the season (a span of 28 appearances), May owned a 2.63 ERA allowing opposing hitters to slash just .243/.295/.408 off of him. Giving the ball to Kevin Jepsen, May was what can be categorized as a shutdown reliever.

Here is Option B:

Trevor May was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Ben Revere. While it was only Vance Worley that was major league ready, it was May that was seen as the premier starting pitcher in the return. May's debut in 2014 didn't go as planned, and saw the Washington native make nine starts with an ERA over 7.00. 2015 was a different story, as May made significant improvement. In 15 starts, he owned a 4.37 ERA and allowed opposing hitters to slash .286/.325/.429 off of him while striking out 8.0 per nine. His best stretch came from May 16 through June 20, seeing May turn in a 3.09 ERA across seven starts. Far from top of the rotation stuff, it was a step in the right direction.

Filling out the bullpen in this scenario is someone along the lines of Michael Tonkin or Ryan Pressly. Tonkin was moved between levels nine times in 2015. In the big leagues, he owned a 3.47 ERA across 23.1 IP. It wasn't quite the 2.80 and 1.10 ERA he flashed at Triple-A in 2014 and 15, but it wasn't bad either. His 7.3 K/9 was serviceable, especially for a pen that didn't strike many out. Pressly, the Twins former Rule 5 pick, owned a 2.93 ERA across 27.2 IP before hitting the DL for the remained of the year. His 7.2 K/9 was a career his by nearly two strikeouts per inning, but his 3.9 BB/9 was a career worst. Coming back from an arm injury, he should be 100% but will have to establish himself once again.

For Minnesota, the goal is to no doubt field the most competitive roster. In doing so, Paul Molitor would be trying to raise the floor for the worst case scenario in each of his positional groupings. While helping to raise the strength of the bullpen, he would also need to make sure the rotation is in a good spot to compete.

While Trevor May is a better starting pitcher than Tommy Milone, and no doubt has more upside, his inclusion in the bullpen also makes the Twins better as a whole. The cost of removing May from the pen would arguably be felt more than that of having Milone start, and eventually be replaced by Berrios.

For now, it's fair to say getting behind moving a young (or relatively, May is 26) starter to the bullpen hurts. In the end though, it could definitely be the scenario that helps to push the ability of the Twins roster as a whole to the best place.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Timeline For Big Arrivals

Last season, the Minnesota Twins welcomed the big league debuts of a handful of prospects. From Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to Alex Meyer and Max Kepler, Target Field saw an influx of prospects. In 2016, the anticipation may not be as high as it was for some of those prospects, but it could arguably carry a bigger impact. With some key roles left unfilled thus far in the offseason, it could be internal options that prove the most valuable.

A year ago, Eddie Rosario was my proverbial pick to click. Way back in March, he was the guy I dubbed 2015's version of Danny Santana the year before. Even before his impressive spring, Rosario seemed like the guy who would get the early callup and take off running. He did just that.

Rosario led the big leagues in triples, he amassed 11 defensive runs saved and picked up 16 outfield assists. While he didn't take walks hardly at all, and swung at what seemed like everything at the plate, Rosario had a very nice first year in the big leagues. Now, Minnesota is ready for a couple of guys to take the torch in the year ahead.

Here's who we should see debut in 2015 based upon their arrival dates:

Jose Berrios- May

At this point, there's nothing left for Berrios to prove in the minor leagues. He followed up a 2.77 ERA in 2014 by owning a 2.87 ERA in 2015. His 9.5 career K/9 is much needed in the Twins rotation and while improving at Triple-A, he actually decreased his walk rate (below 2.0 for the first time since Rookie League). During Spring Training, Berrios should get some significant "prove it" type chances with the Twins. I don't think he immediately heads up north with the club, but he should be there within the first month and a half. Expect him to get at least 20 starts for the Twins in the year ahead.

Taylor Rogers- May

Few areas on the Twins roster are more up in the air than the bullpen. Last season, it was the Achilles Heel of the team, and fixing it remains a priority in the year ahead. Rogers is one of the most immediate internal options. Although he has worked almost exclusively as a starter in his four MiLB seasons, he projects as a nice left-handed long relief option. Rogers doesn't strike out a ton of batters, but he also limits damage. He followed up a 3.98 ERA at Triple-A Rochester in 2015 with an impressive 2.88 ERA in the Arizona Fall League. When the Twins need to call on someone to work relief innings long term early in the season, it should be Rogers name that is called.

Nick Burdi- June

Something about a bullpen that features Glen Perkins, Kevin Jepsen, Trevor May, and Burdi sounds extremely enticing. Maybe it's that the fourth name mentioned there throws absolute gas. Burdi would become the first Twins pitcher in a while to register triple digits, and he strikes out batters often along the way. In 2015, Burdi ran into some trouble with walks and took his lumps with a demotion. He responded strong in the Arizona Fall League however owning a 12.4 K/9 while walking just 1.1 per nine. A fast start between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester should have him to the big leagues in early summer.

J.T. Chargois- July

 Pitching for the first time since 2012, Chargois finally turned in a healthy season in 2015. He owned a 2.62 ERA in 48.0 IP split between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A Chattanooga. Chargois is a hard thrower as well, and registered a 9.9 K/9 last season. His walk rate (4.7 BB/9) could use some work, but he'll be moved aggressively in the season ahead. Now 25, I would expect to Chargois to get time at Triple-A Rochester before being a middle-of-the-summer option for the Twins. He's another arm that should elevate the overall ability of the Twins pen.

Jake Reed- July

Bullpens are generally a fickle thing, as is pitching in general. Knowing that the Twins will experience some turnover this season, it's comforting to note all of the strong internal options. Reed likely rounds out the list of top tier pen types. Like Burdi, Reed struggled at points in 2015 but ended on a strong note. He turned in a 1.69 ERA in the fall league, and sat down batters at an 8.4 K/9 clip. Command is the last piece needing to be focused on for him, but Reed should see his debut mid-summer and be a key cog in an improved Twins bullpen.

Adam Brett Walker- September

Unlike a season ago, hitters making their big league debut for the Twins is somewhat sparse in 2016. With Max Kepler already having made his big league appearance, and Byung Ho Park not being considered a prospect, it's Walker that is the first name on the list. The power for the 24 year-old is no doubt real, he smashed a career high 31 homers a season ago. What is also real, and very scary, is that he strikes out a staggering amount. With 195 strikeouts in 133 games last season, Walker is far from comparisons to Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds or Chris Carter. None of them struck out at the rate he does in the minor leagues, and Walker could push towards 250 strikeouts at the big league level if something doesn't change. Regardless, a similar power output in the year ahead should give him a September call up. A stronger plate discipline will be needed for him to stick.

Pat Dean- September

Just a bit ago, Major League Baseball held its Rule 5 Draft. The Twins protected lefty Pat Dean from being selected by adding him to the 40 man roster. There's no doubt the club likes him and his 2.82 ERA at Triple-A Rochester in 27 starts last year is a good reason why. Dean is 26 and owns just a 5.3 K/9 in his six professional seasons. He also walks no one however, issuing free passes at a 1.7 BB/9 career rate. He's not going to be a high profile roster addition, but in September, he could get a serious look in a bullpen audition role.

Mason Melotakis- First One Out

This is more speculative than anything, and Melotakis probably has less than a 50% chance of debuting in 2016. He missed all of last season due to injury, but has previously pitched as high as Double-A. Another guy the Twins protected from the Rule 5 Draft, Minnesota sees that Melotakis has some good stuff. In his 16.0 Double-A innings, Mason owned a 2.25 ERA combined with a 9.6 K/9 and a 1.7 BB/9. He's almost guaranteed to start no higher than Double-A, and will need to be eased back in. If he puts together a nice 2016 season though, the Twins could give him a cup of coffee look at the end.

If 2015 was the year of the offensive prospect, 2016 is going to highlight the pitching prowess of the organization. While Berrios should factor into the rotation nicely, it's the bullpen that will see the most use out of the incoming arms. For a team looking for relief help, it couldn't be better timed. Minnesota is in a position to fix one of their most glaring weaknesses with some very capable internal options. After seeing six debuts in 2015, there's eight above, and that excludes Park. Let the youth movement continue.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Second Coming Of The M & M Boys

It was the offseason of 2012 and the Twins were coming off another ugly 90 loss campaign. With more uncertainty ahead, the team and organization had to reinvent itself. Getting younger and acquiring more talent was the definite goal. Following that notion, Minnesota dealt one centerfielder, and then another. Both Denard Span and Ben Revere were gone.

Leaving just Aaron Hicks to assume the starting centerfield role, the Twins had some serious questions in the outfield. What they did get however, was two top tier pitching prospects in both Alex Meyer and Trevor May. With front of the rotation type potential there was plenty of excitement surrounding both players, even if the trades were met with criticism.

At this point, neither May nor Meyer is working in a starting role, and while that may be less than ideal, the two could combine to become the Twins second coming of an impressive M & M duo.

Trevor May was one of the Twins best pitchers in 2015, starting or relieving. It just so happened that due to his ability out of the pen, and the Twins need there, he became a much stronger asset in relief. Following a transition to a full time relief role on July 6, May pitched to the tune of a 3.15 ERA and 10.3 K/9 the rest of the way. He also limited damage by walking just 2.1 per nine. In summary, it was May who was at the top of Molitor's trusted relievers list in 2015.

While there's no doubt May could be an asset in the rotation during the 2016 season, it's in the pen that Minnesota needs more help. Having very few strikeout pitchers, May's double-digit strikeout rate and increased velocity in relief should be extremely valuable. Probably best suited for a high-leverage shutdown role, May ceding way to Jepsen or Perkins makes Minnesota late innings leads seem much safer.

Coming full circle on the 2012 outfielder deals is the way in which Alex Meyer figures into the Twins plans going forward.

Meyer was always billed as the higher prospect between May and himself. Once regarded with top of the rotation type stuff, Meyer was seen as a very solid get from the Washington Nationals. Since joining the Twins organization however, his walk rates have only climbed year by year. In 2015, Minnesota moved Meyer to a relief role, a situation that seemed plausible all along.

At 6'9" the lanky Meyer had to learn how to pitch in an entirely different scenario. While there were no doubt hiccups along the way, it's how Meyer ended 2015 that provides the most intrigue. From August 6 through the end of the season, a period of 10 games and 22.2 IP, Meyer was unhittable. The former Kentucky Wildcat owned a 0.79 ERA while striking out 8.9 per nine. His walk rate remained above 4.0 per nine, but he limited opponents to a paltry .192/.293/.205 slash line. Looking at his performance, it's more than fair to argue Meyer deserved a September call up for a second shot at the big leagues.

His snub probably positions him well for the upcoming 2016 season however. Building off of a strong finish, and knowing the club wanted more, Meyer only stands in his own way. Now with the focus being shifted to relieving full time, settling in as one of the highest upside relief options for the Twins is a very real possibility. Meyer has long relief written all over him, and being able to pump his upper 90s fastball past big league hitters is a very real possibility.

Technically, both May and Meyer could be written off a lesser than expected acquisitions should both of them find their long term home in the Twins pen. However, they both may be a part of something so much more by contributing at a high level in relief. While the Twins rotation doesn't have a plethora of quality options, quantity is on their side. Neither of those things can be said about the bullpen, and both Meyer and May could signify the start of that change.

It's often a difficult ask to gauge a prospects contribution at lower levels of the farm. Despite the Twins belief they were getting two quality starters, they may in fact end up with a pair of relievers that lay waste to the American League. Baseball generally has a way of providing some comedy along the way, and rarely are things exactly what they seem. When the Royals traded for James Shields, they ended up with Wade Davis. Minnesota dealt for two young arms, and may cash in on an impressive relief duo that could be dubbed the M & M boys, round two.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

How Molitor Handles The Rotation

As Christmas is right around the corner, we're still months away from meaningful baseball being played at Target Field. In fact, for the next few months, the field is going to be covered with snow. At this point, projecting a 25 man roster is a losing proposition. For the Twins though, selecting the starting rotation is probably much more feasible.

Sure, there's little doubt that the Twins have some of the most starting pitching depth that they've had in years. With capable arms about eight or nine pitchers deep, the back end of the Minnesota starting five should have plenty of suitors. The question is, how should Paul Molitor set things up come Opening Day?

The first few names in the rotation are easy. Minnesota will almost undoubtedly give "Ace" duties to Ervin Santana. His $55 million contract made him the richest pitcher on the club, and despite the early season suspension, he pitched like one of the best. Although there was some initial growing pains in returning from his suspension, Santana was lights out the rest of the way. From August 30 through the end of the year (seven starts), Santana owned a 1.62 ERA while striking out 8.5 batters per nine. The Twins were 5-2 across those games and Santana tallied a 5-1 record.

Following the $55 million man is the guy who inked a new deal the season before. Phil Hughes regressed in 2015, and it was in large part due to the longball. After owning a 3.52 ERA and 2.65 FIP in his first year with the Twins, Hughes totaled a 4.40 ERA in 2016 that was backed by a 4.70 FIP. He still walked no one (0.9 BB/9) but his strikeouts dipped (5.4 K/9 in 2015 after 8.0 K/9 in 2014) and he gave up an AL worst 29 homers. After dealing with injuries and ineffectiveness a year ago, Hughes is a good bet to rebound. Expecting something a bit below his 2014 numbers is within the realm of possibility.

Rounding out the guaranteed three is the first of the home grown prospects in this rotation. Kyle Gibson looked the part of the best Twins starting pitcher for stretches of 2015, and another leap forward in the year ahead should be expected. Posting career bests in innings pitched (194.2), ERA (3.84), strikeouts (145), and WHIP (1.289) Gibson continued to grow. His 6.7 K/9 was over a full strikeout worth of improvement, and he was just one of two pitchers (Hughes the other) to win double digit games. Gibson found himself ranking near the top of the AL in ERA for much of the season, and 2016 should see him take another step forward. As a number three, Molitor should feel good about Gibson taking the next step.

Things are somewhat up in the air for the final two spots, but it's Tommy Milone who should be considered the most likely option. Milone was tendered a new contract this offseason by the Twins, and the Sam Fuld trade continues to pay off for Minnesota. Across 23 starts in 2015, Milone owned a 3.92 ERA striking out 6.4 per nine while walking just 2.5 per nine. Milone's numbers across the board registered as his best since 2012 as a 25 year-old with the Washington Nationals. As a back end of the rotation option, Milone provides stability and should have the Twins in position to win plenty of games. If he can continue the lights out dominance he displayed at Triple-A Rochester (0.70 ERA across five starts) in a short stint last year, his major league numbers should continue to trend down.

Most interestingly among the Twins 2016 rotation is the 5th and final starter spot. There's a handful of suitors to be considered including Trevor May, Ricky Nolasco, Taylor Rogers, and Jose Berrios. The most sensible option though is not among those names. Instead, the final rotation spot goes to 2015 rookie, Tyler Duffey.

It was Duffey who started as the Opening Day pitcher for Double-A Chattanooga in 2015. He turned in strong numbers there, as well as Triple-A Rochester prior to making his big league debut. For Minnesota, Duffey made 10 starts owning a sparkling 3.10 ERA. His 3.24 FIP was impressive and he struck out batters at an 8.2 K/9 clip. Going 5-1 in his first 10 big league starts, Duffey should be given the first crack at replicating his stretch run performance for the Twins.

Looking back at the other possibilities to round out the rotation, it's as much that Duffey deserves the role as it is the other options can be beneficial elsewhere. May showed he has the ability to be an asset in relief and could turn into an elite one for a bullpen desperately needing quality arms. Nolasco has been hard to count on, and could be more beneficial in a lesser role. For Rogers, the pen has seemed like a potential destination for a while. As a lefty, he should be a significant upgrade in a long relief role over the likes of a Brian Duensing type.

The biggest name of that final group is no doubt Jose Berrios. At this point, I think it's safe to say the Twins need to give him at least 20 big league starts in 2016, just not from the get go. Service reasons aside, pushing out promising youth in Duffey would be counter productive. If nothing else, Berrios gets his break at the first sign of injury or Milone's ineffectiveness. The goal and hope would be that one he debuts, he sticks for good and shows the same type of numbers he's displayed throughout the farm system.

There you have it, as of December (and barring injury or a blockbuster trade), the Twins are best positioned to go with a Santana, Hughes, Gibson, Milone, Duffey rotation for 2015. After winning 80+ games and starting in a worse place a year ago, that five should be a solid step in the right direction for a team looking to turn the corner for good.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Twins Next Version Of Regression

Going into the 2015 season, the Minnesota Twins had a handful of players that were going into prove it seasons. With youth starting to show up at the major league level, it would be a newly appointed first-year manager Paul Molitor to get the most out of his team. Pushing for a playoff spot and winning more than half of the teams games, Molitor did that, but regression still showed up.

Probably most notable in terms of regression was Danny Santana. As a 23 year-old, Santana burst onto the scene manning the outfield for Minnesota. Slashing .319/.353/.472 in his first big league season, the Dominican Republic product had made a great first impression. Unfortunately the numbers were inflated due to a ridiculous .405 BABIP (batting average on balls in play).

Santana was a candidate for extreme regression this past year, and it hit hard. He played 91 games for the Twins but slashed just .214/.241/.291 ending the season on the farm. Kennys Vargas saw a similar strong 2014 finish turn into an ugly 2015. Vargas followed up a .274/.316/.456 2014 line with a .240/.277/.349 line in 2015. He spent time at both Double and Triple-A getting into just 58 big league games.

With the Twins looking to improve upon a promising 2015 season, there's a few players that regression could get to. For Molitor, it's about making the impact be felt at a significantly lesser level than that of Santana, Vargas, or even Kurt Suzuki in 2015.

It's a very curious situation when it comes to Miguel Sano, but there's some reason to believe he could experience regression in year two. After slashing .269/.385/.530 in his first 80 big league games, Sano set the bar high. His 18 homers and 52 runs batted in were more than impressive. What causes some concern is the 119 strikeouts, a pace that would have blown by a team record and likely led the big leagues.

Like Santana before him, Sano had a high BABIP (.396) a year ago. What is different however is that it's probably sustainable. With a 43.2% of balls being of the hard hit category, Sano makes any batted ball he puts in play a difficult ask to field nearly half of the time. He also hit line drives at just under a 25% clip a season ago. Both of those revelations should bolster a respectable BABIP throughout his career.

Looking into Sano's strikeouts, there's two numbers the Twins slugger should be most focused on. In 2015, Sano swung at pitches outside of the strike zone 25.9% of the time. He also swung and missed at 15.7% of pitches. Should the slugger be able to decrease either of those marks, the expectation that his power trumps the whiff rate will remain extremely high.

Another guy with some uncertain peripherals going forward is standout left fielder, Eddie Rosario. After bursting onto the scene in a fashion very similar to Santana, it was Rosario who would have been the nicer asset to see moved instead of Aaron Hicks. Unfortunately, most teams around the big leagues see the same red flags when it comes to the Puerto Rican.

In his first big league season, Rosario put up a nice .267/.289/.459 slash line. The ugly number in there is that middle one however. Rosario struck out 118 times in 122 games while drawing just 15 walks. For all of his advanced metrics ranking extremely well defensively, it's the offensive ones that scream warning.

Rosario is far from a hulking hitter. Sure he collected 15 triples and slugged 13 homers, but he hit the ball hard just 29% of the time. On top of that, calling Rosario a free-swinger would be a massive understatement. Across his 2015 at bats, Rosario swung at pitches outside of the strike zone a ridiculously 46% of the time. Despite chasing far too often, it is worth noting that he swung and missed just 14.5% of the time, less than that of Sano.

It's probably not in the cards for the Twins to completely redefine Rosario's approach. The task for Tom Brunansky though is going to be getting Rosario to develop a more professional approach in the box. Rather than chasing the marginal pitches, sit and wait for his pitch more of the time. The walk rate absolutely has to increase, and continuing on the current trajectory could provide cause for concern.

Going forward, there's little reason to believe that Miguel Sano is anything but a contributor for the Twins. Rosario remains a much riskier proposition in that department. Sano's ceiling is only going to be limited by the strikeouts he can shave off, while Rosario may have hit his without a retooled approach at the plate.

The Twins don't have as many major causes for concern in the regression department as they did a season ago, but both Sano and Rosario's 2016 approach is one worth monitoring.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Next Massive Twins Deal

Well, the Winter Meetings have come and gone with Terry Ryan and the Twins going home empty handed. It wasn't unexpected, albeit a bit frustrating. Regardless, a lot of money was spent the past few days and it got me to thinking. I'm on record saying that Bryce Harper is going to get a $500 million contract. Then it got me to wondering, who's in line for the next Twins payday, and how big will it be?

Let's address the elephant in the room first. Yes, the Twins paid Joe Mauer $184 million for eight years of his talents. Yes they were absolutely right in doing so. No, Mauer is not the same player he was, and unfortunately, the value was sapped significantly when Mauer was forced to move from behind the plate. Yes, moving Mauer from catching was the correct and sensible move. No he will never and should never catch again. No, the Twins aren't hamstrung by that contract. No, payroll does not come from attendance or new stadiums, it comes from lucrative TV deals (something the Twins don't have). Yes, Minnesota can afford to spend in the future.

Ok, deep breath, I think we covered all of the points of contention there. So now who's next in line for a big cash dump? Let's think a ways ahead here. He's not a free agent until 2022, and he won't even hit arbitration until 2019, but Miguel Sano is going to get paid.

To make this exercise a bit more simple for ourselves, let's assume that the Twins don't extend Sano early (though they should look into doing so). By the time Sano hit's free agency in 2022, he will be 29 years old. He'll have played in the big leagues for seven seasons, and likely be established as one of the best power hitters in all of baseball.

In looking at what kind of player the Twins may be signing at the age of 29, we need to take into consideration what some of Sano's numbers may look like at that point. In his first 80 games at the major league level, Sano launched 18 homers and drove in 52 runs. On a 162 game basis, that's 36 long balls and 105 runs batted in. Six seasons of that type of production, plus his 2015 performance would have Sano somewhere around 230 homers and 680 runs batted in. Factor in the consideration Sano can be relied upon for 20 plus doubles a year, and an OPS north of .800 and you have a legitimate top five or ten power guy.

By means of providing a complete assessment of talent, Sano's fWAR should be considered. In just 80 games during 2015, Sano gave the Twins 2.0 fWAR (a 4.05 mark across 162 games). That number would have been 20th best in the AL in 2015. Also, considering Sano added no value by playing the field, it's an even more impressive mark.

Looking at some of the massive contracts given out to power hitters lately, we can try to pencil in a thought process for Sano. At the age of 25, Giancarlo Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million deal with the Marlins. Averaging 4.15 fWAR thus far in his career, Stanton cashed in. Harper is a few years from free agency, but as mentioned, is likely to get $500 million. He'll be 26, and has averaged 4.85 fWAR thus far in his career. Both of those players are in a tier above Sano, especially considering their defensive value.

Trying to find something more comparable, we should probably look a bit higher up the age scale. In fact, we may not need to look any further than this year's free agent class. Enter Chris Davis. The Orioles slugger is on the market at the age of 29 (turning 30 in March). At the moment, Davis has launched 203 homers and driven in 549 runs. He's recorded 168 doubles and owns an .835 career OPS. Essentially, Davis is everything the Twins would hope Sano could be.

With that in mind, the talk is that Davis is being floated contracts in the $150 million range. His strikeouts are a problem, but he's shown some positional flexibility playing in the outfield as well as first and third base (sound familiar?).

It would seem possible, accounting for inflation, that the Twins offer Sano a seven-year, $170 million contract at the age of 29. The average annual value would check in at $24.3 million (just above Mauer's $23m AAV). Should he exceed his current production, or the market dictate it, I could see the price going up to somewhere around $190-200 million as well. Minnesota would have their superstar locked down until his age 36 season, and would spare itself from the scary cliff that is the years closing in on 40.

Right now, Miguel Sano is working on losing some weight and getting used to the outfield. Should things go smoothly for both him and the Twins over the next several seasons, this interesting little exercise could absolutely be the future that awaits the exciting Dominican slugger. Only time will tell.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Twins Staring Through An Open Window

Welcome to the offseason, and the frustrations of watching Terry Ryan sit idly by as his competition surrounds him. In 2015, the Minnesota Twins compiled an 83-79 record finishing second in the AL Central. They were one of baseball's biggest surprises, but not to all. No, to the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, each of the three teams were in similar positions to capitalize upon rebuilding success. The issue is, one still doesn't seem to know it.

Last year, both the Astros and Cubs made it to the playoffs. In Joe Maddon's first year as Cubs skipper, he very nearly took a team led by Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, and Jake Arrieta to the playoffs. With his youth all over the field, it was the young guys carrying the offensive load as Arrieta mowed down hitters from the mound.

For the Astros, the narrative was similar. An early callup and spectacular play from rookie Carlos Correa netted him the AL Rookie of the Year. Although contributions weren't made from the same guys all year, Dallas Keuchel was there on the mound to be the workhorse. Throw in George Springer, Jose Altuve, and a trade for Carlos Gomez, and it's easy to see why the Astros were there at the end.

Neither of them left the season satisfied however.

Houston made sure to make relief pitching a priority and resigned left-hander Tony Sipp. Owning a 1.99 ERA and 10.3 K/9 for them a season ago, Houston realized he will be integral in their 2016 success. The Cubs made a huge splash in signing Ben Zobrist, reuniting him with Maddon. They also dealt Starlin Castro for relief help, and cleared up space for Javier Baez. Knowing pitching is a must, they brought on John Lackey to a rotation already headlined by Arrieta and Jon Lester.

Assuming that the Minnesota Twins see the similarities between themselves and the two aforementioned ball clubs, it would only stand to reason they'd be pushing the needle as well. While Terry Ryan has talked of the good days he's had discussion wise this offseason and at the winter meetings, here's what the Twins have accomplished: NOTHING.

That's right, despite nearly making it to the playoffs behind one of the worst bullpens in baseball, Minnesota has signed no relief help. Although Trevor Plouffe is no doubt a bigger asset to the Twins than any other team he'd be dealt to, Minnesota appears to be content pushing Miguel Sano to the outfield, and making it work (it could, see here). To summarize the situation in terms of roster decisions, Minnesota last fire throwing relief prospect Zack Jones in the Rule 5 draft while protecting multiple players yet to pitch above Low-A and unlikely to make it through a year at the big league level (or even be selected).

As the Winter Meetings draw to a close, Terry Ryan has made sure to comment how many guys he's been close on. We've heard the Twins have finished runner up in some trade discussions as well as free agent signings, but it all adds up to missing the point.

A season ago, the Twins showed they could compete before the talented pool of youth had overflowed to the big league level. Much like the decision making process with Jose Berrios a season ago, Ryan and the Twins seemed determined to wait almost until their hand is forced.

With the ability to promote from within, and supplement with some top tier talent outside, the Twins should field a 2016 roster capable of pushing the Royals in the AL Central. Bringing back retreads like Neal Cotts, or targeting near 40 year olds like Matt Thornton to fix the biggest problem area isn't going to accomplish that however.

The Winter Meetings are hardly the be-all-end-all for the Twins or baseball when it comes to offseason transactions. However, if the Twins, and Terry Ryan's handling of the past week is any indication, there could be some frustratingly long processes to play out in Minnesota's near future. When winning is in front of you, it's on you to take hold of it. Standing idly by and letting it come to you is generally not the proposition that culminates in a ring, or anything close.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

On Foul Balls, Netting, And Distractions

For months, players, fans, and Major League Baseball have been discussing the options in regards to fan safety at the ballpark. Most notably, the expansion of netting from behind home plate has become a topic of interest. Now Major League Baseball has issued their new fan safety recommendations.

In the release, the following recommendations are issued:
  • Clubs are encouraged to implement or maintain netting that shields from line-drive foul balls all field-level seats that are located between the near ends of both dugouts and within 70 feet of home plate.
  • Although Clubs already provide warnings to fans about the dangers posed by batted balls and bats entering the stands and the need to pay attention to the action on the field during each at-bat, the Commissioner's Officer recommends that Clubs continue to explore ways to educate their fans on these issues and is providing Clubs with resources to assist them in this area. 
  • The Commissioner's Office will be working with the Clubs and online ticketing sellers to identify ways to provide customers with additional information at the point of sale about which seats are (and are not) behind netting.
Ok, now we have the basis for our discussion. First and foremost, this is something I can get behind as long as the changes end at the current state. Per the recommendations above, no netting would extend the length of the dugout, and therefore, would leave those seats still unobstructed. Therein lies my biggest concern for going overboard with netting and safety measures.

In recent years, we have seen a handful of fans be struck with batted balls or bats flying into the stands. Handful is a reflective term noting that out of the millions of people that experience baseball games in person each season, less than a full percent have ever been seriously injured. That's not to make light of the situation, but instead to provide some perspective. More fans have died in recent memory, from falling from areas in stadiums with less than secure railings or overhangs. We aren't talking about some sort of epidemic.

Looking at the problem that faces Major League Baseball as it pertains to fan safety, we find a situation in which the consumer is asking for protection from themselves. Regardless of how many fans have been hurt, each situation is a direct outcome of a buying decision. As has always been the case, each ticket comes with a disclaimer full highlighting the inherent risks of being present at a baseball game. This is also voiced at each game as a reminder prior to first pitch over the stadium public address system.

Generally, the thought process behind buying seats close to the dugout or down the lines is one of increased fan interaction. Whether it be for a close up field view, the opportunity for autographs, hoping to interact with a player, or snagging a ball, those reasons would seem to influence the purchasing decision. Knowing full well the tickets carry a premium price for those reasons, the expected experience should be what each fan has come to understand.

While it's not fair to categorize every incident as the outcome of a fan or group not paying attention, or simply not reacting, it's also not fair to do the opposite. In an age where cell phones, conversations, food, beer, and otherwise have all taken away from paying attention to the action, responsibility should not be shifted. Again, when buying your ticket, you know what and where you are paying for.

With the latest safety recommendations, baseball has gone above and beyond to protect fans from themselves. The seats in question have been unprotected for years. While the game has gotten bigger, faster, and stronger, it has not done so exponentially so quickly that the sport hasn't handled it. Instead of looking at the unfortunate instances as the outliers they have come to be, baseball has taken a step to improve fan safety while not diluting the product being purchased.

At some point, as a whole, we need to take more ownership for our own safety and actions. Unfortunate circumstances take place, and while not all things are preventable, there's also a point in which prevention measures overstep sensibility as well. For now, this is a good move for baseball. As the call for netting past the dugouts or even from foul pole to foul pole comes to fruition, sensibility needs to win out.