Sunday, April 26, 2015

Early Decisions To Pave Twins Summer

As April comes to a close, the Minnesota Twins can begin to take a look back on the month that was. Only playing a handful of games against competition outside of the AL Central, positioning amongst what should be one of the toughest divisions in baseball is starting to take shape. While Minnesota was never expected to be at the top of the standings, how they progress until the All-Star break may be largely a by-product of their own decisions.

Paul Molitor has shown in the early going that he isn't afraid of making decisions. He's had to deal with the losses of Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana, as well as trying to find a way to jumpstart a relatively stagnant offense. Whether by choice or happenstance, the Twins first-year skipper has been forced to act. Now with his feet wet however, the decisions become harder, and carry the weight that helps to shape the rest of the season.

The biggest areas of contention coming into the season for the Twins remained the outfield, pitching, and timeline of up and coming prospects. As April winds down, each of these areas have allowed for a heightened level of clarity. With the Twins wanting to push towards a .500 mark at some point in 2015, it will be on the timely execution of those areas that makes all of the difference.

In the outfield, Minnesota elected to go with a bat over defensive prowess when they brought in Torii Hunter. With Hunter and Oswaldo Arcia on the corners, there has no doubt been more head scratching situations than there have been highlight reel plays. Neither players bats have shown up thus far either, but that probably is the least of the outfield worries. In center, Molitor made a statement by turning to Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson out of the gate. While the latter has worked out wonderfully in a 4th outfielder role (as he has always been and continues to be destined for), the former has been a colossal flop and has provided little on either side of the ball. Looking confused and conflicted on defense, while overmatched at the plate, Schafer's leash with the Twins should and needs to be drawing short.

Fixing the position from within remains a relatively simple move. Both Schafer and Robinson are 4th outfield types that the club shouldn't worry about losing, but Robinson has played his way into sticking. Sending Schafer either on his way, or to Rochester, would allow for Aaron Hicks to make his 2015 debut. Although Hicks has been largely unimpressive at the major league level thus far, he's a former first round pick with less than two full seasons under his belt. Suggesting there was something to gain by sending a high-ceiling option to Triple-A, to with a six-year major league who's compiled a 0.2 WAR seems silly. Factor in the fact that Hicks showed well in his first time going through Double and Triple-A in succession (as he did post demotion in 2014), and it appears time to get him where he belongs. Expecting an immediate or drastic impact out of Hicks is probably not logical, but there's little reason to keep running Schafer out there.

On the mound, it was in the rotation that Molitor had to deal with issues first. Santana's untimely suspension, and Nolasco's unfortunate injury put the spring competition in a largely irrelevant scenario. Through the early going, Phil Hughes has actually been better in 2015 than a year ago (despite getting no run support), Kyle Gibson has been average, and Mike Pelfrey has actually looked strong. Throw in Trevor May coming in taking Nolasco's spot, and the rotation has actually been handled relatively well.

Looking at the bullpen however, the Twins still seem lost. Those inside of the organization continue to quip that the club is looking for relief help. When bringing low-ceiling options like Tim Stauffer, Blaine Boyer, and Brian Duensing north, getting shelled should have been an expected practice. The troubling part is that instead of suggesting that options on the market are being considered, increasing the ceiling from within makes the most sense. Rochester sports an incredible bullpen currently, and players such as Michael Tonkin, Logan Darnell, and A.J. Achter could have all better served options from the get go. Instead of taking chances on young options with a respectable amount of potential, the Twins tried to reinvent castoff veterans and it's gotten the best of them thus far.

Finally, the prospect timeline has begun to sort itself out. As much as it would be fun to see Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano playing at the big league level, early returns suggest they aren't ready even for Triple-A. Both have been around or below the Mendoza Line through the first month, and there's no doubt rust needs to be shaken off. While it doesn't change the long term prognosis, promotion because of name alone is something that will get a club nowhere fast.

On the pitching side of the farm, Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios have been intriguing for different reasons. Extremely strong out of the gate has been Berrios, who has made Double-A batters look largely foolish. There's no doubt another solid start could have him in Rochester in short order. Meyer has been the opposite. While starting out his season in missing the zone and offering free passes, he has started to gain steam of late. A strong start in front of Terry Ryan is a good building block, and the Twins could decide to allow his next few starts to dictate their usage of the tall fire baller.

It's still way too early to suggest what will happen by the end of September, but what Paul Molitor and the Twins brain trust does over the next few weeks will no doubt shape the summer. Making the right moves at the right time are something Minnesota has got to be perfect on, and in 2015, a significant amount of those moves appear to be needed from within.

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