Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Season's Over, But Not For The Twins

It's September, the Twins are above .500, and more importantly, in the midst of a playoff race. Outside of the calendar inevitably turning to September, none of those facts seemed guaranteed at the beginning of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. Regardless, here we are, and not it's time for the Twins to address the latter two.

Minnesota has made their first wave of minor league call ups, looking to players like Kennys Vargas, A.J. Achter, Eric Fryer, and others. While many profile as little more than roster depth, there's some significant room for the Twins to bolster their playoff potential.

Speaking of the playoffs, Minnesota currently trails the Texas Rangers in the AL Wild Card (as of this writing, by 1.5 games). Failing to make up ground, winning and losing on the same days, the Twins have been treading water for much of the past couple of weeks. As things stand currently, Fangraphs slots the Twins chances of making the playoffs at 17.6%. That mark trails both the Rangers (24.6%) and the Angels (28.4%). For the Twins to catch Texas and stay ahead of Los Angeles, they could do themselves favors by looking at some roster options.

At this point, we are past the discussion as to whether or not Minnesota should be calling up Jose Berrios (to clear that up, they should have). What we do have in front of us though, is a 40 man roster that is not currently being utilized by Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan. With roster expansion taking place in September, the active roster grows from 25 to 40, a mark the Twins remain far off from. Still needing to have players on the 40 man roster in order to be added to the active roster in September, the Twins aren't in a position to go prospect crazy. What they can do however, is add two key cogs that could be the difference.

Right now, Minnesota has six players on the 40 man roster that are not yet in the big leagues. Those six players are Alex Meyer, Aaron Thompson, Josmil Pinto, Oswaldo Arcia, Jorge Polanco, and Max Kepler. The last two players are the only currently slated for playoff baseball, thanks to Chattanooga's solid season at the Double-A level. That leaves Meyer, Thompson, Pinto, and Arcia as the odd ducks on the 40 man.

Thompson was up for the Twins earlier in the year. The former top draft pick worked out well, until he was over-used and exposed. His major league ability may have topped out, and the Twins shouldn't rely on him any time soon. Pinto is still looking to get back to his former self at the plate following a lost season due to concussions. He can't catch right now, and the Twins don't necessarily need another bench bat. Finally, Arcia finished horribly for Rochester, and despite the fact that he's out of options in 2016, he doesn't give the Twins much benefit at the current time.

Of the list, that leaves one. Alex Meyer.

Minnesota promoted Meyer in June and allowed him to make his MLB debut on the 26th against the Milwaukee Brewers. He allowed four earned runs in just 1.2 innings. After another earned run in one inning against the Reds, Meyer was sent back down to the farm. The former top prospect scuffled for the next month or so, but then something changed.

From August 9th, through the end of the season, Alex Meyer went on to pitch 19.2 innings. He gave up just 12 hits, and while he walked eight, he struck out 21. His 0.46 ERA sparkled, and his .174/.275/.188 slash line against was impressive. To say the Twins return for Denard Span ended 2015 at Triple-A on a good not may be an understatement.

Already of the 40 man, and the owner of a 9.8 K/9 in 2015, Meyer could provide a nice asset to a mediocre Twins pen in the final month. There's no doubt he's going to be given another shot to prove himself in 2016, and allowing that to happen in the midst of a playoff race would be great experience. Meyer doesn't deserve high leverage trust, but noting the Twins starting staff, he could prove plenty useful in the final few weeks.

Then there's the currently exclusion on the active roster of Meyer's teammate, and a guy not on the 40 man roster, Mark Hamburger. Brought in by the Twins and given a chance during spring training, he fared well, but it wasn't enough. Spending the season with Rochester, Hamburger has flown relatively under the radar. With guys like Caleb Thielbar and Michael Tonkin getting the in-season callups, Hamburger continued to bide his time. After a tough start to the season (operating as a starter), and an ugly seven earned run blip during early June, he's been great out of the pen.

Since June 16, Hamburger owned a 0.79 ERA across 34.1 innings while allowing just 24 hits, three earned runs, and 28 strikeouts (walking just three). He was one of the most trusted Red Wings relievers in 2015, and opposing hitters slashed just .195/.213/.268 off of him. Having not been in the big leagues since 2011 with the Texas Rangers, it looks like his time may once again be here.

Having traveled a long road back to where he is now, Hamburger could take over a 40 man spot for Thompson. Knowing what the lefty (Thompson) can provide the Twins, Molitor and his staff may be best served to utilize Hamburger's abilities on the 40 man instead.

It's going to take an incredibly strong finish during the final month for the Twins to make the playoffs. With deadline acquired Kevin Jepsen already filling in for injured closer Glen Perkins, and a mediocre bullpen to start, it's there that the Twins need to focus. Hanging on to games late is a must for Molitor's club, and allowing another September 6 Houston Astros-like comeback can't happen again.

Minnesota should have both Alex Meyer and Mark Hamburger in their bullpen sooner rather than later.

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