Monday, August 31, 2015

The Twins Perfect Storm

Just a few weeks ago, the Twins 2015 postseason hopes looked all but lost. In a season in which expectations had already been so vastly exceeded, it appeared that once again, September would be nothing more than a proving ground for 2016. Now on the back of another nice run, Paul Molitor's squad enters September with something to play for. With a perfect storm approaching, Minnesota has the chance to sink or swim.

Heading into the final full month of the season, Minnesota finds themselves looking up at only the Texas Rangers. With both the Yankees and Blue Jays holding down either the AL East or top Wild Card spot, it will be Texas that Minnesota will chase. Separated a few games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota can worry about themselves.

Looking at the final month of the season, the Twins play plenty of familiar foes. Following the first weekend in September, the Twins will play only AL Central teams the rest of the way (outside of a four game homestand against the Angels). In those 22 games, only six of them come against the division leading Kansas City Royals. For further context, that means the Twins will play 16 games against sub .500 teams the rest of the way.

Minnesota has played the AL East the toughest this season (going 19-14), while nearly splitting with divisional foes (26-25). Despite holding down the second spot in the division, the Twins will face plenty of tough pitching matchups the rest of the way. Kluber, Sale, and what might be an improved Verlander looming, earning a playoff berth will be a must.

However, the Twins also have a few trump cards at their disposal this September. Instead of looking to give playing time to those who have paid their due, Molitor and Terry Ryan stand to benefit their big league club by calling up true talent. It's safe to say players such as Kennys Vargas, Jose Berrios, and even Max Kepler have earned their way onto the big league roster. Knowing that each of them could equate to key wins helps that fact to carry even more weight.

Despite being a year ahead of schedule, the Twins have parlayed getting hot again at the right time, with the ability to bolster their roster for the home stretch. Knowing what teams lie ahead, and their level of talent, Minnesota has tipped the scales in their favor. Whether or not they make it to the playoffs remains unseen, but Paul Molitor has everything point the right direction at the most opportune time.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Twins Final Weapon

August comes to a close, the Twins have rebounded from a lackluster middle of the summer, and an AL Wild Card spot is once again in the cards. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton have paced the offense, and Paul Molitor's club is rolling. Heading into September, there's one more weapon the Twins have at their disposal however: La Maquina.

Spanish for "The Machine," La Maquina describes and defines Jose Berrios in a way no other phrase can. The Puerto Rican superstar has put together another amazing season in the Twins farm system, and Terry Ryan is running out of reasons not to deploy him. With Berrios laying waste to opposing hitters, he very well could be the final missing piece to helping the Twins capitalize on their good fortune this season.

A year ago, Berrios blitzed the Twins system. Generally regarded for slow-playing even the best prospects. Berrios pitched at three different levels in 2014. Making 16 starts for Fort Myers, followed by eight for New Britain, and finally a spot start for Triple-A Rochester, it appeared Berrios had arrived. Unfortunately, not everyone saw it that way.

Keith Law had Berrios in the 90's when it came to his top prospect list. The Twins invited him as a non-roster guy to Spring Training, but he was shipped out rather quickly. All of it has fueled Berrios' fire. In 2015, he's done everything possible to substantiate his impressive 2014. With a 3.08 ERA in 15 Double-A starts, he's actually been even better at Triple-A Rochester.

For the Red Wings, Berrios owns a 2.78 ERA across 10 starts and 64.2 innings. He's compiled a career high 155.1 IP and owns a 10.2 K/9 at the highest level of the farm. Since giving up four and five earned runs respectively in his first two Triple-A starts, Berrios has put together a run of 54.0 IP allowing just 38 hits, 12 runs (11 earned), walking nine, striking out 61, all to the tune of a 1.83 ERA. Opposing batters are slashing just .197/.252/.316 off of him, and it all adds up to Berrios being nothing short of dominant.

Since being under the microscope in August, Berrios has taken his game to yet another level. With a September call-up being a possibility, the Twins best pitching prospect has reeled off performances of 12, 10, eight, and nine strikeouts in his last four outings respectively. To put icing on the cake, it was the 12 strikeout, three hit performance on August 26th that general manager Terry Ryan was in the stands for.

Keeping Berrios at the Triple-A level is no doubt the business side of baseball. Not yet on the 40 man roster, the Twins would need to do some finagling to get him up to the big leagues. More than that however, his service time would begin, and Minnesota would lose out on an extra year of team control. Down the line, that no doubt could cost a team generally looking to maximize their spending.

On the flip side, the Twins absolutely had no business being in the spot they currently find themselves in. Beginning to compete a year ahead of schedule, and doing so with top prospects in tow, Molitor's boys have presented an intriguing situation. With a month left of games to go, it's Berrios that undoubtedly could provide the final boost to put the Twins over the top.

If the top prospect ends up being the pitcher the Twins expect him to be, he's going to need to get paid down the line. Minnesota will need to cough up the cash earlier than expected if his promotion happens, but maximizing winning potential when it's there may make sense. A worst case scenario may look like a Berrios promotion only to miss the playoffs, but that experience could prove vital in a more important 2016 season anyways.

How the Twins value future cash flow and contract status will likely be the determining factor, but considering how this club has performed against the odds thus far, Berrios would be a welcomed final piece. Terry Ryan dipped his toes in the water when he traded for Kevin Jepsen and Neal Cotts, but now it's time to dive in. Unleash La Maquina.

More: From Puerto Rico To The Pros: The Jose Berrios Story

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How Do The Twins Trim The 40 Man

Major League Baseball is quickly pushing towards September 1st; a day in which big league rosters are allowed to expand from 25 to 40 players. For many teams, this involves some roster reconfiguration. The Minnesota Twins are not an exception, and will need to re-evaluate who they view worthy of holding down an ever important spot.

For the Twins, this season represents something a bit different, as they are in the midst of a playoff race. While they are likely going to be on the outside looking in, maximizing roster potential in September is a must. Terry Ryan and crew will need to make some difficult decisions in the coming week however. Let's take a look at some of the candidates on the chopping block.

Pitchers:

A.J. Achter-RHP

Achter was a 46th round pick by the Twins in 2010. He has appeared in just 13 big league games, and has pitched 18.1 innings to the tune of a 4.91 ERA. Much better in the minors, Achter owns a 2.90 ERA in 366.1 IP. This seasons for Triple-A Rochester, Achter has compiled a 2.74 ERA in 46.0 innings. At this point, Achter has done everything asked of him, but his stuff profiles more like an AAAA type. He may pass through waivers unclaimed, but he's probably not the type to right your bullpen.

Logan Darnell-LHP

The Twins haven't called upon Darnell in 2015 after he pitched 24 big league innings with a 7.13 ERA last season. He's had a solid 2015 for Triple-A Rochester, and he recently took a perfect game into the 6th inning in his last start (he's being stretched out of late). His 3.05 ERA and 7.6 K/9 are some of the best marks of his MiLB career. Darnell is either going to be given a shot to prove it, or needs to cede way to someone else though.

Brian Duensing-LHP

Including Duensing on this list is less about September than it is about this offseason. Minnesota took Duensing to arbitration over the winter and settled on a one-year, $2.7 million deal. They would be best served to cut ties after 2015. The longtime Twin has been better of late, but his 4.25 FIP (fielding independent pitching) is in line with his 4.01 career mark, and his 4.5 K/9 is ugly out of the pen. There are better options out there (and on the farm), who are also much cheaper.

Casey Fien-RHP

This is somewhat or a mixed-emotions add for me. My trust in Fien as a late inning reliever has waned in recent seasons, but he has also remained relatively consistent. Fien is arbitration eligible in 2016, and remains under team control until 2019. On that alone, I'm not sure I'm sold on removing him. However, his declining strikeout rates (10.6 K/9 in 2013, 7.2 in 14, and 5.2 in 15) are a problem, and his FIP has steadily increased each of the past three years (3.16 in 13, 3.43 in 14, 3.62 in 15). If there's a better option, I wouldn't be opposed to exploring it.

Ryan O'Rourke-LHP

Back in 2010, the Twins selected O'Rourke out of a small town college in Massachusetts. He's now 27, and made his big league debut this season. Despite being a LOOGY (lefty one out guy), he's been hit around to an ERA north of 5.00 for the Twins. His career 4.15 MiLB ERA isn't inspiring either. O'Rourke is allowing lefties to hit just .156/.250/.250 while striking out 16 in 32 at bats. He's walked one-fourth of the righties he's faced though, and isn't a real answer to a shaky pen.

Aaron Thompson-LHP

Thompson was an early season surpise for the Twins. The former first round pick owned a 2.11 ERA and a .181/.235/.278 slash line against in his first 21.1 IP. Then the wheels fell off. Over his final 24 games for the Twins, Thompson pitched to the tune of a 10.64 ERA and allowed opposing hitters to slash .388/.444/.490 off of him. Since being demoted back to Triple-A Rochester, Thompson owns a 4.76 ERA and has just a 7/4 K/BB ratio in 11.1 IP. It's probably best for the Twins to move on from the reclamation project whether he's claimed or not.

Jason Wheeler-LHP

A former 8th round pick in 2011, Wheeler has had quite an eventful 2015. He's been demoted to Double-A Chattanooga twice, while being promoted to Triple-A Rochester once after starting the season there. In total, he owns a 5.73 ERA and a measly 5.7 K/9. His Double-A numbers are better (4.34 ERA 7.6 K/9), but still show little reason to be hopeful. With pitching as an asset throughout the farm, the 40 man roster spot could go to better use.

Position Players:

Chris Herrmann-C

Much like Duensing, Herrmann isn't an immediate DFA option for the Twins. He's on the 25 man roster as the backup catcher, and with Josmil Pinto (who's not catching) as the only other 40 man option, this isn't happening now. Regardless, Herrmann isn't a big leaguer, and the Twins have some serious issues behind the dish. Over the winter, addressing their backstop situation is a must. Herrmann is slashing .159/.225/.305, which is bad (and even worse by the standards of a guy with a career .187/.254/.289 slash line). Minnesota needs some catching depth, and Herrmann doesn't qualify as that.

Eduardo Nunez-Util

Smoke and mirrors was what Eduardo Nunez put up for a good portion of 2015. Now the owner of a .268 average, Nunez owned a .302/.333/.508 slash line up until the All Star Break. The catch was that he played in just 22 games and had just 66 plate appearances. He's been worth 0.6 fWAR on the season, which is at least a positive. Nunez however was someone I thought could have been DFA'd prior to the 2015 season starting. Better utility options are generally out there, and as an arbitration guy this upcoming season, he's not going to be worth the expense.

Shane Robinson-OF

If anyone assumed their role better than Shane Robinson in 2015, I'm not aware of it. Brought in to be a 4th outfielder, he was exactly that. It was Jordan Schafer that was kept out of spring training at the detriment of Aaron Hicks, not Robinson. In his first season away from the Cardinals, Robinson has slashed .255/.306/.331. His five steals tie a career high, and his 0.5 fWAR is on pace to be a career best. His defense was a boost to a Twins outfield in flux, and he gave the club everything asked of him. Now with the outfield in a more stable situation, Robinson can be thanked for his contributions and be made expendable.

Oswaldo Arcia-OF

Easily the highest profile name on this list, Arcia puts the Twins in a tough spot. He has played just 19 games in the big leagues this season, and is not deserving of a September callup. Despite a career best .276/.338/.379 slash line at the MLB level, he compiled 15 strikeouts and just four walks. Despite being a power guy (34 HR the last two seasons), he swings and misses far too often. At Triple-A Rochester, Arcia owns a .206/.265/.385 slash line with 11 home runs 75 strikeouts and just 17 walks. He has hit just .108/.202/.176 since July 21, and his attitude combined with effort have been in question most of his career. Out of options going forward, Minnesota dealing him this offseason seems like a good avenue to explore.

With a farm system ready to overflow with prospects, and some worthy September call ups not being on the 40 man roster, Minnesota will need to begin some turnover. Abover are a few of the names to keep eyes on. As the Twins look to get back into a yearly playoff picture, Minnesota will need to fill the 40 man with more quality than quantity types.

Monday, August 24, 2015

New Shift In Twins Rotation On The Horizon

Pitch-to-contact, sinkerballers, and soft-tossing lefties have become the types of definitions tied to Twins starting pitchers for most of recent memory. While Kyle Gibson, Mike Pelfrey, and Tommy Milone still fall into those categories, the horizon is suggesting a change is coming. It has started with Tyler Duffey, but a new wave is looking to take over.

Duffey is far from a strikeout machine, owning just a 7.4 K/9 across four minor league seasons. However, his eight strikeout performance against the Baltimore Orioles was the highest output for the Twins since July 5th when Ervin Santana set down that same amount. Duffey fanned seven Indians hitters in his second start, and owns a respectable 9.2 K/9 despite striking out just one batter in his MLB debut against the Blue Jays.

Although Tyler Duffey shouldn't be expected to lead the Twins in strikeouts any time in the near future, he is part of the turnaround that the rotation should eventually see, even if he's not a part of it.

Recently, I took a look at what the 2016 starting rotation might look like for the Twins. As of that writing, I didn't have Duffey in it. The righty has operated in relief previously, and I think that may be where his long term value lies for the Twins. However, those prospects that should eventually graduate into the rotation (only one of which I have there to start 2016), are of a different breed.

Jose Berrios leads the way when it comes to pitching prospects making their Twins rotation debut. He owns a 3.09 ERA on the season, and an impressive 9.3 K/9. At Triple-A Rochester, Berrios has struck out eight or more batters in six of his nine starts. As a whole, his slight stature doesn't seem to be a detriment when blowing fastballs by opposing hitters. What's better though, is that Berrios isn't alone.

There's still plenty of reason to hope that 2015 is a throwaway year for Alex Meyer. He's no longer a top prospect, and it's silly to assume he is a sure-fire top of the rotation guy. What he does do though, is strike people out. Despite the ugly 5.0 BB/9 mark, Meyer has racked up strikeouts at a pace of 9.4 K/9. If he can get his control issues honed in over the offseason and work back towards being a starter, the Twins would then have two major league ready mow-down types.

Looking through the farm, they aren't alone. Although further off, Stephen Gonsalves is absolutely someone to keep an eye on. His strikeout totals have dipped some at High-A Fort Myers (6.2 K/9 as opposed to 12.6 K/9 at Cedar Rapids), but at just 20 years old, he's still developing the ability to pitch and command the zone.

Much like Gonsalves, former first round pick Kohl Stewart still should be billed as the strikeout type. Stewart has struggled somewhat with the transition to pitching full time, but his 10.8 K/9 in his first pro season is just two years away. Also 20, Stewart's dip to 5.0 K/9 at High-A Fort Myers isn't as concerning as it would be further on down the line. Both players absolutely need to show some level of rebound, but the upside remains.

It's probably fair to argue that it's unlikely all four of the mentioned pitching prospects pan out at the big league level. What is fair to suggest though, is that when they do, the Twins standard will be pushed for the better because of it. Considering the benefit and importance that strikeouts play in any given start, the Twins turning over their rotation towards a more power approach would be a great thing.

It won't be long before Twins Territory is seeing Jose Berrios push the envelope, but if a couple of his organization mates can follow suit, the Twins stand to gain.

Twins A Rock In A Really Hard Place

It wasn't supposed to go like this, Minnesota was not at all defined as a surprise team in 2015. In a stacked AL Central, it was the Twins who were supposed to be sellers, and once again teeter on the brink of losing 90 games. Fortunately, none of that has played out as expected, but now Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan are faced with some very interesting and tough decisions.

Heading out on an AL East road trip, the Twins had an opportunity to capitalize on the AL Wild Card positioning. Once in firm control of a playoff spot, a surging Blue Jays team made sure to knock the Twins out of contention. With key games ahead though, the Twins had an opportunity to climb right back in it. In a rollercoaster of events, Molitor's club was swept by the Yankees, only to bounce back big and knock off the Orioles in four straight games. It was the roster move over the weekend though that highlights the Twins current predicament.

In dealing either a player to be named later or cash to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Twins received left-handed pitcher Neal Cotts. After being linked to him during the July 31 trade deadline timeframe, Minnesota acquired the reliever during the August waiver period. Cotts is an impending free agent and owns a 3.26 ERA with a 4.71 FIP and 8.9 K/9. In short, he's nothing spectacular, but is no doubt an upgrade for a lackluster Minnesota bullpen.

The move in and of itself makes sense. Minnesota has struggled with relief pitching all year, and despite Cotts peripherals leaving plenty to be desired (4.71 FIP and 3.1 BB/9), he helps to solidify the issue. What is odd however, is that Cotts comes to the Twins as a rental player. He is 35 years old, and has just two months remaining on his one-year, $3 million deal. That begs the question, what do the Twins see themselves as?

Typically, a rental type player is more of a high profile, high-ceiling type in which a competing team is looking to be somewhat of a final piece. After the Twins added Kevin Jepsen during July's trade period, it seemed as though they were content being in the hunt, but not going for it. Jepsen was acquired with team control going forward, and at a very modest price (High-A reliever Chih-Wei Hu). The two moves in comparison signify very different trains of thought. Even if Cotts ends up netting the Brewers next to nothing, it's the thought process that makes the move puzzling.

With August nearly wrapping up, the Twins will be offering more insight into their direction soon. September signifies the active roster expanding from 25 to 40 players. In doing so, the Twins can add a few key pieces from a loaded farm system in order to help them make somewhat of a final push. It remains to be seen whether or not this will be the course of action however.

Aaron Hicks remains sidelined with a hamstring injury, and Torii Hunter has hit like an aging 40 year old since the break. The obvious boost would be for the Twins to pull German prospect, Max Kepler, from Double-A Chattanooga. Already a 40 man roster guy, the outfielder owning a slash line of .342/.424/.572 across 97 Double-A games would be an immediate boost. Kepler isn't a top prospect by any means, but he's shot up the national boards with his performance this season.

On the other side of the game, Minnesota is faced with a tougher decision. After deciding to go with a bullpen game earlier in August, the Twins missed a prime window to promote top pitching prospect Jose Berrios. Still dominating (3.12 ERA and 9.5 K/9 at Triple-A), Berrios would be an asset in the Twins rotation. Calling him up in September however would start his service time, and also have 40 man roster implications (Berrios is not currently on the 40 man).

At this point, the Twins are treading water and seemingly waiting for their play to dictate their decision. The practice could pay off, or be to their detriment depending on how you view it. On one hand, the Twins lack of real action (Jepsen was a safe move) at the deadline has contributed to the post All Star Game slide, but on the other hand, the team is still in a significantly better place than expected.

Both the Jepsen and Cotts moves have separate narratives. One suggests a team looking to enjoy a competitive end to the year and be ready for 2016, while the other is surrounded by thoughts of more. Kepler would follow along the path of the safe but effective move, while a Berrios promotion would carry significantly more weight.

Minnesota has a few contests left through the month of August, and if the ball bounces in their favor, it could end up dictating just how the club handles the crossroads it currently finds itself at.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tyler Duffey Is Turning Heads



Tyler Duffey twirled his second straight impressive start for the Minnesota Twins as they took on the Orioles in Baltimore. The 24 year-old righty mowed down eight Orioles hitters, and he was on cruise control from the word go. As he's now made it two straight impressive starts, heads are starting to turn. The question is, should they be? And why wasn't Twins Territory already on notice?

Duffey was a 5th round pick out of Rice University by the Twins back in 2012. This season, he saw his first eight starts at Double-A Chattanooga, where he was the Opening Day starter. In and of itself that's noteworthy, considering it was Duffey (not Jose Berrios), that manager Doug Mientkiewicz gave the ball to kick off the season. He made that decision look wonderful as Duffey worked 6.2 innings giving up just four hits while striking out 10 Montgomery Biscuit batters. Since, he hasn't looked back.

On the season, Duffey has struck out eight or more batters in a game six times in 25 starts. He has 10 and 12 strikeout performances, and his eight strikeouts against the Orioles on Thursday night were the most by a Twins pitcher since July 5 when Ervin Santana sat down eight Royals. In his 25 starts, Duffey has given up more than three earned runs just five times, and he's held team scoreless ten times.

In 2015, the Twins have been aggressive with the consistently impressing Duffey. After pitching to the tune of a 2.56 ERA across eight Double-A starts (while owning a 9.3 K/9), Duffey found himself at Triple-A Rochester. The success came with him as he compiled a 2.72 ERA across 13 starts. After a tough first test at the big league level, it appears Duffey has arrived for the Twins too.

Starting against the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles, Duffey has put together 13.2 innings of impressive pitching. He's surrendered just 11 hits, two earned runs, and five walks, all while fanning 15 batters. Across those two starts, opposing hitters are batting just .224/.296/.265 off of him. By all early indications, it would appear as though Duffey is here to stay.

8.08, 6.44, 6.25, and 5.53 are the Twins current starters K/9 (May, Gibson, Milone, and Santana). Duffey finds himself the owner of a 9.19 mark through his first three big league starts. On a team starved for strikeouts, Duffey is providing the gold standard.

As he continues to see turns in a major league rotation, Duffey will only have a chance to get better. Currently throwing his hammer curve right around 30% of the time, the Twins have to be ecstatic about just how good of a pitch the former Rice Owl has at his disposal. Duffey is also getting batters to chase a healthy amount in generating swings at pitches outside of the zone just over 35% of the time. It's safe to say he's working into a groove, and making the game come to him.

A driven, motivated, and level-headed individual, Tyler Duffey has the opportunity to be a key cog for winning Twins teams in the years to come. Although not billed with the hype of other top pitching prospects, Duffey's performances are begging you to take notice all on their own.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

5 Musts For Byron Buxton In 2015

August 20, 2015 is a day that will hopefully go down in history for the Minnesota Twins. While baseball's (and the Twins) number on prospect has already debuted at the big league level, it's on this day that Minnesota is hoping he never goes back to the farm. Entering a major league lineup with Miguel Sano for the first time, the Twins have their future franchise cornerstones in place. Although 2015 is just a starting point for Buxton, there's a few things I'd like to see from him over the final month and a half.

In his first stint with the big league club, Buxton slashed just .189/.231/.270 across 11 games before hitting the disabled list with a thumb injury. For a guy that has torn through the minor leagues, the output was less than stellar. Knowing full well that his bat would take some time, the slow start isn't anything to be disappointed with. That said, there's a few other things that should be keyed in on for the 21 year-old.

1. Controlled But Unlimited Effort

Often times in the world of sports (more often football), you'll hear about a player's motor. Byron Buxton has one of the highest running motors in all of baseball. Not only does he absolutely fly, but he's going at 110%, 100% of the time. While that trait is something that the Twins no doubt have to enjoy, it's when it becomes detrimental that there is a problem.

Much like Bryce Harper before him, Buxton needs to play the final month of the season with an understanding of what controlled effort looks like. He has been shelved the past two seasons after colliding with a teammate, and sliding on a steal. He has routinely smashed into fences, and has obliterated his lanky frame. The punishment he has put on his body has been nothing short of drastic.

Suggesting Buxton play the game of baseball differently is not something that I would be behind. However, Torii Hunter should be in Buxton's ear helping him to feel through how to give the same level of effort, without sacrificing his ability to be on the field for his team. Protecting himself while going into the wall, or getting his hands up when sliding into a bag are minor changes that Buxton can make, while still utilizing his style. In the remainder of the season, Buxton needs to continue to play with the same type of effort, with a bit more regard for his body.

2. Improved Approach At The Plate

For the Twins, Buxton was immediately going to be an elite, if not Gold Glove caliber, centerfielder. He is that fast, and that good with his glove. What he wasn't going to do was hit. Despite being a career .301 hitter in the minors, Buxton needed to get a feel for big league pitching. He fell somewhat flat in starting out hitting below the Mendoza Line in his first taste at the MLB level.

For a guy who owns a 245/135 K/BB ratio across 276 minor league games, Buxton's 15/2 K/BB ratio with the Twins wasn't a good start. The best thing that happened to him however was a stint in Triple-A. Now facing pitchers capable of spinning curveballs and other breaking pitches, Buxton was forced to alter his approach, and become a more patient hitter.

In 13 games, he did just that. Striking out 12 times while drawing four walks, Buxton had hits in each of his 13 games for Triple-A Rochester. How owned a .400/.441/.545 slash line, and collected three doubles, a triple, and a home run. It's safe to say that he's headed back to the show with a significant amount of confidence in his corner.

You'd be crazy to think that Buxton is going to bat anywhere near .400 at the major league level, and he may not even reach a .300 mark. What the Twins have to be hoping for though, is that Buxton can hit around .280 the rest of the way, while striking out less, and utilizing his speed to pick up extra base hits.

3. Make The Speed Play

As things stand, the Twins have stolen just 55 bases as a team (in 2013, Buxton stole that many on his own). The club leader is Brian Dozier, with 10 (he's the only Twins player with double digits). Byron Buxton needs to be the catalyst in reversing that poor output.

Buxton is a definite stolen base threat, but swiping bases at the big league level is much more than just speed. With 22 steals to his credit this season, Buxton has plenty of speed on his side. What he needs to accomplish throughout the last month and a half of the season, is to perfect his jump and learn big league pitchers.

Paul Molitor has allowed his Twins team to be more aggressive on the bases this season. For Buxton, he needs to be the leader when it comes to taking the extra base, as well as stealing them. After his recent thumb injury, head first slides shouldn't be avoided, but rather perfected. If Buxton can hone in his jump on pitchers, as well as his sliding ability, he will go into 2016 with another weapon at his disposal.

4. Drop A Bomb

Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are vastly different players. The former has the ability to hit 30 home runs on a season-by-season basis (maybe even 40), while the latter will top out around 20. However, Buxton definitely does have a power stroke involved in his game. If he can launch his first home run at the MLB level in the final month and a half, it takes another pressure off of his plate for the upcoming season.

Really, that's more what Buxton hitting his first big league home run is about. If he can remove the distraction of "firsts" this season, it allows him to go into 2016 focused on a clean slate. First home run, first steal, first triple, etc. are things that Buxton doesn't need to worry about in a season where has is going to be dubbed "the man" in the outfield.

In his best year, Buxton will likely have a chance to hit around 15-20 homers as he adds more muscle to his frame. If he can enjoy some late season milestones for the Twins in 2015, he will set himself up for a 2016 in which he can worry about letting the game come to him.

5. Top The Lineup Often

Byron Buxton has just 11 games with the Twins under his belt, and he spent nine of those contests batting out of the nine hole. The two games in which Buxton led off, he hit .333/.333/.444 for the Twins (small sample size I know). The bigger point though is that a leadoff hitter is exactly what Buxton is.

On the season, Molitor has gone most often with Brian Dozier out of the leadoff spot. More recently, the role was given to Aaron Hicks. Hicks makes sense in that spot without Buxton in the lineup, but Dozier rarely does. Dozier is a home run hitter who is being forced to settle for solo blasts each time he's lined up as the table setter. For Minnesota, especially with Hicks on the shelf, leadoff should be Buxton or bust.

It's probably fair to slowly integrate baseball's top prospect back into the lineup. If Molitor wants to bat him 7th-9th for a game or two, that's fine. However, realtively early on, Buxton needs to assume the leadoff spot for the Twins. It's going to be his role in 2016, and settling into it over the final part of this season will no doubt pay dividends later. Give Buxton 90% of the leadoff at bats the rest of the way; just another way to remove jitters going into the ever-important 2016 season.

Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano in the same big league lineup is going to be a lot of fun. While it may not make much of a difference in 2015, it no doubt signifies the changing of the guard for the Twins, and them paving the way into the future. If Buxton can leverage his 2015 experience into the 2016 season, the entire big leagues should be on notice.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Buxton And Sano Era Begins

In an unfortunate turn of events today, the Minnesota Twins were swept by the New York Yankees, and they lost their starting centerfielder. Arguably no one has been better since the break for Minnesota than Aaron Hicks. With a disabled list stint now confirmed, Minnesota was forced to turn to the best prospect in baseball. Byron Buxton is officially headed back to the big leagues.

Hicks' production won't be easy to replace. He's slashed .277/.310/.445 since the All Star Break, and has clubbed five home runs along with 16 runs batted in. On top of that, he's provided stellar defense in what has been a position of need for Minnesota. The guy replacing him has plenty of excitement in tow on his own however.

Buxton played just 11 games at the big league level prior to needing over a two-month long disabled list stint to recover from a sprained thumb. In those 11 games, baseball's best prospect slashed just .189/.231/.270 with a double and a triple. Having made the lead from Double-A with a bat that needed to develop, there was some well assumed growing pains. The time spent rehabbing and playing in Triple-A following the thumb injury suggests a new player may be arriving however.

For the Twins, Buxton is the type of player who could be accelerated through the farm. Likely, without the thumb injury, baseball's best prospect would have never seen Triple-A. Now having spent 13 games there, we have seen exactly why that is. Buxton had a hit in every one of his games for Rochester. He picked up eight doubles, and he batted .400 over that 13 game stretch. When Hicks went down, Buxton was more than ready.

Although the outfield of the future seemingly has Eddie Rosario, Buxton, and Hicks in it from left to right, the latter's injury will put that on hold for now. More importantly for Twins fans, August 20th represents the beginning of the future.

With Byron Buxton's initial MLB stint lasting from June 14 through June 24, and Miguel Sano's debut coming on July 2nd, the two have never been teammates at the big league level. Sano has clubbed his way into super-stardom early on in his career. He owns a .285 average, has blasted nine home runs, owns a two-home run game, and already has compiled 29 RBI. Adding the other cornerstone piece of the future in Buxton to create the tandem, makes for must watch baseball the rest of the way.

Paul Molitor will likely have to play around with lineups for the next few days to find a configuration he likes. Although batting Buxton in the leadoff spot puts pressure on the youngster, he was given the opportunity in his first go round (albeit in limited quantities). With Hicks on the DL, the leadoff spot is open however, and Buxton profiles better for the role than say Brain Dozier. If Molitor wants to be bold and shake things up, I'd off him the following suggestion:

Buxton CF
Dozier 2B
Sano DH
Plouffe 3B
Mauer 1B
Hunter RF
Rosario LF
Suzuki C
Escobar SS

At any rate, the key here is that two guys known on a last name basis, are ready to begin taking over a Twins team that fans hope once again returns to the top of the AL Central standings. Here was go Twins Territory, it's time to strap in.

Twins Didn't Ignore Regression, They Welcomed It

It's been a tale of two season thus far for the Twins. After racing out to a 49-40 record prior to the All Star Break, Minnesota had positioned itself in the heart of the AL Wild Card race. Since then however, the club has gone 10-20, or completely in the tank. It's not at all fair to suggest it wasn't seen coming, and honestly, it may have even been welcomed.

Going into the break, Kyle Gibson owned one of the best 15 ERA's in all of Major League Baseball. Forget that his FIP (fielding independent pitching) mark was north of 4.00, the Twins were happy with their former first rounder. Gibson though wasn't the only one, FIP suggested multiple Twins starters were in for some unpleasant surprises. That same fate seemed to be coming to a few bullpen pitchers as well, despite the output in relief already being lackluster.

Timely hitting had been the name of the game for the offense. Joe Mauer was hanging his hat on a ridiculous batting average in high leverage situations. Torii Hunter had staved off the fact that he's 40 years old, and Brian Dozier was pushing past the best second basemen discussion and into the big league's best player. Then, as it has a way of doing, baseball normalized.

The Twins own a -29 run differential (the only second place team in any division to be negative), and an ugly 21-36 record. Since the break, it hasn't been regression for one or two players, but rather an implosion across the board.

Hunter has slashed just .162/.207/.308 since July 1, and he's been as much of a defensive liability as Oswaldo Arcia. Glen Perkins went from saving 28 straight games, to owning an 8.10 ERA in 11 games after the break. Mauer looked to be turning a corner with a respectable May, but has slashed just .243/.314/.346 since the break. Finally, the stud Dozier, he's become a home run or bust type in every sense of the term. Following his All Star Game blast off of Mark Melancon, Dozier has slashed .212/.276/.416 with six home runs. He's struck out 37 times while walking just 10 times in that span.

At the trade deadline, the Twins began to see the writing on the wall. Rather than chasing after a team like the Blue Jay who had added David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, Terry Ryan held his cards and decided to play a truer window. Rather than deal assets for 2015 fixes, he made a move for a controllable reliever in Kevin Jepsen. Unfortunately, the bullpen has gone only further downhill.

Next through the revolving door for the Twins was lefty specialist Ryan O'Rourke. After debuting relatively strong, his last 7 outings have been to the tune of an 18.90 ERA. A.J. Achter owns a 9.00 ERA, and Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham is being hidden in a stretch in which he owns an 11.57 ERA over his last six games. In fact, the last time Graham didn't give up a run in relief was on July 26. Add Perkins struggles in, and Neil Allen's relievers are nothing short of a debacle.

Of course, with regression looming and so many indicators suggesting it, the obvious answer is that the Twins would be proactive in dealing with the situation. No, they didn't need to make any trades, but almost assuredly the organization would experiment from within. No, Terry Ryan and the Twins have instead welcomed the dumpster fire.

In the outfield, Torii Hunter has ceded way to Shane Robinson. Robinson, a capable fourth outfielder (and nothing more) has started three of the Twins last six games. The career .239 hitter is currently deemed more deserving of innings than the number one prospect in baseball, Byron Buxton (who happens to be slashing .412/.444/.549 at Triple-A Rochester.)

There's no point in showing distaste about Joe Mauer getting playing time. He's remained healthy and in the lineup this season, if not ultimately unproductive. What he been afforded though is a top of the lineup spot. Instead of batting 6th or lower, manager Paul Molitor continues to run Mauer out in the three hole on a nightly basis (despite his .260 average).

For the Twins, the offense has been less of a problem in terms of regression than the pitching has been. With Phil Hughes now on the DL, Ervin Santana looking like he might as well go there, and Glen Perkins quite possibly needing a trip, there should be plenty of options chomping at the bit.

Instead, Jose Berrios is continually looked over at Triple-A, Taylor Rogers isn't considered for the bullpen, and hurlers like Nick Burdi, Zack Jones, and J.T. Chargois aren't given the clearance to give it a try.

Understandably, the Twins could make cases to hold each of those young players back if the circumstances were different. The reality is that while regression has set in heavily, Minnesota has chose to welcome it, rather than to address it and further the future avoidance of the problem.

While Burdi and Jones have gone through tough stretches, Rogers hasn't been as sharp, and Berrios may have an innings limit, they will all be counted on at some point in 2016 (a few relatively early). The problem is that the Twins are opting to throw those prospects into the fire, rather than to integrate them in what amounts to a developmental period. Much like the handling of Aaron Hicks, the Twins forego an opportunity to use September, and instead bank on a strong spring training translating to immediate big league success.

At it's core, 2015 should still be considered a resounding success for Minnesota no matter how it ends (the Twins would need to lose 33 of their final 40 to reach 90 losses, that isn't happening). What is problematic is the way internal operations are carried out. As 2016 rolls around and the Twins are in a position to win, will they know how to carry that out? Welcoming regression, continuing to bungle DL stints, and lacking the push to cure issues from within, some key matters remain a mystery.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Way Too Early 2016 Twins Roster

As August rushes towards completion, and the Minnesota Twins look to roster expansion in September, there's plenty of reasons to be glued into the Major League Baseball season. Despite looking like the playoffs are a longshot, the Twins have plenty of storylines left to monitor. With 2016 looking like the opening of an upcoming window of success, it's the end of this season that should pave the way.

I'd hope to see Minnesota utilize roster expansion to get the feet of a few young players wet. There's no doubt contributions will be expected to come from fresh faces next year, and both Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor could remove the jitters ahead of time. Looking at how this season has played out, and what should be coming, it's time to take a way too early look at what the 2016 Opening Day roster could look like.

To set some ground rules, I'm going to be operating with the understanding that no free agents (from outside the organization) will be included. With that in mind, here we go.

Catchers (2) Kurt Suzuki, Chris Herrmann

Kurt Suzuki will be back for the Twins in 2016, and there's a good chance he'll be the backup. He's been horrible behind the dish in 2015 and has slashed just .229/.288/.304 in 95 games. His receiving skills aren't good, and he's become a veteran relief option at best. I expect Chris Herrmann to be the most likely relief option. Josmil Pinto has not been behind the plate for months, and won't get the chance again until spring 2016. He's going to need to earn his way from Triple-A to start the year once again.

I'd expect the Twins to address the backstop role in free agency. Matt Wieters could be a good fit depending on his price. With arm issues, he won't play everyday either, and Suzuki could provide a decent platoon partner. No matter what happens, catcher is a giant wildcard for Minnesota going forward.

Infielders (6) Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, Trevor Plouffe, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco

Mauer is going to start at first base, whether that's warranted or not. Dozier has placed himself at the center of the discussion for the title of best second basemen in the big leagues. Trevor Plouffe should be someone the Twins look to offer an extension, but at the very least, he's going to get paid in arbitration. Sano will continue to mash and play sparingly in the field, and Eduardo Escobar can spell players all over the infield.

For purposes of the exercise, Jorge Polanco will be the Twins opening day shortstop. Part of me likes that idea as he's hit .292/.341/.392 across 99 minor league games this season. His bat looks major league ready. The part that's concerning is his 27 errors across 91 games at short. His glove is ok, but his arm is concerning. He's best suited to play second base, and that isn't happening in Minnesota.

I'd be more than ok with the Twins kicking the tires on a guy like Ian Desmond. His ugly 2015 season should drive down his negotiating power, and he has posted back to back to back 4.0 fWAR seasons prior to this year. Ideally, he'd provide the Twins with a good option until former first round pick Nick Gordon is ready.

Outfielders (5) Aaron Hicks, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Torii Hunter, Oswaldo Arcia

From left to right, the Twins might have the best defensive outfield in the big leagues. Between Rosario, Buxton, and Hicks, opposing teams will have an incredibly tough time finding any open grass. Rosario and Hicks have helped to pace the Twins offensively this season, and while Buxton struggled in his debut, things have turned since (he's batted .404/.440/.532 in 11 Triple-A games).

Without being too harsh, I'd like to see Torii Hunter retire. He's still get some pop in his bat, but he's hit sub .130 since July 1st, and he looks every bit the part of a 40 year old. Leadership is a great quality, and I'm indifferent to whatever check the Twins want to cut him, but I want his spot going to someone else. If he wants to come back however, the Twins will allow it, and he could be the reason Max Kepler starts the season at Triple-A (even though that's not a bad thing anyways).

Less of his doing than a product of a situation, Arcia likely gets one last shot with the Twins in 2016. He's out of options and needs to prove his worth. The power definitely can play, but showing no semblance of a plan at the plate has not gotten him in a good place this season (he's batting .107/.200/.167 since July 17).

Out of all the roles on the Twins roster, outfield is the one that Minnesota least needs to look for outside help.

Rotation (5) Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone, Jose Berrios

This is an incredibly hard area to decipher for the Twins with so many moving parts, but I feel good about this suggestion. Hughes and Santana are locks, with Gibson being likely included in that grouping as well. I went with Milone for the 4th spot because I think the Twins should keep him through arbitration, and I'm not sold on Ricky Nolasco being healthy.

Should Nolasco return just fine from his ankle injury, he's going to be in the rotation. He has proven to be hurt more often than not, and is also a trade candidate if Minnesota wants to talk to the Padres over the winter. What happens with Nolasco could and will likely determine how the Twins approach Milone in arbitration.

Berrios should debut in September, and while it will only be for a couple of starts, he should have a very real chance at breaking camp in the rotation. He owns a 3.18 ERA across 141.1 IP on the farm this year and owns what would be a rotation best, 9.1 K/9. The Twins number one pitching prospect would be a quality addition to the back end of the grouping.

If the Twins do decide to target pitching in free agency or through a trade, the goal must be quality over quantity. With a stacked farm system, dealing some real assets for a top of the rotation pitcher wouldn't be a bad idea. As things stand, the Twins starting five are a grouping of 3-4 type guys that will experience ebbs and flows throughout the season.

Bullpen (7) Kevin Jepsen, Glen Perkins, Trevor May, Alex Meyer, Tyler Duffey, Taylor Rogers, Nick Burdi

Like the rotation, projecting bullpen turnover is incredibly tough. One thing is for sure though, for a group that's been so bad, they will undoubtedly have new names in the fold next season. Looking at who should be considered locks, I'd only go as far as saying to look for Jepsen, Perkins, and May.

Jepsen came over at the deadline from the Rays, and the Twins didn't seek a guy with team control not to exercise it. Arbitration eligible for one more year, Jepsen will likely be retained by Minnesota. Perkins remains one of the best closers in the AL, even despite his rough stretch since the All Star Break. I think Trevor May has the makings of a starter, but he's also been a very capable reliever, and Minnesota is hurting a bit more there right now.

Instead of making the bullpen up of retreads like Brian Duensing, Minnesota has an opportunity to give some young, fresh, arms some leash next season. Alex Meyer's 2015 has been a disaster, but starting in the pen next season could refresh his value. Duffey moves out of the rotation and should see more of a velocity spike, and I've thought Rogers looked like a bullpen lefty for a while now. I'll go out on a limb and suggest that the Twins give 2014 2nd round pick Burdi an early crack. His 11.5 K/9 would be a huge boost to a poor 2015 unit.

Again, much like the rotation, if the Twins are going to target relief help this offseason quality has to be the focus. A lot of the names above are rather unproven, but the ceilings are also relatively high. For the Twins to block what they have created from within, it should only be with something considered a virtual "sure thing."

There you have it. We're in August, and right now, that's where I see the Twins starting off 2015 when it comes to their active roster. The farm system is starting to spill over now, and that should only continue for years to come.

Do You Really Want A Break?

The Minnesota Twins dropped another tough game last night, and once again it came against the New York Yankees. After a great start to the season, and heading into the All Star Game strong, Minnesota has been a different team since the break. It was these Yankees that may have started the downward spiral (on July 25th at Target Field), but it's the Twins who don't seem to be leaving the rut any time soon.

During the first half of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, it was pretty apparent that the Twins were playing outside and past expectations. This team wasn't a contender, and their secondary statistics suggested regression would be coming. For over 80 games though, Minnesota turned up a nose at all of those notions.

Through the first half, Brian Dozier looked like a legitimate MVP candidate, Trevor Plouffe was one of the best third basemen in the big leagues, Torii Hunter looked ageless, Glen Perkins was the gold standard, and Joe Mauer seemingly was battling back to being his former self. It was a perfect storm of everything going right, all at the same time.

Dozier's first half was indicative of him being arguably the best second basemen in all of baseball. In 88 games, he slashed .256/.328/.513. His on base percentage once again negated the relevance of his average, and his extra base hit numbers powered the way. With 19 home runs, 26 doubles, and 50 runs batted in, the Southern Miss product was on pace to do something special.

Dozier's two infield teammates also paced Minnesota in the first half. Mauer's average (.271) wasn't ideal, but his slash (.271/.336/.387) helped the Twins in the middle of the lineup. His six home runs and 42 runs batted in also were a by product of a very strong high leverage batting average. Plouffe swung to a .259/.320/.449 slash line with 11 homers and 46 runs batted in, along with 22 doubles. Minnesota's third basemen was only overshadowed by a guy named Josh Donaldson.

Then there was Torii Hunter. 40 years old, at the end of his career, and still getting it done. The Twins favorite slashed .257/.312/.444 across his first 80 games. Hunter added 14 homers, 15 doubles, and 49 runs batted in to help pace the offense. By all early indications, he had plenty left in the tank.

Despite the Twins glaring issues in the bullpen, there was Glen Perkins. A failed starter, but two-time All Star closer, now looked like one of the best in the game. He was 28-28 in save opportunities, owned a 1.21 ERA, and was allowing opposing hitters to bat just .188/.217/.246 off of him. Dazzling probably doesn't do Perkins first half justice.

As the calendar turned over to the second half however, it all came crashing down.

Since the break, Dozier has slashed .220/.286/.431, effectively making his poor average a detriment. His six home runs have netted just 11 runs batted in, and he's doubled only five times in 27 games. Mauer has batted just .250/.316/.356 with two homers and nine RBI while Plouffe has watched a nice run of late bring up a paltry .225/.262/.500 slash line since the break. Without his seven home runs and 19 RBI, Plouffe's 26 game post All Star stretch would look even worse.

Then, there's the fact that Torii's age has begun to show. He hasn't been a solid defensive player at any point for the Twins in 2015, but that was expected. His .172/.215/.322 slash with just four home runs and 11 RBI since the break would warrant a demotion for most younger players. To say he's gone in the tank is putting it nicely.

As the bullpen has seemed to survive on shaky ground in the second half, it's been Perkins who has been arguably the worst. Despite the dazzling first half, he owns an 8.10 ERA in 10.0 post break innings. He's picked up only three saves, blown two, and lost three times. Opposing hitters are batting .383/.420/.702 off of him, and he's surrendered four home runs.

When looking at the middle of the Twins lineup, and the heart of what the team needs to compete, it's been a blow up in every sense. Dozier, Plouffe, and Hunter have turned into home run or bust types, while Mauer has been even more of a shell of what once was. Adding in the fact that Perkins is no longer a guaranteed save only complicates the issue.

As things stand, there is a rainbow through the storm that the Twins veterans have created. Miguel Sano (.292), Eddie Rosario (.279), and Aaron Hicks (.276) are pacing the Twins lineup. The youth movement has started, and 2016 was always seen as the opening of an upcoming window. While it's been the veterans failure to remain consistent that has cause the Twins biggest regression, it has been the youth's ability to succeed that has kept Minnesota relevant.

For months leading up to the All Star Game, regression was a word Twins fans wanted to stop hearing about. The fact now is that the numbers have began to even out, and because they were so steeply skewed in Minnesota's favor, they are now going the opposite way equally as steep.

The downturn has highlighted why the Twins were right to balk at making any big moves at the deadline. Playing well above their heads, remaining in contention for a wild card spot was unlikely. What has happened though is positive growth for 2016, a season in which the Twins should begin to "go for it." Curbing the post "break" downturn is something the Twins need to figure out however, and having the regression hit across the board at the same time is something that has to be avoided.

Paul Molitor has done an incredible job in his first year as the Twins skipper, but if he wants to use this season's success as a kickstart for the years to come, focusing on the second half slide is priority number one. Mauer and Hunter are more done than they aren't, but Plouffe, Dozier, and Perkins are cornerstones for this organization, and getting 162 games worth of productivity is part of taking the next step.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Optimizing In August, Expanding In September

By now, you know the story of the 2015 Minnesota Twins. Minnesota got off to an abysmal start, then something clicked, and a team burst onto the scene a year early. Holding down a commanding lead of a Wild Card spot, the Twins looked to be in good position. Unfortunately, the bottom fell out, and Paul Molitor's squad now finds themselves on the outside looking in. With a few weeks left in August, and the active roster expanding in September, things are about to get interesting.

Right now, Minnesota is still in the hunt, but it's the next few series that will determine their 2015 fate. The current major league roster is far from optimal, but it also appears capable of pulling out some victories. With the AL East as their upcoming competition, the Twins need to stay focused throughout the end of August.

Ideally, roster optimization in August for the Twins would include both Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios in the big leagues. Both are more than capable of providing a boost, and would be a definite asset. Buxton is likely being held back to sometime around the end of the month due to service time, and Berrios has a ticking innings clock. Arguments for both sides are compelling, but operating under the belief that the Twins aren't a playoff team, I'd wait until September 1st on both.

The bullpen is really the only other place the Twins could be looking for a boost in the current month. Things have been in flux of late, and changes have been made. There's a few places that could be considered weak spots, but it's also hard to suggest the replacement arms would be a guaranteed upgrade. Ryan O'Rourke and A.J. Achter have both proven capable at times, while Brian Duensing and Kevin Jepsen have been better of late. Much like the offense, there's little to nothing I'd change here at the moment.

As rosters expand in September, this is where the Twins have the most room to operate through some exciting decisions. First and foremost, Buxton and Berrios need to be with the big league club. Buxton is slashing .404/.440/.532 in his first 11 Triple-A games, while Berrios owns a 2.25 ERA in his last 40.0 IP. Buxton should push Aaron Hicks to right field, rendering Torii Hunter a rotational bat and replacement fielder (his likely 2016 role). Berrios deserves a crack at the rotation, and giving him three starts to end 2015 would be extremely valuable going into spring training 2016.

Outside of the top two, Minnesota has some other must accommodate types. First and foremost, Max Kepler. The German prospect is batting over .330 at Double-A and has been arguably the best hitter in the system this season. Getting him reps at the MLB level prior to 2016 is an absolute must.

Teammate Nick Burdi could also be a consideration from Double-A. The 2014 second round pick has taken his lumps this year, but he owns a 2.05 ERA across his last 22.0 IP. Burdi should be a key part of the 2016 bullpen, and getting his feet wet now (as well as his strikeout punch) is a route the Twins should explore. Jorge Polanco and J.T. Chargois could also be options if the Twins want to open things up a bit further.

Just one level down, Paul Molitor has a few guys at Triple-A that will need a look. James Beresford should be given a tip of the cap type shot for what he has put together this year. The Aussie is slashing .313/.346/.368 and he offers at least a better option than Doug Bernier down the stretch for the big club. Out of the bullpen, Mark Hamburger is an option. The Twins are well acquainted with Hamburger, and his 1.05 ERA since June 16 would seemingly bolster the Twins arms.

For Rochester, Kennys Vargas has pushed himself and worked his way back to the highest level on the farm. He's slashed .316/.519/.421 in seven games since his return to Triple-A, and will be fighting for a 25 man spot to open 2016. On the opposite end of the spectrum, overlooking Oswaldo Arcia might not be a bad idea. He went on a nice home run-filled hot streak, but he's slashed just .100/.200/.157 across his last 21 games. The Twins need to make a decision on Arcia before the upcoming year, but it's gut check time for the powerful Venezuelan.

Looking at what can be done, and how the Twins are positioned, the final few weeks of the season offer plenty of intrigue. At the forefront is a team who is competing for the first time in many years. Secondary though, is a team that has shown up a year early, and offers the organization an opportunity to not rush decisions, but also time to evaluate in meaningful competition.

August shouldn't be a time of much turnover for the Twins, as roster optimization would still more than likely keep them out of the playoffs. September though is a period where the Twins can begin to position for 2016 and beyond, with their being little reason not to get the ball rolling.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sano Is More Than A Superstar For The Twins

July 2nd, 2015 is a day that will likely go down in the archives of the Minnesota Twins history books. With Minnesota looking to capitalize on some early-season, out-of-nowhere success that had them in the middle of a Wild Card race, the organization called on a 22-year-old prospect. Miguel Sano made his major league debut, and since, there's been no turning back.

I was under the impression that Sano's power was real, that in and of itself was pretty evident. The expectation that he could have started the season with the Twins and clubbed 20+ home runs was a pretty fair assessment. He probably would have hit around the Mendoza Line, but the power was going to play. What he has done though, is something that makes him so much more than the Twins next superstar.

To this point in the season, Sano owns a .284 average and has a .949 OPS. In just 34 games, he's crushed seven home runs (with one multi-home run game). Sano has accumulated 10 doubles, and has plated 25 runs. While he's struck out a healthy amount (47 times in 141 plate appearances), he's also walked a respectable amount (23). As a whole, Sano's production has equaled a 1.1 fWAR mark. That fraction of a season sample size is impressive, but it carries some real weight when given a full season look.

Averaged out across 162 games, Miguel Sano's pace is as follows: .284 avg 81 runs 157 hits 48 doubles 33 home runs and 119 runs batted in. It all adds up to a 5.2 fWAR (or one of the top 25 best players in the game).

Those numbers alone put Sano into another realm of stardom. Minnesota has not had a 30+ home run output since 2012 (Josh Willingham 35), and while Brian Dozier is on pace to join the club this season, it's Sano who profiles as a yearly producer. His 119 RBI would be the most since Justin Morneau plated 129 runs in 2008. Most impressively, it's not the numbers alone that elevate Sano for the Twins.

Sano is a charismatic individual that has the personality to be the face of a franchise. With Joe Mauer stepping aside to usher in the next wave of youth, the Twins young stars will become the emulated ballplayers of the future. Sano's smile, personality, and approach to the game is everything Terry Ryan and the Twins could have possibly hoped for.

As Miguel Sano continues to settle into the rigors of the big league lifestyle, he will only become more comfortable. What once looked like an exciting power hitting prospect, is rounding out to be one of the best young players in the game right before our eyes.

What may make things even all that much more exciting for Twins fans is the fact that an even bigger name is preparing to break loose. His name, Byron Buxton.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Impending Stretch

Saying that the Twins got off to a slow start post All Star Break would be putting things lightly. It took seven straight series without a series win for the Twins to notch their first in the positive column. Now on the verge of getting things rolling though, what lies ahead for the Twins should dictate the end of their summer.

As things stand, September should be a fun month for Minnesota fans regardless. I wouldn't be surprised to see Max Kepler, a couple of young relievers, Kennys Vargas, and potentially Oswaldo Arcia get looks when the rosters expand. If the Twins want more than just a glimpse at what 2016 will bring, it's the end of August that remains most important.

Having now gotten back over .500, the Twins will head back out on the road following a weekend series with the Indians. Minnesota has an impressive 36-22 tally at Target Field, but is a putrid 21-34 on the road. They probably aren't going to catch the Blue Jays, but if they want to draw close on the Yankees or Angels, their hot streak is going to need to come now.

To close out the month of August, Minnesota has a three game set with the Yankees, a four-gamer with the Orioles, and a three-gamer with the Rays all on the road. Ending the month is a three game home tilt with the Astros. Those four teams all have equal or better records than the Twins, and taking series from them would ensure Minnesota to climb in the standings.

Heading into this season, a .500 record would have been something to be ecstatic about. Minnesota was still a year away, and putting things together ahead of time would be a great development. To this point, that has happened. The Twins have been in the Wild Card discussion, and while playing over their heads, they have continued to surprise.

Recent weeks have cooled the fire in regards to just how hot the Twins were, but finishing strong should be the goal. The emergence of current rostered players like Miguel Sano (who's batting a team leading .295), and Aaron Hicks (owns a 2.2 fWAR), shows that the youth movement is starting to take effect. Throwing in great seasons by players such as Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe is simply further icing on the cake.

No matter what happened in 2015 for the Twins, September should have been a month to look forward to. With a stacked farm system, the Twins had plenty of intriguing call-ups on the horizon. The fact that competitiveness has been achieved prior to that fun only substantiates what September can bring.

2016 was going to be a good year for Twins fans regardless, and 2015 has already been a success. If the Twins can get hot to close out August though, the narrative could end up taking on a whole different form.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sabermetrics Aren't For Everyone, But Are For Anyone

As baseball evolves in time, one thing will always remain, and that is the fact that the sport is a thinking man's game. Regardless of what is going on in front of you, there's numerous outcomes to consider in any given instance prior to them taking place. A large portion (let's call it 90%) of the game remains simple at its core on the field, but that emerging 10% can often being explained by statistical analysis.

Sabermetrics aren't for everyone, but there's no doubt they are for anyone. In a numbers driven sport, it's probably time for a wider variety of numbers to be given their due.

Full disclosure, I don't consider myself a sabermetrics diehard. I understand their place, value, and use. I include them and credit certain values in my writing, and I believe they help to explain some of what your eye already sees on the field. I don't believe they are a be all, end all. They have a place, and far too often aren't given that.

Recently, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press caught up with Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki in the name of sabermetrics. Suzuki is the poster child for such a discussion. He's roughly a replacement level catcher, and finding any and every advantage to improve his game and worth should be his constant goal.

In his piece, Berardino asks Suzuki two questions that get somewhat appalling responses. Here is what was said:

On what stats he likes: “Obviously the WHIP for the pitchers. I don’t know what the other stuff is. (Fielding Independent Pitching), I don’t know what that means. For hitters, I like the OPS. I think OPS is better than average. That has a lot to do with it.”

On zero being replacement level:  “I find that hard to believe.  If you take a big-league guy and then you go get some guy from Double-A, you’re telling me that? Unless it’s a bench player, I don’t see that.”

Addressing question one, Zuk keeps it simple. WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) is a valuable takeaway. It's pretty simply logic to understand that putting guys on base (no matter how it happens) isn't beneficial to a pitcher. What WHIP doesn't explain is what Suzuki decides to ignore.

FIP (fielding independent pitching) has become one of the most important pitching numbers over the past couple of seasons. In understanding FIP, a pitcher is able to assess their performance in relation to being a sum of total parts. Knowing there are eight defenders playing into what happens on any given batted ball, a pitcher's effectiveness is quantified in relation to his ERA. FIP helps to tell a deeper story, whether or not hits are warranted, or a by-product of a bigger issue. Once again highlighting that there is no one number that does complete justice.

Again staying in a relative comfort zone, Suzuki looks at OPS (like WHIP, OPS would not be considered a traditional sabermetric stat). OPS (on-base plus slugging) has gained relevance in recent years because of what it says about a batter. As seen in his teammate Brian Dozier, Suzuki understands that average alone is not a good measure of a player's value.

Batting average is the quantifiable sum, but it's on-base percentage and slugging percentage that win games. Dozier for example has a paltry .248 AVG, but his .318 OBP and .495 SLG set him apart. He walks a considerable amount (though less than his career average, which is another issue altogether), and he finds ways to give the Twins runners. When he is hitting the ball, he also finds ways to snag extra bases, which drive his slugging percentage way up. A batter getting on base, and being further on the base paths is no doubt more valuable than a consistent singles hitter.

The second question Suzuki addresses is just somewhat indicative of the problem as a whole. Sabermetrics are definitely not for everyone, but they are very much for anyone. Suzuki has decided to look past a level of understanding because he has chosen to discredit the metrics. Whether that's because they aren't kind to him, or for some other reason, remains unsolved.

Replacement level being zero in and of itself should be a relatively easy numerical,value to grasp. If WAR (wins above replacement) calculates a positive or negative value, then 0 would serve as the statistical baseline. Plus or minus that number would then define a player's ability.

Defining replacement level is somewhat difficult, but FanGraphs states: "One who costs no marginal resources to acquire. This is the type of player who would fill in for the starter in case of injuries, slumps, alien abductions, etc." At it's core, that definition is relatively self-explanatory. Working as an MLB player to increase your value, targeting areas of concern would no doubt be a good place to start. If WAR is a sum of all parts, understanding the underlying sabermetrics that make up the whole would be a good plan of action.

At the end of the day, any amount of numbers can get to a point where the game becomes a chess match inundated by numerical values. At its core though, baseball is a chess match, and knowing how to utilize the numbers in your favor is something that no doubt is the difference in certain key situations.

Sabermetrics aren't for everyone, but they are for anyone and should be comprehended by those looking to utilize their utmost value.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Twins Make A Move, And They Get It

The Minnesota Twins are a sub .500 baseball team for the first time since May. They have gone from Wild Card contender, to post All Star Game flop. In nearly every facet of the game, the Twins have normalized towards their projections, and it's caused an ugly domino effect. Thankfully though, in their most recent transaction, they show they get it.

Today Byron Buxton was activated from the disabled list and them optioned to Triple-A Rochester. In activating Buxton, the Twins could have immediately called him up to Minnesota. They intelligently chose not to, and in doing so did themselves some favors along the way.

There's little room to argue against the fact that the Twins offense has been horrible since the All Star Break. Could Byron Buxton, baseball's best prospect have provided a spark, maybe. He also may not have. Regardless, the Twins absolutely did the right thing today.

Buxton had been on the disabled list for over six weeks (with an initially reported 4-6 week timeframe). He has played in just three rehab games at Triple-A Rochester (his first taste of the level), and he owns a .189/.231/.270 slash line across his first 11 big league games. As a whole, rushing him back immediately when cleared would seem a silly decision.

Looking past the on field ramifications, something more important is at play here. The Twins are understanding of who they are and what they have going forward. In activating and optioning Buxton, they will save 17 days of service time (assuming he's recalled on September 1). In doing so, Minnesota could be better positioned to save millions down the road by gaining more team control, and avoiding Super 2 status for a potential superstar.

Also, with the way transactions are handled, the Twins are offered flexibility. Because they optioned Buxton, the Twins must wait 10 days to recall him. By making the move today, Minnesota has plenty of time to let him play at Triple-A prior to the rosters expanding in September. Also, if the Twins recall Buxton within 20 days, the option will not count.

Most importantly at play here is the saved service time. With the flexibility the move gives the Twins, they can allow Buxton to get ready and not be hurt financially by it. The lost (or potentially not) option is next to irrelevant. Options should be considered for players moving back and forth between the minors. For a guy like Buxton, dubbed the best prospect in baseball, being out of options would signify a greater problem altogether.

Terry Ryan and the Twins are acknowledging their success, and also not negating their window. Competition this season wasn't expected, and even with the strong positioning early on, regression was always looming. In not dealing away assets at the deadline, and making key moves like this one, the Twins are poised to have all their chickens hatched and ready to go starting next season.

Byron Buxton was already going to be the Twins opening day centerfielder in 2016 regardless, a move like this may have guaranteed he's there for a World Series challenging team in the early 2020's.

The Twins Expected Fall, And What's Next

Prior to the All Star Break, the Twins owned one of the best record in the American League. They were in the drivers seat for an American League Wild Card spot, and baseball was once again great in the Twins Cities. Since then, Minnesota is 6-16 and has yet to grab a series victory in seven tries. While that's no doubt disheartening, the numbers suggest it wasn't all that unexpected.

You'd be hard pressed to find someone willing to argue that the Twins were as good as their first half record. With almost all secondary statistics suggesting Paul Molitor's team was outplaying expectations, the eye test would seem to corroborate those sentiments. What might be a more difficult task is finding someone willing to bet that everything would go up in flames at once. Unfortunately, the Twins have suffered through a perfect (or maybe imperfect) storm.

Since the All Star Break, the Twins offense has gone in the tank. Aaron Hicks is pacing the club with a .285 average, and while he has been scorching hot (.313/.356/.482 since July 17), no one else has been. Joe Mauer has slumped (.244/.306/.33), Miguel Sano has struggled (.203/.325/.406), Torii Hunter has regressed (.209/.260/.403), and Brian Dozier has done nothing but hit home runs (.212/.272/.424 with 5 HR). Minnesota has scored right around a full run less across their 21 games since the break.

While there's little doubt the offense has been definitively poor, it's been coupled by poor pitching as well. Prior to the All Star Break, the Twins were getting strong performances from Kyle Gibson, Mike Pelfrey, and Tommy Milone despite less than ideal FIP (fielding independent pitching) numbers. Before the break, the Twins owned a 4.25 ERA and surrendered just a .256 BAA. Since, those numbers have jumped to 6.05 (30th in MLB) and .291 BAA (28th in MLB).

The bullpen has seen turnover with the inclusion of Kevin Jepsen (who has struggled), A.J. Achter (who looks like an AAAA type), and the switching roles of Blaine Boyer and Casey Fien. Glen Perkins has just two post All Star saves after having 28 prior to the game. He's also blown two chances, and lost another game.

So, going forward, what do the Twins do and how do they fix it?

On offense, things are somewhat tricky. Outside of some key position holes (shortstop and catcher), it would appear to be more of a shuffling situation. Joe Mauer could undoubtedly afford to be moved to fifth or sixth in the batting order, while Hicks looks like a solid one or two type. Sano, Hunter, and Dozier have to hopefully break out of their slump soon, and Molitor is looking for ways to get them going.

When it comes to inserting other players, those options seem limited. Only Oswaldo Arcia, Kennys Vargas, Max Kepler, and Jorge Polanco should be considered. Arcia has a handful of Triple-A homers, but has batted just .122/.195/.189 with 23 K and 5 BB since July 17. Max Kepler is hitting over .330 at Double-A, but the outfield is already crowded, and will only be more so with the looming addition of Byron Buxton. Polanco was recently sent back to Double-A after a three game stint with the Twins, and he's slashed just .233/.378/.333  across eight games.

At this point, Vargas is starting to turn a corner. He's batted .324/.449/.648 with six home runs since July 18, and he seems to be itching to get back to the big leagues. At first though, he's a liability, and the designated hitter role is no doubt covered by Sano. Like Kepler, Vargas is in between a rock and a hard place.

On the mound, things seem a bit more clear. Twins pitchers own a 20.68 ERA giving up 36 ER in the last turn through the rotation. While Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana are undoubtedly safe, next to no one else should be. Tyler Duffey was demoted after being shelled by the Blue Jays, and Mike Pelfrey should be next in line.

Trevor May was never deserving of being pushed to the bullpen, but he's succeeded in the role. It is probably time to get him back in the rotation in a swap for Pelfrey. As with May, Pelfrey could see a velocity boost out of the pen, and as a guy I believe that would do well in the roll, revive his value. Then there's the empty spot for a start on August 15th.

Down on the farm, the Twins number one pitching prospect Jose Berrios has kicked down the door. He's 3-1 with a 1.59 ERA and just a .200/.271/.333 line against across his last five Triple-A starts. He owns a 3.06 ERA across 22 starts spanning Double and Triple-A in 2015, and he's struck out batters at a 9/0 K/9 clip. With the rotation in its current state, there's no reason for him not to be called upon.

Minnesota has no doubt regressed towards the statistical mean that the numbers had been calling for, but unfortunately it's all happened at the same time. Right now, Molitor and the Twins brass must play damage control and work to reverse the course one area at a time. The Twins ending around .500 would still make for a great season, but in order for that to happen, Minnesota needs to stop the bleeding and soon.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Twins Silver Lining Is Coming

It's the first week of August, the Twins have fallen out of a Wild Card spot, and they remain just one game over .500. Considering how the year started, that's a less than ideal scenario, but knowing how it was projected to end, they find themselves in a good spot. What's better is that with the way the final two months appear to be shaping up, there's even more reason to anticipate 2016.

With plenty of baseball left, there's not much reason to write off the Twins. Sure, they aren't going to make the playoffs, but there's competitive and meaningful baseball taking place at Target Field in August and September, that's huge. Going forward though, it's the opportunities provided to manager Paul Molitor over the final two months that will bolster the Twins in 2016.

I have been a championing the fact that Aaron Hicks has been ready for quite a while. The cornerstone of that argument has been the path he has recently been on. After being promoted too early from Double-A due to a stellar spring training a few years ago, it was his time in Double and Triple-A to end last year that showed he was a new player. Getting his feet wet slowly helped immensely, and that's where the Twins find themselves at once again.

Miguel Sano has already spent over 25 games with the big league club. He's has held his own slashing .278/.411/.522 with five home runs and 12 extra base hits. Going forward, the next couple of months will be big for Sano to hit the ground running in 2016. Hitters have failed to get on ahead of him of late, allowing opposing pitchers to throw him offspeed stuff away and out of the zone. Sano has shown good plate discipline (38/21 K/BB), but being able to have more opportunities to swing away will only further his development. The time at the big league level will no doubt have Sano entering 2016 brimming with confidence.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Byron Buxton has taken his lumps with the Twins. He played just 11 games before hitting the DL with a thumb injury. In those games, he slashed .189/.231/.270. Buxton is being afforded a great opportunity however. With an upcoming rehab stint scheduled to take place at Triple-A Rochester, he will face pitchers more able to "pitch" and spin balls, than those at Double-A capable of blowing it by hitters. Likely spending September with the Twins, Buxton will then be able to work through some struggles to better prepare for the upcoming season.

Then there's the benefit that comes with expanded rosters. At the end of August, Minnesota can utilize up to 40 roster spots, and while they won't be bringing that many players up, there's a few worthy inclusions.

It would stand to reason that both Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia could be given another chance to end the season. Unlike the path Aaron Hicks took though in which he produced following a demotion in 2014, neither Vargas nor Arcia has been any good. Vargas is slashing .240/.363/.423 at Double-A Chattanooga. Arcia had a nice run of eight home runs, but owns a .232/.291/.420 slash line with 59 K and just 15 walks.

More importantly in September will be the call ups that expect to figure prominently into the 2016 plans. With next season being the opening of the window in the "go for it" timespan, getting key cogs feet wet would make a lot of sense. Included amongst that group would almost have to be Jose Berrios and Max Kepler. Had Zack Jones, Nick Burdi, and Jake Reed not struggled this season, they may be included as well.

Berrios has strung together a handful of nice starts at Triple-A and should be considered for the rotation in 2016. He owns a 2.00 ERA across his last 4 starts (27.0 IP) and should have a couple more under his belt before the end of August. A cup of coffee in the form of a spot start would make a ton of sense.

With the outfield no doubt going to be shuffled in 2016 (Torii Hunter moving to a part time role and the likely spot cleared by Shane Robinson being a free agent), there's going to be a competition for final spots. Max Kepler has batted .330/.412/.540 in 82 games for Double-A Chattanooga and is clearly ready for his next challenge. There would be no better way to get him geared up for the MLB level than to include him in games at the end of this season. Kepler looks the part, and allowing him to prove it could be beneficial.

Minnesota could also look at some lesser relief options. Guys like Logan Darnell, Michael Tonkin, Mark Hamburger, and A.J. Achter could all find their way to the big leagues. Each of them has pitched well for the most part in 2015, and could give the Twins some extended evaluation time at the big league level should they appear in September.

At the end of the year, Minnesota looks poised to finish right where they ought to be. They will be somewhere around second or third in the division, and within a few games either way of the .500 mark. Sure, that's a far cry from how things started, but it's a significant improvement and exactly how you take the next step forward. Pushing forward players that could prove instrumental in a year is something the Twins have the opportunity to do, so the next two months still hold plenty of weight.

Beyond The Bobbles: The Year That Was

Deviating somewhat from the norm a bit here at Off The Baggy, today is a non-traditional baseball piece. Another year of the biggest promotional days on the calendar, the bobbleheads, have been crossed off. With last weekend, August 1st celebrating the 1965 Twins team with the final giveaway, it's time to take a look back on the year that was.

2015 was a five game year for Twins bobblehead days. Target Field has seen as few as one per year, and as many as five, so this season ranks amongst the highest. Things got kicked off with a special promotion this time around, and it may have been one of the best organized of all time.

May 4th found the Twins gearing up to go on a nice run, and it might have been Hughes using the Force that started it all. On Star Wars night at Target Field, the Twins gave away a limited edition Hughes bobblehead draped in a Star Wars cape with lightsaber in tow. Tickets needed to be purchased specifically for the giveaway, and a special booth was set up to handle the promotion.


The bobblehead itself featured intricate detail and was well done for both Twins and Star Wars fans alike. Minnesota overcame a first inning Stephen Vogt grand slam to secure an 8-7 victory over the Athletics. Hughes also would hang on for his first win of 2015.

Bobblehead number two was ready to pay tribute to new manager Paul Molitor. Depicted in an often seen pose, leaning on the dugout railing, Mollie's bobblehead heightened the level of detail seen by the head nodder. Given away on a Friday night against the Chicago Cubs in a marquee interleague matchup, it was Molitor's doll that highlighted the season for me.


Again Phil Hughes was on the mound, and the Twins would pound Kyle Hendricks for 7 runs (6 earned) and help Hughes to secure his 5th win of the year. A bobblehead and young stars like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, what's not to like?

As the calendar flipped to July, it was again Hughes' turn to be enshrined in a ceramic state. This time donning more traditional Twins attire, Hughes was once again well represented. Deviating from the more square-shaped base, this time around Hughes was positioned throwing the ball from the rubber. It was a nice touch, but one I ultimately was not too fond of.

The game, as you might have guessed, was pitched by Hughes yet again (his third bobblehead day of the year). In similar fashion, Hughes picked up yet another win, his 8th of the season. Torii Hunter homered and the Twins knocked off the divisional rival Detroit Tigers.

In giving someone else an opportunity, Hughes finally stepped aside for the July 25th bobblehead night highlighting the Twins superstar, Brian Dozier. In the midst of an MVP type season, Dozier was no doubt the most popular bobblehead of the season. Whether it was his long flowing locks, or his graceful jogging position, lines for Dozier's doll swarmed downtown minneapolis. The 10,000 were gone in relative minutes, and it also was the second most coveted giveaway on the resale market (behind only Hughes's Star Wars night).

New York was in town, and they ended up playing spoiler to the Twins on Dozier's night. Minnesota's first bobblehead loss of the season, Glen Perkins served up a game tying home run to Alex Rodriguez, and then gave up the final blow, a three run bomb to John Ryan Murphy just four batters later.

When the calendar flipped to August, the Twins decided to round out the bobblehead extravaganza in style (or maybe lack thereof). In an ode to the 50th anniversary of the Twins 1965 AL Champion team, a vintage style doll was presented. Significantly less detailed, and quite frankly cheap looking, the little nodder was far from the highlight of the night.

Kurt Suzuki provided the fireworks as he singled home Eddie Rosario to score the game winning run in walkoff fashion. Despite the excitement the Flyin Hawaiian provided, the vintage bobble was in no position to match it anyways.

On the year, the Twins went 4-1 in bobblehead games, and Phil Hughes was actually 3-0 in those contests. Give me Molitor for the best bobble of the year, and the Vintage guy for the worst. Minnesota still has plenty to play for. Until then, I'll be looking for more room to keep on adding to the collection. Happy nodding folks.