Monday, November 20, 2017

The Twins 2017: Diamond Treasure

Now in it's third installment, the week of Thanksgiving prompts the revealing of the Minnesota Twins Diamond Treasure. Crafted after being moved by the 2015 Turkey of the Year piece penned by Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune, this article has been carried on at Off The Baggy. The Diamond Treasure is designed to be able to highlight a player or area of the organization showing excitement for the future, while having roots established in the past.

Now in the third year, the inaugural winner was Miguel Sano. Last season, the new front office tandem of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine too home the Diamond Treasure. For 2017, I think the designation was all to glaring to overlook. Minnesota centerfielder Byron Buxton is your diamond treasure.

The soon-to-be 24 year-old is coming off his best season as a big leaguer, and we've only begun to scratch the surface. Debuting with the Twins at 21 years-old, things are just now beginning to bear fruit. Picking up enough votes to finish 18th in MVP balloting and tally his first (of many) Gold Gloves, Buxton show plenty of promise to get excited about his future.

As things stand currently, the former first round draft pick may be the best defensive outfielder in all of baseball. He essentially redefined the Statcast-era of defensive metrics this season, owning the top spot in Outs Above Average and Catch Probability. His sprint speed numbers dubbed him as the fastest man in the game, and his Gold Glove was actually a proper reflection of his defensive acumen in terms of sabermetrics. What's most impressive though, is that he's just scratching the surface as a player.

In garnering the MVP votes, Buxton was able to do so despite hitting below the Mendoza Line as late as July 3. His defense didn't slump, and the speed never will, but that early season struggle at the plate hung over his head for most of the season. Broken down however, James Rowson was able to reconstruct the centerfielder's swing at the highest level. After finding a better footing, Buxton slashed .285/.339/.492 from June 11 onwards (85 G). Over the course of a full season, that level of production no doubt vaults Buxton into a top five MVP conversation.

Thus far through his big league career, Byron Buxton has experienced a roller coaster of emotions. With so much promise and hype, the former top draft pick was never going to escape the immense expectations set out for him. The reality however, is that he remains a kid by big league standards, and is just now coming into his more adult frame. With 278 games at the highest level under his belt already, Buxton far surpasses what Kirby Puckett (0 games) and Torii Hunter (142 games) had for MLB experience prior to their 24th birthdays. That should only enhance the belief in what's yet to come.

Sometimes players race out to an immediate showing of exceptional ability, and whether it fades or sticks, remains a mystery. For Buxton, it appears a level of growth was a slower process, but he's been made all the better for it. There's a good amount of time yet before he'll be considered in his prime, and the amount of high level production to be expected should be sustained for well over a decade. Developed from within, and bearing fruits internally, the Twins find themselves in as great of a spot as Buxton himself.

We haven't even begun to see the best of the Twins star centerfielder, but at this time of thanks, I think it's fair to be thankful that the hometown team has a legitimate superstar on their hands. 2018 should be a ton of fun for the organization, and it could be the one where Byron becomes the poster boy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Are Yu Ready?

The Minnesota Twins enter the offseason prior to 2018 with immense expectations. Following a season in which they arrived in the postseason a year early, this club looks ready to take the next step, and the AL Central is begging them to do so. Knowing pitching remains a focus, a free agent starter seems to be a sensible acquisition. The question always revolved around how high the Twins may aim though.
According to a report from Fanrag's Jon Heyman, Minnesota is coming out guns blazing. While the arms on the market are hardly plentiful at the top, Derek Falvey an Thad Levine appear to be keyed in on premier starter Yu Darvish. Levine was a part of the front office that signed him in Texas, and the fit is one I've liked for quite a while. Yes, he'll likely command the greatest contract of the available starting pitcher's, but that's not something that should deter Minnesota's efforts.

Darvish will be pitching 2018 at 31 years old. He has just over 830 innings on his arm in the big leagues, but that number jumps to 2,100-plus dating back to his time with Nippon Ham in the Japanese Pacific League. Potentially no worse for the wear however, Darvish has actually added to his velocity post Tommy John surgery, and he's been healthy each of the past two seasons.

For both Texas and Los Angeles in 2017, Darvish owned a 3.86 ERA across 31 starts. Rejoining the All Star team for the first time since 2014, Darvish posted a 10.1 K/9 with a paltry 2.8 BB/9. His 3.83 FIP was a career worst, but was better (3.38) with the Dodgers down the stretch. On the biggest stage in the game, Yu was knocked around by the Houston Astros, but I hardly find his World Series performance concerning. Given the talk of tipped pitches, I tend to believe Darvish is more the guy that went 11.1 IP with a 1.59 ERA against the Dbacks and Cubs, than he is the 21.60 ERA guy in 3.1 IP vs the Astros.

It's likely the last chance for Darvish to cash in on a long term deal, and he'll probably want to expand upon the $11m he received a season ago. A free agent for the first time since coming to the big leagues, Darvish is going to have plenty of suitors. Even as the price tag climbs towards an expected $200m though, Minnesota should continue to fight for real estate in the Japanese pitcher's mind.

At the end of the day, a perfect storm is brewing in Twins Territory. The 25 man roster has gotten younger and cheaper, while money should dive off the books in the next few years. On top of that, the division has three teams that should be virtually nonexistent in the foreseeable future, and Paul Molitor's club already began to exceed expectations. If there's a time to go and make the biggest free agent signing in franchise history, now seems as good of one as ever.

With the goal being to develop internally for the sake of sustainability, there comes a point where supplementing with high-end talent from the outside seems the best answer. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are arguably now at that crossroads, and how they handle the offseason will likely lay the groundwork for how at least the next few seasons go for Minnesota.

Right now, with things in such infancy, it's hard to get giddy about the potential to land a big fish. That being said, when I wanted Darvish for the Twins rotation back in May, it was for the same reasons that I feel the same way now. He's a difference maker, a solidifying presence, and a true ace. Those things don't grow on trees, and you never know when the next opportunity will present itself.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Twins Closing In On A Closer?

Over the weekend, news broke that the Twins checked in on the availability of Cincinnati Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. While he's undoubtedly not the only player Minnesota has looked at on the trade market, his name has filtered into the media cycle at this point. No matter how much substance there is to the situation moving forward, it's worth looking at Iglesias as a player, and whether or not he fits for the Twins.

First and foremost, Minnesota needs to shore up the bullpen heading into 2018. While Brandon Kintzler and Matt Belisle did an admirable job in the closer role for Paul Molitor a season ago, it's hard to imagine either in that scenario during game seven of the ALCS. As the Twins look to follow up a postseason berth this year, they'll no doubt have sights set on a deeper venture towards the World Series. While relief pitching has become the sexy topic in the playoffs, the reality is a complete team still trumps everything. The Astros won a World Series with a bullpen that was virtually on par with Minnesota in 2017, and that's worth keeping in mind.

Getting to Iglesias in a vacuum, the Reds current closer is a soon-to-be 28 year old from Cuba. He is not a free agent until 2022, and is currently signed on a team friendly contract through 2020. Across 76.0 IP in 2017, Iglesias picked up 28 saves and posted a career best 2.49 ERA. His 2.70 FIP was also a career best and he cracked 10.0 K/9 for the first time in his big league career. As a starter during the 2015 season, Iglesias sat around 93 mph with his fastball. In relief last season, he was pushing 96 mph on average and dropped down to 85 mph on his slider.

Despite being a bit of an older player, Iglesias quickly ascended to the big leagues. After signing out of Cuba, he pitched just 29 innings at Triple-A prior to his 2015 debut. Raisel only threw three seasons in Cuba before taking his age 23 year off to go through the process of getting stateside. Even at 28, you'd like to believe his body is a bit better for the wear.

Should Minnesota choose to pursue him, the asking price would probably be substantial. Wade Davis was just a one year rental at 31 years old for the Chicago Cubs, and he required the Royals receiving Jorge Soler in return. Still under team control, and with age on his side, I'd imagine the Reds would ask the Twins for at least one top six prospect. If I'm Minnesota, it's a hesitant place to start, but something I'd be interested in hearing out.

As a general philosophy, I believe it makes sense for teams close to winning to parlay either picks or prospects into immediately usable assets. Obviously this isn't a practice you can repeatedly employ or you run the risk of depleting your long term viability. Tracking guys with qualifying offers or dealing top prospects will eventually leave you in a barren place on the farm. That being said, Minnesota finds themselves in unique territory given the current organizational landscape.

Following a strong season, most of the club's top prospects from the past few seasons have reached the big leagues. They won't hold an enviable draft pick having finished as one of the final teams playing as well. If the Twins can entice Cincinnati with someone like Nick Gordon or Alex Kirilloff, they could get a solid return for someone that may be an expendable piece.

Closers are a fickle beast, and I'd hate to see the Twins acquire Iglesias only to use him in the 9th inning of games they lead. Ideally, bringing him in would involve him being relied upon to get high leverage outs regardless of where in the game that is. Also, if Gordon or Kirilloff generate that much interest, I'd probably see what other starting pitching they may be able to net as an alternative. If this is the only level of return that seems viable though, it's tough to pass up.

The reality is that the Minnesota Twins aren't too far away, and raising the water level of the big league roster is a must. There's some really strong impact prospects in the farm system, but some of them are representative of the next wave. While you'd love to see everyone you draft come through your system, sometimes the best tradeoff is matching them elsewhere and turning a prospect into an immediately usable player.

With the GM meetings ready to kick off, and the Hot Stove warming up, we'll get plenty more exciting nuggets in the weeks and months ahead. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine seem to know they have something exciting on their hands, and I feel comfortable with the direction the seem to be running in.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Buxton With the First Of (How) Many

As the Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners were announced of the night of November 7th, Byron Buxton was a lock. Yes, there were surprises among the finalists, but it was a certainty that the Twins centerfielder would win his first. There wasn't going to be a Mauer-esque snub, or a Dozier-like surprise, Byron Buxton is the best centerfielder baseball currently has to offer. With the Gold Glove solidifying that belief as reality, the question now becomes, how many more follow it?

To recap a bit, Buxton was nothing short of exceptional in the outfield for the Twins this season; you don't need sabermetrics to inform you of that. Looking at the numbers, he posted 24 DRS, a 9.9 UZR, 12.6 RngR, and a 13.1 UZR/150. In short, it was both his speed and his routes that made him the most impressive centerfielder in the game. Statcast (via Baseball Savant) came out with a new metric, Outs Above Average, for 2017 as well. Buxton's 25 OAA led all of baseball, and was also better than the total any other team (Rays 2nd with 23) could muster. For his efforts, Buxton's ability added 6 percent to expected catch percentages on balls hit his way.

It seems that each time Statcast puts forth a new defensive metric, it's Buxton that finds himself at the top. The 26 four-star outs he recorded in 2017 were an MLB best, and the 92.9% conversion rate on those outs (26-28) were also tops in the major leagues. With a 30.2 ft/s sprint speed on the basepaths, Buxton has also taken the crown as the fastest player in The Show. You'll likely be looking for a while to find something he doesn't excel at in the field.

Whether just watching him from afar, or taking a deeper dive into the advanced analytics, it's apparent that the kid from Baxley, GA is special.

So, with one Gold Glove now is his trophy case, the question becomes how many join it? Knowing what we do at this moment about his career, and what we can project going forward, I think there's a couple places we can point to in making an educated guess.

First and foremost, there's going to need to be a level of offense that follows Buxton's path. While the Gold Glove is a defensive award, Joe Mauer was left out for bigger offensive names, and Brian Dozier was included (and won) for his prowess with the bat. A guy like Buxton, so far beyond normal realms in the field, is going to be given more of a pass with his bat. For both the Twins and Buxton going forward though, the dish can't simply be a place where he punts. The good news is that a rebuilt swing under James Rowson has made it seem like that won't be the case.

Buxton ended 2017 with a career best .728 OPS despite hitting below the Mendoza Line for the first two months of the year. Across his final 82 games of 2017, Buxton owned an .801 OPS with a .278 AVG and a .332 OBP. In a full season, those numbers elevate Buxton to All-Star status, with at least a couple of MVP votes along the way. For a guy that's hit at every level of his career, I think we've only begun to see the offensive production begin to blossom, and that's quite the comforting development.

Outside of what Buxton can do in the field or at the plate, it will be integral for him to stay healthy as well. While there are times that routes are less than crisp, or closing speed allows for miraculous catches, the Twins centerfielder often finds himself acquainted with immobile objects. Finding a way to balance the ability to save games, but also not miss them will be a must as his career goes on. Outfield walls are far from forgiving, and missing stretches of play from crashing into them is hardly an ideal tradeoff. Some of Buxton's biggest highlights have included physical altercations with field dimensions, but he'll need to take care of himself from a longevity point of view.

Finally, how much can Buxton unlock from his arm. With advanced metrics measuring all aspects of defensive output, Byron has an opportunity to push the envelope with his throwing ability. A strong arm that can touch the mid-90s, accuracy seemed to leave him at points during 2017. Whether throws sail up the line, or miss cutoffs in certain scenarios, cutting down runners with more pinpoint accuracy is only going to enhance his defensive offerings as a whole.

Looking across the landscape of centerfielders, and specifically those that played for the Minnesota Twins, I'm comfortable putting Buxton Gold Glove over/under at nine. It's the same number that Torii Hunter won, and three more than Kirby Puckett tallied.

As a betting man myself, I'll take the under, but only slightly. My fear is that Buxton's reckless abandon costs him time at some points during his career, and that will hold him back from putting up the counting stats. If healthy however, Buxton is easily the best centerfielder I've ever seen, and watching him reach double-digits in the Gold Glove department would be an absolute treat.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Judge Rules The Show

Expected to be announced later this evening officially, it appears that Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge will grace the cover of MLB The Show 18. The New York phenom, who a shoe-in for the Rookie of the Year award, will give a polarizing presence to the cover of the upcoming iteration from Sony's San Diego Studios.

This season, Aaron Judge went from a 27 game sample size with a .608 OPS, to a major league record in home runs for a rookie. His 52 longballs led all of the American League, and there's a legitimate argument for him to be made the American League rookie of the year. While strikeouts were also a part of his game, a good command of the zone also led to a league-leading 127 walks.

Over the course of the season, Judge attribute changes than anyone in The Show 17. Starting on March 28, Judge was a lowly common player in the Diamond Dynasty mode of the game. At 68 overall, his power numbers were just 60 vs righties and 68 vs lefties. A early season surge was met with incremental boosts across the board, and it wasn't until June 23rd that he reached the gold tier (85 OVR) with an 87 OVR. After seeing a slight dip in August, Judge was given a one point boost back up to 88 OVR in the final roster update of the season. Thanks to Daddy Leagues (@DaddyLeagues) for providing the portal to look back at Judge's 2017 The Show changes.

Thanks to a 22 game April that resulted in a 1.161 OPS with 10 homers, Judge received one of the first flashback Player of the Month cards in The Show 17. That card was hit with an 88 OVR rating, his eventual Live Series OVR, and quickly became one of the most sought after cards in the game. Proving his ability to keep a consistent level of production over the entirety of the season, it only makes sense that both his Live Series and flashback card would virtually mirror each other statistically.

After another early season stumble out of the gates due to server issues, and more than a few gameplay complaints over the game's life cycle, San Diego Studios needs a near flawless release for The Show 18. While there's plenty of anti-Yankees fans out there, there's no denying the polarizing nature of Judge. He's got an incredible ability to destroy the baseball, won the Home Run Derby, and plays the game with an infectious smile.

Look for Sony San Diego to make the announcement official later this evening, and thanks to Twitter user @AquaX107 for his sleuthing capabilities. It should also be pointed out that T.J. Lauerman (@ThatSportsGamer) has given us a glimpse of the three different editions of the title. MLB The Show 18 is set to release on March 27th, 2018.
Details from the game's editions (via Reddit) are as follows:

Pre-order now and get:
• Three days’ early access
• 10 Standard Packs
• One Legend Starter
• Exclusive Aaron Judge Rookie Flashback in The Show 17™
• 5,000 Stubs
The MVP Edition includes:
• MLB® The Show™ 18
• 5,000 Stubs
• Gold Mission Starter
• One Sponsor Pack
• 10 Standard Packs
• 30 PS4™ themes
• One Classic Stadium
The Digital Deluxe Edition includes:
• MLB® The Show™ 18
• 11,000 Stubs
• One Gold Season Starter Mission
• One Diamond Season Starter Mission
• Digital Deluxe Lead Off Pack
• One Sponsor Pack
• 20 Standard Packs
• 30 PS4™ themes
• One Classic Stadium

The Case For Carlos

With Major League Baseball free agency ready to get underway, general managers and organizations will begin pitching to players why they should sign with their respective teams. For the Twins, pitching will once again remain a focus, but for a team looking to take the next step, a nice offensive additional may not be a bad play. There's multiple options out there, but a former divisional foe should be the place they turn first. That guy is Carlos Santana.

The former Cleveland Indians slugger is out on the open market, and while he'll almost certainly have a qualifying offer attached to him, it makes sense for a competitive organization to part with a draft pick for his services. The soon-to-be 32 year-old is coming off a season in which he posted an .818 OPS and launched 23 long balls for the Indians. Even if Derek Falvey didn't have previous Cleveland ties, a match here seems to make a lot of sense.

Judging the Twins needs on offense, the most glaring area last year was a right-handed power bat. If that player could offer something on defense, that would only further the notion of it being a well-found pairing. Santana is a switch hitter, and while he hit righties better in 2017, he's been a tick better (.815 OPS vs .809 OPS) from the right side over the course of his career.

Defensively, he's long since moved out from behind the plate, having not caught a game since 2014. Outside of a seven game stint in right-field during 2017, Santana has honed his craft at first base and designated hitter. While he can be a hitter only, serving as the Indians DH in 92 games during 2016, his first base abilities have generally led him to play the game with a glove at his disposal as well. Over the course of 140 games at first base this season, Santana was among the premium defenders at the position. He posted 10 DRS, a 4.8 UZR, and 1.4 RngR. While Eric Hosmer is a laughable inclusion among the Gold Glove finalists, Santana should be considered a real candidate to win the award along with Mitch Moreland.

For Minnesota, the acquisition of Santana would likely make Robbie Grossman expendable. Whether or not the Twins tender a contract to the switch hitting outfielder, Grossman served as a capable bat in the DH role. For the club to take a step forward next season however, pushing for more than just an on-base machine would be a good practice. Grossman's .741 OPS wasn't the .828 mark he produced in 2016, but the .361 OBP was again respectable. However, he combined to hit just 20 homers over the past two seasons, and put up a total of just 41 doubles.

In Santana, the Twins would be adding to a lineup that has already proven capable of winning games, and doing so without hurting their defense. Santana would be able to spell Joe Mauer at first base, giving the Twins two very good defensive options. Grossman's production would be expanded upon, and a guy like Kennys Vargas would no longer need to surface in the starting lineup. Santana has clubbed 57 homers over the past two seasons, while averaging over 20 in each full season of his career. Add to that the consistent doubles production of around 30 a season, and Minnesota would find themselves with some additional thump to the middle of the order.

Along the lines of priority, I've suggested that the Twins add a starting pitcher and two relievers prior to adding a bat. In reality though, I think a productive offseason consists of each of those four acquisitions becoming a reality. Whether or not Santana is the first domino to fall or the last, it doesn't preclude the club from making the other necessary decisions to put their best foot forward for the 2018 season.

At this point, the door for competitive baseball has begun to open for Minnesota, and as young players like Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios, and Byron Buxton continue to blossom, supplementing them with other proven threats is a must. The Indians are going to remain the team to beat in the AL Central, but counting the Twins out for the division and beyond is probably a foolish decision. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine can make this club even more of a contender by being aggressive as the time appears right.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Do The Twins Need Relief?

In 2017, one of the greatest deficiencies for the Minnesota Twins was the lack of quality relief pitching. While the starting rotation left plenty to be desired on its own, it was the bullpen that generally provided little in the way of resistance when tasked to come in and back up a start. Minnesota needs to address that this offseason, but what if they don't look anywhere but within?

Over the course of the early offseason, I've considered plenty of different ways the Twins could spend their dollars and roster openings. I'd argue that a starting pitcher is a must (with a second having a decent amount of potential). A right handed bat, with some positional flexibility could be a nice add as well. Initially, my thought was that the Twins would be best served to bring in two relief options, but what if they shifted to add no one at all.

Currently, the 40 man roster has 17 relievers on it. Those players will be shifted in the coming weeks as some will be reinstated, others will become free agents, some will be DFA'd, and one may even retire. Looking at that group, and what isn't on the 40 man however, the Twins glaring need may be less significant than one would imagine.

Starting with one of the most missed pieces from 2016, Trevor May re-enters the fold for the 2018 season. He'll have missed a year due to Tommy John surgery, and he'll need to work back towards what he was. However, out of the bullpen, his 12.7 K/9 was elite, and while the 3.6 BB/9 wasn't ideal, it was the longball that bit him. I'm not sure if May's back issues will allow him to be a full time reliever, but if he can get right in the pen, he could definitely be a weapon for Paul Molitor.

Joining May on the reinstatement train from the 60-day DL is J.T. Chargois. Had he been healthy in 2017, it's all but guaranteed he would've recorded a few save opportunities. He's got the stuff that should play as a big league closer, and there's real velocity there. Chargois is among the many touted relief options from the Twins prospect lists over the past few years, and seeing him bear fruit would be a welcomed addition.

Rounding out the trio of guys on the 60-day DL is Ryan O'Rourke. Unlike Chargois, velocity is hardly O'Rourke's game, but he's lethal against lefties. The southpaw held opposing lefties to a .359 OPS in 2016, and was definitely missed by the Minnesota bullpen this year. There's other guys that have stepped in during his absence, but if used correctly in relief, O'Rourke could put up some really flashy numbers.

Outside of those returning from injuries, options like Gabriel Moya and Randy Rosario were given a taste of the highest level this season. Moya has had significant success on the farm, and Rosario has flashed plus stuff in relief as well. Whether they are given a shot, and stick like Alan Busenitz and Trevor Hildenberger remains to be seen however.

Venturing from the 40 man roster, the Twins have a couple of high ceiling options that have yet to reach their projections. First and foremost, Tyler Jay enters the picture. Having been drafted as a reliever, converted to a starter, and now working in relief again, the former first round pick could turn out to be a weapon. Velocity rises in short bursts, and he's put up solid performances throughout his Arizona Fall League action this year. Minnesota may not be ready to give up on him as a starter yet, but if he's healthy, getting him to help the big league club in whatever way possible is a must.

The duo of Jake Reed and Nick Burdi were once the next best thing coming to the Twins pen, and their steam has somewhat cooled. While Burdi missed all year due to Tommy John surgery, Reed started late and never was able to get his footing. Both throw gas and have a keen ability to miss bats. There's nothing the Twins need more than the ideal version of these two pitching in the late innings for them. Should Reed and Burdi breakthrough this season, it could arguably the greatest offseason pickup for the big league club.

By my count, there's at least eight internal options vying for a spot, and each of them have significant upside. With something like three or four relief spots likely claimed already, that provides plenty of competition to fight things out. That being said, each of the aforementioned names come with serious question marks. The Twins will have to decide if they are willing to commit to a player potentially blocking an internal option, or if they believe in some of the names above to break through.

During free agency, the best relief names aren't going to be actively seeking out one year deals. The hope would be that the organization would aim higher than a Matt Belisle type if they're going to bring someone in, but there's lots of caveats that come with such a move. It's certain that the hometown nine needs some bullpen help, but navigating how to go about getting it is anyone's guess.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Bregman Hits Home For Twins

On Monday June 8, 2015 the Houston Astros franchise changed. Really, every franchise across Major League Baseball changed as they added an influx of new talent through the First-Year player draft. Houston though, selected a shortstop from LSU with the second overall pick, and Alex Bregman set forth on a path that would greatly enhance the Astros future.

In this same draft, the Twins would select 6th overall. Following the selections of three collegiate players and two high-schoolers, they chose left-handed pitcher Tyler Jay. While Jay had served only as a closer at the University of Illinois, the thought was that he could be developed into a top tier starter for Minnesota. It was considered somewhat of a puzzling pick at the time, and Jay has yet to bear fruit at the big league level. That said, the jury isn't out on him yet, but that also isn't the story here.

The 2015 draft had plenty of talent throughout that first round. Dansby Swanson led a strong Braves system for some time, Brendan Rodgers looks the part of a game-changer for the Rockies, and Andrew Benintendi would've been the American League Rookie of the Year had Aaron Judge not existed. All of those things are true, but the focus here is on Bregman, his position, and how he ties into the Minnesota Twins.

Drafted as a shortstop out of Louisiana State, Bregman entered an organization that employed a 20 year-old Rookie of the Year named Carlos Correa. While Correa is a bigger shortstop at 6'4" 215 lbs, he's handled the position just fine defensively, and his .863 OPS is an incredible asset at one of baseball's most demanding positions. The Astros though weren't only rich in terms of Correa up the middle, there was a glut of options. Jose Altuve is going to hold down second base until he retires, and the combination of Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar both looked more than capable for Houston.

In 2016, Bregman played in 49 games for Houston, spending just a total of 146 games on the farm. His .891 OPS at the minor league level was more than suggestive of a new challenge. At the big league level, Bregman debuted with a .791 OPS that was bolstered by strong slugging numbers. The K/BB ratio (52/15) left plenty to be desired, and both his average (.264) and OBP (.313) sagged because of it. With so much raw talent however, the belief was that 2017 could represent a breakout year.

After a spring training that included time with Team USA during the World Baseball Classic, Bregman was set to be the Astros every day third basemen. Recently acquired Yuli Gurriel would move to first, and the Houston infield was set. In 155 games this season, Bregman posted an .827 OPS and turned in a respectable 2:1 K/BB rate (97/55). His average and OBP jumped significantly, and he became yet another asset for the Astros. Drafted as a shortstop, he played third, short, and second base in Houston during 2017.

Looking at the Astros top 30 prospects as ranked by currently, their 12th, 17th, and 24th best players are all shortstops. Despite having arguably the best infield in baseball, there's still talent behind them. This is where the Twins correlation comes into play.

With plenty of talk regarding the selection of Royce Lewis with the #1 overall pick this season, Minnesota now boasts shortstops with it's #1, 2, 5, and 26 best prospects per The idea that there is a need to figure out where the can all play becomes immediately laughable. What Bregman and the Astros have once again displayed, is that talent can slot in anywhere.

More often than not, shortstops and centerfielders are among the best players on a 25 man roster. Minnesota boasts an elite centerfielder in Byron Buxton, but there's plenty of room for a talent rich farm system to bear fruit at the next level. Lewis, Nick Gordon, Wander Javier, Jermaine Palacios, Luis Arraez, and Jelfry Marte all working out for the Twins would be among the best problems to have. Although there's only room for one person to play shortstop at a time, generating a 25 man roster with the best overall talent you possess is a great blueprint for success.

At some point, Minnesota will need to figure out how Jorge Polanco, Brian Dozier, Nick Gordon, and Royce Lewis can all coexist. There's a second wave of talent behind them that can factor in soon enough as well. While that is something Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will be tasked with deciphering, it's hardly a problem that the Twins would rather not have.

Entering the 2015 Major League Baseball draft, Alex Bregman probably had dreams of making a deep jump throw from the hole a la Derek Jeter. When he was taken by the Astros, he probably considered the current state of the infield being locked down up the middle for some time to come. On October 30th 2017 however, he's got dreams of two incredible throws to home from the hot corner, and a World Series ring well within his sights.

Drafting for talent will never hurt you in baseball, and both the Astros and Twins would love to have a plethora of Alex Bregman's lined up to fill a spot.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Gold Glove Falls Flat Again

Today, Rawlings released the finalists for the American and National League Gold Glove Award. The awards are voted on by each manager and their coaching staff via a balloting process. Over the years, the award has drawn plenty of criticism for poor selections, and too much of an offensive focus. For 2017, that couldn't be more true as Joe Mauer was omitted.

Yes, you read that correctly. Mauer not only didn't win the award, he wasn't even named a finalist.

Among the trio up for the award, you have the Red Sox Mitch Moreland, Indians Carlos Santana, and Royals Eric Hosmer. As I have been suggesting all year on Twitter, Mauer should've been considered a near favorite. The first two members of the trio were his competition, and Eric Hosmer belonged nowhere near the finish line.

While defensive metrics are hardly the sole criteria for the award, a defensively focused acknowledgment should account for them. Across the board, Mauer seemed to lead the pack. Here's how he ranked among his competition (note: There were 12 qualified 1B in the AL during 2017):

  • Joe Mauer DRS t-2nd (7), UZR/150 1st (9.1), UZR 1st (7.1), RngR 1st (3.9)
  • Mitch Moreland DRS 1st (10), UZR/150 2nd (5.8), UZR 3rd (4.0), RngR 3rd (2.4)
  • Carlos Santana DRS 1st (10), UZR/150 3rd (4.7), UZR 2nd (4.8), RngR 4th (1.4)
  • Eric Hosmer DRS 10th (-7), UZR/150 9th (-7), UZR 9th (-0.3), RngR 12th (-4.4)
Looking at the defensive metrics above, Mauer is evidently better across the board than each of his peers. While both Moreland and Santana come in close, it would seem that the overall strength of his range and ability make Mauer the favorite to win the 2017 Gold Glove. Although he doesn't see him as the favorite (Moreland is), Bill James also notes that the three finalists for the award are clearly Santana, Moreland, and Mauer.

Often, the debate whether or not hitting production be brought into the Gold Glove award is a talking point. Given the reality that the acknowledgment is for defensive prowess, it seems an odd proposition. For context though, here's how the four players looked offensively in 2017:
  • Mauer .801 OPS 7 HR
  • Moreland .769 OPS 22 HR
  • Santana .818 OPS 23 HR
  • Hosmer .882 OPS 25 HR
From a slugging perspective, Mauer has never (and will never) be the hulking first basemen type. He isn't going to launch 15-plus homers in his career ever again, and his offensive ability will forever be tied to his plate discipline and ability to get on base. Again however, the Gold Glove Award isn't supposed to be designed as a reflection of the total production from any position player.

At the end of the day, fans around Twins Territory have a legitimate gripe, and managers across baseball should be ashamed of their choices. Whether or not you put stock in sabermetrics, there isn't a single defensive statistic that views the Royals first basemen as anything but the lowest tier with his glove. While he does present a legitimate power bat, the Silver Slugger award shouldn't be carried into other voting circles.

Sometime following the World Series, an American League first basemen will be awarded the Gold Glove. With it not going to Mauer, a repeat performance for Mitch Moreland seems appropriate. Being robbed of the 1st catcher to ever win a Gold Glove at another position, and just the third player in baseball history to win the award at two positions, it's tough to see Mauer dealt this hand.

The evidence pointing towards Mauer being the American League's most elite first basemen was prevalent all throughout 2017. It's discouraging that coaches across the big leagues apparently missed that boat. Then again, Eric Hosmer has the name and the sexy numbers, so why not make the ignorant selection?

Cleaning Up The 40 Man

The Minnesota Twins, and really baseball as a whole, is just a matter of weeks away from making a flurry of transactions. With the World Series already underway, the rest of the baseball world will again be joined by the Astros and Dodgers in the offseason. For Minnesota, an anticipated break from baseball includes plenty of potential roster moves. First and foremost however, they need to make room.

Currently, the Twins have a full 40 man roster, with 45 players occupying some sort of a role. 40 players fill the roster, while an additional five find themselves in limbo on the 60 day disabled list. As the date to solidify the 40 man roster looms, Minnesota will have more than a few decisions to make. Way back in early August, I looked at the likely names Derek Falvey and Thad Levine need to find places for internally. Knowing some additional moves will come from outside of the organization, cleaning up spots is going to be a process.

Let's see how many we can free up with the exercise below.

Matt Belisle- RP

Belisle was signed to a one-year deal with the Twins, making him a free agent at season's end. He'll be 38 in 2018, and while he was strong down the stretch, Minnesota can likely look to improve the pen by bringing in a bit better option. Whether or not he's brought back remains to be seen, but his spot is open for now.

Buddy Boshers- RP

A former indy ball guy, Boshers has been a nice story for the Twins. The level of success hasn't been great, but he's been serviceable. Against lefties, he's fared just fine, and if kept, it would be for that reason. Like Belisle, Boshers is a spot the Twins could advance their pen by seeking a bit more.

Bartolo Colon- SP

It seems Colon is pretty determined to pitch next year, fulfilling a comment to his mother. That being said, it's almost certainly not going to be in a Twins uniform. He was a nice, steadying presence down the stretch, and despite some tough outings, was a needed arm in the rotation. He should have a nice farewell tour, and baseball will definitely smile upon him from afar.

Glen Perkins- RP

Minnesota has already informed Perkins they'll be declining his 2018 option. As a free agent, he could come back on what would likely be a minor league deal, or he could choose to hang em up. With the tonality surrounding the end of his 2017 season, it would appear his storied career will be laid to rest. In retirement, Perkins will go down as one of the best Twins relievers in history.

Michael Tonkin-

Recalled in September, Tonkin has largely failed to replicate his minor league numbers at the highest level. He throws relatively hard, and has a long lanky frame, but success hasn't followed him to Minnesota. Exposed and unclaimed previously, the Twins are probably not worried about passing him through again, regardless of the result.

Hector Santiago- SP

Coming over in exchange for Ricky Nolasco, Santiago was largely unhelpful. After finishing the 2017 season on the DL, and with the numbers he put up while healthy, there's next to no way Minnesota will have interest in a reunion tour. The organization has better starting options, and Santiago will look to continue his career elsewhere.

Kennys Vargas- 1B/DH

Out of options, Vargas no longer has protection from the organization. At 27 years old, he's never established himself as a big league hitter, and despite the big power beliefs, the production hasn't followed suit. A step back in 2017 didn't help his chances, and the inability to field at 1B at even an average level exposes his hitting prowess even further. He could be a useful bench bat for someone, but it doesn't look likely in Minnesota.

With just seven spots opened up, the Twins would have little wiggle room. The players above seem like near locks however, with the ones that follow providing a bit more uncertainty.

Nik Turley- SP/RP

In sporadic action for Minnesota this season, Turley turned in some mixed results. He had huge strikeout numbers down on the farm, and then was up and down at the highest level. There's better organizational starting options for 2018, but I think Turley can be useful in relief. The Twins could aim higher though, and that would likely make the lefty expendable.

Chris Gimenez- C

I'd imagine that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine intend to tender a new contract to the veteran backstop. Gimenez is a great clubhouse guy, and that's a notable part of a winning culture. It does seem time for Mitch Garver to step in on the big league roster however, which would make a light hitting, and an average-at-best defender like Gimenez, someone that Minnesota could move on from.

Dillon Gee- RP

There might not have been a more important arm for Minnesota down the stretch. After being held down at Triple-A for a bit too long. Gee provided value out of both the rotation and the bullpen. Going forward, he's an arm I like in a long relief role, but it will come down to preference. The Twins pen needs to be better, and having multiple mop up types isn't a recipe for success. There's a few guys vying for one spot, and Gee could be the odd man out.

Robbie Grossman- OF/DH

Another great, and often relatively unnoticed acquisition, Grossman provided Minnesota with plenty of value at the plate. There's a little pop in his bat, but plenty to be said about his plate discipline. A walk machine, and grinder at the dish, he made opposing pitchers work nearly every at bat. If the organization looks to beef up the lineup for 2018, a better right-handed bat could replace Robbie, so that makes his future somewhat up in the air.

From that August piece, there are still six players I estimate as needing 40 man spots, protecting them from Rule 5 draft selection. We've cleared up at least seven here, with the possibility to have as many as 11. Minnesota will also look to improve on the open market as well, so having roster flexibility is a must. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out, and we should begin to find out soon.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Two Ex-Twins Eyeing A Ring

After an exciting American League Championship Series, the Houston Astros are headed to the 2017 World Series. In an event that was determined destiny three years ago by Sports Illustrated, this home grown group is looking to knock off a very good Los Angeles Dodgers team. While the hometown nine has been eliminated, two former Minnesota Twins could be eyeing their first rings. If you need a local connection, both Francisco Liriano and Juan Centeno may provide it.

Playing in 55 games for the Twins a season ago, Centeno was cast off as Minnesota looked to improve their position group behind the plate. He own a career best .704 OPS and hit three homers for the Twinkies. However, he threw out just 14% of base stealers, and provided little value for a guy that needed to be defense first.

This season in Houston, Centeno has seen somewhat of a different path. 65 games this season were played with the Triple-A PCL team in Franco, where Centeno surprisingly batted .311 en route to a .737 OPS. Earning a big league promotion, he contributed across 22 contests for Houston, owning a .632 OPS on the year. He was actually worse behind the plate in the running game, throwing out just 8% (1-12) of base stealers.

Although Houston will likely wait til the final moment to set their World Series roster, Centeno figures to be on it. The club carried three backstops in the ALCS, as Evan Gattis serves often as the DH. Despite the possibility of four non-DH games, having three catchers at his disposal allows for A.J. Hinch to maneuver bats in key pinch hit scenarios.

In the bullpen, the Astros employ another former Twin, and it's again a player that didn't spend the bulk of the season with this club. Now pitching in relief, Francisco Liriano would be classified as the long men out of the pen. In a seven game do-or-die series, that's an arm you'd probably rather not need to use. With a long man filling in during a short start or blowout, Houston would likely prefer to keep Liriano from toeing the rubber through the rest of the season.

That being said, he made 18 starts for the Blue Jays prior to coming over to Houston. A 5.88 ERA and 4.73 FIP was hardly something to get excited about, but the 8.1 K/9 could play, and the hope was that some command issues could be resolved. Down the stretch for the Stros, Liriano worked 14.1 IP across 20 appearances. His 4.40 ERA was better, but the biggest issue remained the free passes (an ugly 6.3 BB/9).

Liriano too was included on the club's ALCS roster, and should be an expected name to be taken to the World Series. Despite the lackluster pen that the Astros employ, one can guess that A.J. Hinch will be relying heavily upon names like Musgrove, Devenski, Peackock, and Giles to get Houston to the finish line.

In the World Series, Houston is absolutely going to need to hit their way to a title. Yes, both Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander can twirl gems, but Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers remain relative wild cards behind them. As the Dodgers have one of the best bullpens in baseball, it will be on the Houston bats to continue the hot streak they started at the tail end of the ALCS. That plan of attack doesn't leave much room for contributions from the two former Twins, but that doesn't water down their part in all of this.

At the end of the day, both Juan Centeno and Francisco Liriano have an opportunity to win a World Series ring, and that's something so few players ever get to experience. For the sake of the Astros representing the American League, and both former Twins representing all of Twins Territory, here's to hoping the Lunhow's organization can in fact #EarnHistory.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Best Move You Never Expected

The Minnesota Twins are, just like the 26 other major league teams, watching the final four postseason clubs compete for a World Series victory. Unlike each and every one of those teams however, the hometown club may have just made the move of the offseason. John Manuel, former Editor in Chief for Baseball America, is now a Pro Scout for the Derek Falvey regime (or he will be as of November 1).

You don't know who John Manuel is you say? Well then, let me introduce you. When it comes to great baseball minds, especially those plugged in among prospects, there isn't a better tier than the one Manuel is on. This man is more connected throughout the game than is even possible to explain. Baseball America has long been the premier outlet for all things prospecting, and it's because of his leadership that the website has cultivated such strong sources and content over the years.

As Manuel noted himself in his post on Facebook, he's watched previous staffers join other organizations, and he's given Falvey plenty of recommendations over the years. This time however, it was his turn, and he wanted to join the team. At a Baseball Prospectus event this summer, Thad Levine talked of how the Twins may not outspend other clubs on free agents, but they'll utilize their resources to make sure they have the best internal team in place. We've already seen exciting turnover in the front office, but it probably doesn't get any better than Manuel.

The Twins find themselves at an incredibly important time in the history of the franchise. With arguably the greatest assembly of youth and veteran talent since they last won a World Series, this team is poised to go place. Needing to be supplemented from outside with a few key pieces, as well as best utilizing a still strong farm system, the arrow should be pointing straight up. As Manuel enters, his goal will not only be to continue to identify those players to bring into the organization, but the ones that make sense to part with or advance other areas.

Under Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, the Twins exceeded expectations the first year. The volatility of youth played out in that the team returned to a more realistic version of itself, as opposed to the 103 loss season a year prior. Now with more experience and growth under their belts as a whole, and the AL Central opening up to a certain extent, Minnesota should be on everyones radar going forward. It is in this offseason, that the ball will begin rolling to suggest what is next to come for the organization.

If the hiring of John Manuel is any indication of what's to come, you should bet that this Twins club is in incredibly good hands. We may not see a deal offered to Yu Darvish this winter, or Bryce Harper next, but the understanding that those influencing decisions in the front office is the best it's ever been should be a given. For the first time in what may seem like the club's history, Minnesota has transformed itself into a forward thinking, and cutting edge organization, and that should absolutely fire you up.

Welcome aboard John Manuel, and we look forward to watching you get to work.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Falvey Gives Twins A Leap In Year One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Grading Out The 2017 Twins: Relief Pitching

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

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

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

Tyler Duffey C

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

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

Taylor Rogers B

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

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

Matt Belisle B

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

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

Ryan Pressly C

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

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

Trevor Hildenberger A

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

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

Buddy Boshers D+

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

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

Alan Busenitz B+

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

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

Dillon Gee B+

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

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Grading Out The 2017 Twins: Starting Pitching

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

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

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

Ervin Santana A

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

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

Kyle Gibson C+

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

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

Jose Berrios B+

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

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

Adalberto Mejia C

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

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

Bartolo Colon C-

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

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

Molitor Returns, What's Next?

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

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

Brian Dozier remains a Twin:

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

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

Rebuild? It's time to go:

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

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

Molitor's reinforcements:

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

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

Expectations heighten:

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

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

Grading Out The 2017 Twins: Offense

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

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

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

Catcher- Jason Castro C+

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

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

First Base- Joe Mauer A+

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

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

Second Base- Brian Dozier A

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

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

Shorstop- Jorge Polanco B+

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

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

Third Base- Miguel Sano B

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

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

Left Field- Eddie Rosario B

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

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

Center Field- Byron Buxton B

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

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

Left Field- Max Kepler C-

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

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