Monday, July 16, 2018

The Future Twins and What's Ahead

Over the past week or so, the Minnesota Twins have certainly brought a higher level of intrigue to their 2018 season. Despite getting so little out of their offense for so long, they've at least made the idea of being sellers, one worth questioning. Ultimately I'm not sure 2018 is salvageable, but expecting them to again be competitive in 2019 is a very real proposition. For those wondering about what's even further out, this one is for you.

I have been sitting on this question from "twins dude" on Twitter for over a month now. Wondering what the Twins lineup might look like in five years, I was waiting for a good opportunity to take a look. Immediately following the Futures Game and during this lull of Twins baseball, it seemed as good of a time as any.

So, with all of that out of the way, who takes the field where in 2023? This is my stab at that answer:

C- Ryan Jeffers

The 2018 2nd round pick has gotten off to a hot start over his first 20+ professional games. While there were questions about whether he could stick behind the plate, Minnesota believes the answer is yes. The bat will play, and he's got a decent shot to race ahead of Ben Rortvedt in getting to the big leagues.

1B- Miguel Sano

For this to be accurate, a few factors would come into play. First and foremost, Sano would need to truly dedicate himself to his craft. Even in sliding over to first from third, staying in better shape and being committed to giving the Twins more than just a shell of himself is a must. He'll be eligible for free agency in 2022, so staying with Minnesota behind that point would be reflective of a renewed belief in his ability and work ethic.

2B- Nick Gordon

We should see Gordon as soon as 2018, and immediately taking over for Brian Dozier makes a ton of sense. He's probably not quite ready to step in as an above-average big leaguer, but he's still developing. Nick has a completely different skillset than that of Brian, but it's one that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine could safely deploy at the top or bottom of the lineup.

SS- Royce Lewis

Superstar, that's really the only word I'm coming up with when trying to describe Lewis. He's an incredible athlete, top tier baseball player, and an even better person. I'd be far from shocked if we don't see him in the big leagues by 2020. He could slide to the outfield, but Minnesota would obviously be better suited if he stays at short. He's not going to be the best fielder, but from an all around standpoint, he could be the next Carlos Correa.

3B- Jorge Polanco

I think Polanco remains in the Twins long term plans. He's been fine as a shortstop, and has really worked at improving himself defensively. That said, it's probably more likely he moves off than position than Lewis. Not the typical slugging corner infielder, Polanco has plenty of pop to be an asset offensively as well.

LF- Eddie Rosario

Having gone from a free winging question mark to one of the best outfielders in the game, Eddie Rosario has absolutely broken out in 2018. This isn't some flash in the pan, as we've seen it substantiated for nearly a full year now. The Twins should be looking to extend him through arbitration and into free agency.

CF- Byron Buxton

At 24, it's still way too early to give up on one of the best defenders baseball has ever seen. Buxton is incredible in center field, and I believe the bat is legit too. We've had to practice a significant amount of patience with him, but in the not-so-distant future I think we see it pay off. He needs to do a better job of staying healthy, but there's a big time breakout waiting to happen here.

RF- Alex Kirilloff

Shooting up prospect lists this season, you'd hardly remember that Kirilloff missed a full year due to Tommy John surgery. Seen as a bat only prospect coming out of high school, the offensive upside has been through the roof. He crushed Low-A, and has started off well at High-A Fort Myers. I'd imagine we could see him in the big leagues by 2020, and that thump from the left side of the plate would be incredibly welcomed. Max Kepler is going to be in the mix here, but he'll need to flash more consistency than we've seen thus far.

DH- Brent Rooker/Trevor Larnach

Larnach is probably the better outfielder of this duo, but Rooker can slot in at first base in the big leagues. Rotating through some of those defensive positions while being focused on hitting first, both of these bats have an opportunity to do some serious damage at the highest level. Rooker needs to cut down on the strikeouts, and work more walks, but the power is absolutely real. We've yet to see what Larnach can do professionally, but his collegiate approach was a very good one, and there's plenty of thump off his bat as well. These two would be among the better athletes cast as DH's in the majors.

If I were to construct a lineup out of this group, it might look something like this:

Buxton CF
Lewis SS
Kirilloff RF
Sano 1B
Rosario LF
Rooker DH
Polanco 3B
Jeffers C
Gordon 2B

Five years is a long time out, and there's so much that can happen prior to any of this actually taking place. It's fun to look at what's ahead, but given the immediate future of this club and the opportunity within the division, it's also best to not miss what is right around the corner.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Rodney Defying Odds for Twins

A season ago, the Minnesota Twins welcomed Bartolo Colon to the 25 man roster. Big Sexy was 44 years old, and he was determined to pitch at least until he was 45. Paul Molitor got good results from the journeyman a year ago, and the front office went back to the fountain of youth this winter. Fernando Rodney was signed as the club's closer, and at the age of 41 he's been nothing short of a revelation.

Long gone are the days that the Twins could immediately pencil in a holdover in the 9th inning. Glen Perkins was an All Star closer that was a well known commodity. Taking the torch from Joe Nathan, the Twins had gone from one 9th inning stalwart to another. As age and ineffectiveness caught up with Perkins however, the cupboard seemed to be bare. Without a "proven closer" waiting in the wings, Minnesota needed to get creative.

After Perkins began to find himself on the disabled list, the Twins turned to former scrap heap pickup Brandon Kintzler. It took just a year, and the 32 year old found himself in the All Star Game for the first time in his career. Recording 28 saves along with a 2.78 ERA for Minnesota a year ago, Kintzler was nothing short of a revelation.

Having turned to a more established 9th inning presence, Rodney was guaranteed the 9th inning gig from the get go. Following along with a trend, April was a tough month for the 41 year old. Rodney posted a 5.87 ERA and had as many blown saves (3) as he did successful ones (3). At the end of that first month, I found myself as the voice of reason preaching caution. This narrative has played out before, and it's one that bears significant fruit going forward.

Since May 1, Rodney owns a 2.19 ERA for the Twins and has allowed opposing batters to compile just a .514 OPS against him. He's 17/19 in save opportunities, and has been the lockdown presence any team would hope for in the late innings. What's maybe most impressive, is that Rodney is putting up numbers that rival some of his best season, despite his advanced age. The 3.3 BB/9 is the second lowest tally of his career, and over a full free pass better than his career average. He's still setting down batters at a 10.0 K/9 rate, and he's kept hitters in check.

Across the board, there's really nothing exceptional about the totals that the Twins closer is putting up. What's more important however, is that there's no areas for concern either. Rodney is 41 years old, and still competing at a level that many of his contemporaries would strive for. His velocity still averages out above 95 mph, and he remains virtually the same pitcher he's always been. For the gamble that Minnesota placed in acquiring his services, this is definitely a success story for all parties involved.

Time will tell, but the expectation should be that Rodney is moved before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Having worked almost entirely in the closer role, it would stand to reason that a team needing a 9th inning arm would make the most sense. No matter where he goes however, the 41 year old will probably end up being superior to many of the younger arms surrounding him. Whether it be his workout regimen or dedication to the game, continuing to be this good for this long is nothing short of exceptional.

This narrative has played out in Twins Territory before. From Jim Thome, to Colon, and now Rodney, seeing guys well past their prime competing at such a high level is something of a marvel. There's no reason for Rodney to be considering calling it quits any time soon, and at this stage in his career, that's something to hang his hat on.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Flip Side of Selling

Right now, the Minnesota Twins own a 1.7% probability when it comes to making the postseason per Fangraphs. I recently wrote about how Minnesota can utilize their remaining schedule if and when they decide to sell off. Should the losing continue, things become very clear for this squad. What makes things interesting however, is the slate that lies ahead.

So far, the Twins have found themselves playing a significant amount of games outside of the AL Central. While divisional matchups are all bound to get in eventually, it's of note for Minnesota given the poor quality of competition. Obviously the Cleveland Indians have the same opportunity to beat bad teams, but the Twins schedule sets up favorably. In September, 17 of the 28 games come against the White Sox, Royals and Tigers. In August, the club plays more than their fair share of games against Cleveland, as well as Kansas City.

What that means for Paul Molitor's squad is somewhat of an unknown at this point. Having recently faced both the White Sox and Royals, Minnesota is enjoying a nice five game winning streak. On the year, the Twins are just 12-10 against the three "poor" teams in the division, while owning a 6-3 record against Cleveland.

Beating bad teams, or the ones that you should beat, is what good teams make a habit of. Sitting eight games below .500 at the moment, Minnesota can't say they've capitalized on opportunities thus far. What makes things somewhat interesting, is that there's plenty of opportunity ahead.

I don't know that I believe this club can turn it around. On paper coming into the year, this should've been a very good team. The pitching has been there, but seeing very little from players like Dozier, Morrison, Sano, Buxton, and Kepler has crippled the offense. Should they all turn it around, we're talking about a much different outlook down the stretch. The Indians have their warts, and a clicking Twins team is more than capable of holding serve.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are stuck in the position of deciding whether or not they're willing to bet on their expected producers to turn things around. They've got roughly two more weeks to evaluate the progress, and while they could end up being sellers, don't really have a big trade chip of note.

Given what we've seen thus far, it's hard to bet on a group of five or six guys all turning things around and competing at a high level. If half of those players become assets however, we could be in for a bit of interesting baseball slightly longer than anticipated. The unfortunate flip side to this however, is that the middle ground seems to be where this is all trending, and that's hardly an enviable place to be. Not bad enough to grab a top third draft pick, but not good enough to make the playoffs, the success would then need to be measured on what you learned or the evaluation that took place.

While not dead, the Twins are on life support. They have a few key contributors that could help them to pull through, and if that takes place in even the slightest fashion, the opponents that wait down the road may be of assistance as well.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Twins Can Capitalize on Remaining Schedule

Entering play on July 9, the Minnesota Twins playoff odds sit at just 1.1%. With the sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, the numbers have jumped up from the 0.4% entering the series. At this point of the season however, the writing is on the wall. Paul Molitor's squad is going nowhere, and the focus should turn to process more significantly than results. While the win total may be meaningless at the end, using the slate of games ahead for good is a must.

Going into 2018, there was plenty of optimism surrounding this Twins team. They were coming off a Wild Card game, added more talent, and had another year of development for their young stars. What was also apparent, is that the amount of one-year deals and expiring contracts would allow the club to retool again in 2019. This version won't have a postseason berth to jump off of next year, but the window for opportunity remains open. For the Twins to capitalize on it, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine need to do a much better job utilizing the 25 man roster than they have thus far.

For starters, the lineup should begin to reflect players with a future being prioritized. It took far too long for a superior player in Jake Cave to get real run over a retread like Ryan LaMarre. Mitch Garver clearly has a capable bat, but he's still sitting far too often behind the inept Bobby Wilson. Cave is a 25 year old fringe prospect that could be a nice 4th outfielder and take over Robbie Grossman's role. Garver has concerns behind the plate, but if the feeling is that he can't catch, opportunities should be found at first base. Going into 2019 without a clear idea of what sort of contributions these two are capable of would be a mistake.

Despite the Twins pitching staff having been a significant area of improvement this season, there's going to be a good deal of turnover next year. Zach Duke and Fernando Rodney are on one year deals, while Lance Lynn is an expiring contract as well. Those guys are all trade candidates, but even if they aren't moved, it's a decent assumption they won't be back. Instead of letting someone like Matt Belisle eat innings, relievers such as John Curtiss, Alan Busenitz, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, and Jake Reed should all make major league appearances.

In the rotation, the Twins will return Jose Berrios and Fernando Romero for certain. Ervin Santana has a year left on his deal, but at this point, can't be counted on. Minnesota can offer Jake Odorizzi arbitration, and Kyle Gibson falls in that group as well. The depth in the rotation remains strong, but finding out who else can rise to the top should be a goal. Zack Littell should return for some consecutive starts that allow him to be comfortable rather than nervous, and Stephen Gonsalves should make his debut for an extended period as well. Getting the jitters out and accomplishing the acclimation process now would be a good idea.

At some point, the Twins should promote Nick Gordon. The 22 year old put up a .906 OPS this season for Double-A Chattanooga. Since moving up to Triple-A Rochester, he's posted just a .609 mark in 45 games. The next level has seen pretty poor results, and that should provide plenty of reason for caution. That said, the Twins are almost certainly going to let Brian Dozier walk this offseason, and Gordon would be expected to then take over. He may not win the job out of spring training, but I'd assume the goal is to have him in the big leagues by June 2019. Using a month of games that don't matter could be a very good way for him to get his feet wet.

Really what it all boils down to is that the front office learn something from what's left. While trying to stay in it, many of the roster moves have trended towards lower ability players that bring an off the field aspect to the clubhouse. With poor performance and injuries having mounted, it's hard to suggest that a different story could have been told even with the most optimal roster decisions. At this point however, the Twins are presented with a desirable situation for future performance.

No one should be expecting a rebuild in Minnesota any time soon, and the division sets up nicely to go for it again next year. Bringing in new parts from the free agent market, and pairing them with internal talent could very likely produce optimal results. As we've seen this season however, there's no guarantees from players within your organization, and even less so with fresh faces. Figuring out who you may be able to promote and count on now, could save a lot of face down the road.

It's common sense that Minnesota will win plenty more games in 2018. It's also a fair suggestion that when the dust settles they won't matter at all. What level of development, process, and groundwork is laid for the future will be the takeaway from this year. It's time to shift the focus to that level of thinking, and hopefully we see the decisions from the top to mimic that sentiment.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Twins Can Groom Cave for More

Once again, the Minnesota Twins have recalled Jake Cave to the Major League roster. After optioning Ryan LaMarre back to Triple-A Rochester, the former Yankees prospect is back in The Show. A he heads back to the Twins active roster, Derek Falvey, Thad Levine, and Paul Molitor should all be on board with this being an extended stay for the Minnesota outfielder.

Here's something that seems to be lost on Twins fans at times; not all prospects are created equal. Cave was acquired from the Yankees this offseason, and was someone the front office targeted back during the Jaime Garcia flip. While he isn't the pride of the organization, he is included among MLB Pipeline's Top 30 for the Twins, and makes a similar appearance on Seth Stohs' list (from Twins Daily). At 25 years old, he's cut from a similar cloth to a player like Mitch Garver.

For the Twins, Cave presents an opportunity that should be capitalized upon. With a three man outfield all but set in stone, finding the regular fourth that can contribute in all phases should be something of importance. Robbie Grossman filled the role admirably in his first season with the Twins. His .828 OPS was a career high by a longshot, and he proved to be an on base machine. Since then, he's came back down to earth, and in 2018, he's no longer a replacement level player.

When targeting a fourth outfielder, Minnesota should want someone with a little pop, that can provide value as a bat off the bench. Ideally, the player can field in all three spots, and assets including speed and arm strength would be ideal. Cave checks off the boxes, and has gotten just 19 big league at bats to show anything.

Looking back at their respective abilities, Grossman is definitely a stronger player when it comes to commanding the strike zone. He's long been an on base guy and that's heavily bolstered by his ability to draw walks. While Cave lags a bit in that category, he's not some sort of massive black hole either. Showing a bit more pop over the course of his minor league career, there's a bit of give and take at play here.

Last season, Cave posted a .921 OPS at Triple-A across 72 games. The downside is that it came with an 82/18 K/BB ratio. This season in the Twins organization, he has just a .735 OPS across 58 Triple-A games, but the K/BB ratio has improved to a respectable 55/26. Those strides are both significant and important.

Right now, Grossman is a 28 year old with 470 major league games under his belt. He's turned the opportunities into 1.2 fWAR, or essentially just scratching the surface above replacement level. If that doesn't suggest an opportunity to improve upon that spot on the roster, I'm not sure what does.

Down in Florida for spring training, I heard rumblings of Grossman being saved by manager Paul Molitor. It was the front office who acquired Cave, and despite being arguably the better player and one with more upside, the skipper had stuck his neck out to keep Robbie around. Again, what he did for the Twins in 2016 was nothing short of exceptional but that performance is also long gone.

With the Twins season trending in the direction it has, and regardless of how it goes from here, I'd much prefer to see Cave get consistent opportunities. At some point, Byron Buxton is going to return to the 25 man roster. From that point forward, Cave could have the opportunities that Grossman has been given. Losing an asset is never ideal, but at that point, DFA'ing Grossman makes a lot of sense.

Being a betting man, I'd lean towards the Twins not going about it this way. That said, I'd hope it's the point in which the rubber meets the road. Falvey and Levine should exert their will on this roster, and one way of doing so would be choosing Jake over Robbie.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Off The Rails: Mauer Raked by Souhan

I don't typically find myself sitting down to write on a Sunday evening, but with my foot in a cast, and a level of frustration in tow, here we are. The first part of that formula is thanks to my achilles deciding to part ways with my foot, the second half is the fault of none other than the Star Tribune's Jim Souhan. On Sunday night, the Tribune Twitter account sent out Souhan's latest with this attached to the piece, "Affordable contract would keep Mauer in good standing with #MNTwins."

Prior to getting full blown defensive, I needed to dive in further. So, I hopped into an incognito window and got to reading.

There were some quotes from Twins President Dave St. Peter defending the $184 million deal that any team would've jumped at the opportunity to ink. There was some talk with Molitor about wanting him back, and then there was what Souhan added on his own.

The journalist quipped "Mauer’s desire to play probably will be based on his health. He has recovered from concussion-like symptoms to return to the everyday lineup, but is batting just .222 with a .556 OPS since his return. Before his injury, his on-base percentage was .404, ranking among the league leaders. His on-base percentage since is an uncharacteristically low .300."

From Mauer, Souhan went on to talk about Dozier. A late-bloomer that has an impending pay day ahead. The Twins don't look like they'll pony up, and there's baseball reasons for that (even aside from his typical slow start). He could end the piece without returning to Mauer however, in which he offer "the best thing Mauer could do for his image is to sign an affordable contract, to give the hometown team a break, and finish his career as a bargain instead of a financial burden."

Now that you've read as much as you need to, I'm sorry.

Over recent seasons, Souhan has been raked himself by plenty a fan of his poorly written pieces. Whether suggesting Phil Hughes as soft for not pitching through injury requiring surgery, or calling Miguel Sano out prior to him having an All Star caliber season. In both of those occasions however, you could argue the pieces had a level of journalistic integrity. Here however, Souhan comes out looking like more of a clown than he ever has.

In noting Mauer's production, Jim points to Joe's return from the disabled list. While noting his numbers, he fails to mention that's literally an eight game sample size (including Sunday). The .759 OPS and .404 OBP come in a 38 G span to open up the year. Had he been leading off during that stretch, the Twins offense may have benefitted even more (but that's another story). In a game that decides realities over the course of 162 games, cherry picking eight of them (and failing to mention it), is poor at best.

Should the idea that noting statistical production in an lackluster manner not bother you, Souhan then doubled down with his final remarks. Noting that Mauer should give the Twins a break, and not be a financial burden. If the brigade wielding pitchforks at the notion of Mauer's previous contract didn't already have enough poorly derived information, they've just been handed a bit more fuel for the fire.

The horse is so far dead, there's not even reason to beat it at this point. That being said, Mauer's $184 million deal was already a hometown discount. There isn't an organization in baseball that wouldn't have signed on that dotted line in a heartbeat. He was the best catcher in the game, and on pace to be among the best to ever play the position. He took less to stay home, and has been unappreciated by a fanbase that saw a living legend because a brain injury drastically altered his career.

With baseball being an uncapped sport, and the Twins rarely being in a position to land big fish over the course of his deal, spending to supplement Mauer hardly seemed to be the right move. In 2018, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine executed a near flawless offseason to bring in talent while pushing the payroll to an organizational record. The reality is that even the most sensible dollars don't always come together at the right time in terms of the on field product.

Given the current climate of free agents, and the new front office, I'd guess that Falvey and Levine would chuckle at the notion of giving Torii Hunter $10 million for a 2015 season at 39 years old. Veteran leadership is a great thing, but I'll be damned if suggesting it trumps performance on a good team makes any semblance of sense. Hunter was a defensive liability and on his last legs at the plate. It was a fine last hurrah, but the dollars didn't make sense. The beautiful part of it however, was that it didn't make a difference on the bottom line either.

A season ago, Joe Mauer was robbed of a Gold Glove that would've made him the third player to ever win one at multiple positions (and first catcher). At the present time, he's the best defensive first basemen in baseball, and it doesn't really matter if opposing managers are blind to that because of his lack of power numbers. Should Mauer want to return next year, Minnesota should jump at the opportunity. He can help Miguel Sano make that defensive transition, and earning something like $10 million is peanuts for the benefit he'd bring on the diamond.

When the dust settles on his career, Joe Mauer will go down as the best player to ever play in the Minnesota Twins organization not named Harmon Killebrew. Whether you can't come to grips with his contract, or the fact that a season of inflated home runs in the Metrodome didn't transform who he was doesn't really matter. Tonight Jim Souhan tried to summarize what Mauer has been, and can be going forward, while failing to do even a shred of journalistic justice.

It's a sad look for the Star Tribune, it's an expected offering from Souhan, and it's a reminder that Mauer has deserved so much better than what Minnesota has given him for far too long.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Brian Dozier Where Art Thou?

The Minnesota Twins find themselves scratching and clawing through games in order to get back to the .500 mark. This season opened with so much promise, and has taken turns that virtually no one expected. While Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar pace the offense, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton have been non existent commodities. Somewhat of an afterthought at this point, Brian Dozier has given Paul Molitor nothing of substance in 2018.

After garnering MVP votes for the third straight season last year, and winning a Gold Glove on the basis of his offensive performance, Dozier has been a black hole in the Twins lineup. In 2016 and 2017, the Minnesota second basemen posted .886 and .856 OPS totals respectively. As of June 20 this season, he's got a .682 mark. Slow starts aren't uncommon for the Mississippi native, but this level seems a bit unprecedented.

On June 7, 2017 Dozier owned a .748 OPS along with 19 extra base hits (9 longballs). Going back to 2016, he posted just a .694 OPS across 62 games up until June 17. That year he once again had 19 extra base hits, but only seven were homers. Through 68 games in 2018, Dozier has tallied 24 extra base hits and 10 homers. Putting it into that sort of perspective, things feel a bit less bleak.

If there's reason to be optimistic, it's that we've seen Brian make a habit of this. He's traditionally been a slow starter that goes on a tear at some point in the early summer. Right now, he owns a career best hard hit rate, and is spraying the ball consistent with career norms. His fly ball rate is where it has been and he's actually both chasing and whiffing less. If there's an area to point towards in relation to the slide, it's hit 6% dip in line drives, as well as the 6% falloff in HR/FB ratio.

For the Twins, Dozier has been the same player for each of the past handful of seasons. He uses a dead pull approach that allows him to yank homers over the left field fence. There's solid bat speed and whip through the zone, but he's not the hulking power hitter one would stereotype. Despite seasons of 42 and 34 longballs the past two seasons, a projection in the upper 20's seems like a safe bet on an annual basis. You're also going to get that production in lopsided amounts over the course of the season.

In short, I'm not certain Brian Dozier has gone anywhere. In fact, he probably is who he's always been.

To generate a higher level of production, Dozier will absolutely need to get the ball off the ground a bit more. The drop in line drive rate is significant, and putting the baseball on the ground is never going to be his game. As the line drives increase, so too should the HR/FB ratio.

The problem with streaky hitters is that you have to take your lumps through the down times, and unfortunately Dozier's is an annual occurrence. Despite the average being abnormally low, we aren't far off from what would be considered on par with previous outputs. If the Twins offense as a whole hadn't been such an abomination to this point, the second basemen would also have an easier time blending in.

At some point, guys like Dozier fizzle out in extreme fashion. The dead pull power approach decreases in effectiveness as careers get long. I don't think we're there yet (although it's part of the reason I believe Minnesota is right to let him walk this winter), and that's a good thing for the outlook of this lineup going forward. I'd be relatively shocked to see Brian put up 30 homers the rest of the way, but a turnaround shouldn't be anything but expected at this point.

Right now, the Twins need Dozier to start his surge. For the sake of his payday following the conclusion of the season, Brian could use that as well.

Baseball Cards, Charity, and Wax to Crack

Despite being a pastime that has seen its ups and downs, baseball card collecting has been rejuvenated among hobbyists over the past couple of years. With the emergence of premium products from companies like Topps and Panini, as well as strong rookies like Aaron Judge and Mike Trout, the market is alive as it has ever been. When it comes to collecting, there's many different avenues to pursue, but one of the most growing areas is through box breaks.

Enter Crackin Wax.

Over at Crackin Wax, Chris has designed a place for like-minded collectors to come together and both buy and discuss baseball cards. Being known for their charity case breaks, Crackin Wax is absolutely a community first type of environment. While box breaks offer an avenue to acquire cards without footing the entire bill for a product, the Crackin Wax team has also found a way to do good outside of the realm of baseball cards.

If you're unfamiliar with what a box or case break is, the concept is simple. Crackin Wax sells a specific product, and then offers spots for purchase. Whether dividing the item into 30 pick-your-team spots, or doing some other breakdown, the overall cost of the offering as a whole is significantly reduced. Opened live on camera, your purchase then awards you all of the baseball cards pulled for your specific entry. Thanks to their wonderful skunk protection, there's never a chance you'll go home empty handed.

Chris and his wife do a great job to foster a fun collecting environment, are baseball fans themselves, and do a lot of good around Twins Territory by way of the cardboard. Give them a look at

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Berrios Beaming for Minnesota

Thus far in 2018, there's been lots of talk surrounding the Minnesota Twins. Paul Molitor's club has provided talking points relating to everything from their up-and-down record, Miguel Sano's slide, and the emergence of guys like Eddie Rosario and Kyle Gibson. Virtually under the radar, Jose Berrios is beginning to round out into a bonafide ace. The crazy thing is, next to no one is talking about it.

A year ago, Berrios owned a 3.89 ERA and put up a 14-8 record across 25 starts (26 games) for the Twins. In 2018, the young Puerto Rican would start on the Opening Day roster for the first time in his career. He's made 14 starts on the season, and has quickly become must watch baseball. Whether going up against an ace or a 5th starter on the other side, the Twins hurler now has a brand of his own.

Through just under 90 innings this season, Berrios has posted a 3.51 ERA. His 9.1 K/9 is indicative of the strikeout stuff that was always expected of him, and he's cut his walk rate down to a truly impressive 1.5 BB/9 mark. With two complete games, one being a shutout, under his belt already, it's hard to quantify this season as anything but his best yet. What's exciting for both Berrios and the Twins, is that we've likely only scratched the surface.

Just recently turning 24 years old, Berrios has just under 300 big league innings to his credit. This season, he's posting career bests across the board, and his 3.33 FIP along with a 0.948 WHIP suggest that there's room for him to be even better. Efficiency has been something he's struggled with in the past, but working two complete tilts already has displayed a further amount of maturity. Walks have also been something Berrios has been plagued by in his early career, but they've become a point of emphasis in 2018, and an avenue of growth that's been significantly exploited.

Diving into his arsenal and surrounding numbers, Berrios' output provides one of the biggest areas for excitement. He's still throwing with the same velocity, and his usage rates across all pitches remains nearly identical to career norms. The results have equated to a career best 11.8% swinging strike rate, and a 35.9% chase rate. His 76.4% contact rate is a career low, and he's still keeping hard hit rates in check. As a summary Berrios really isn't doing anything different with his offerings, but with everything being a bit sharper the results have only continued on an upward trajectory.

The main knock on Jose has always been his stature. Whether or not he would have enough of a downward plane on his fastball to keep it in the park has been a realistic concern. The 1.1 HR/9 mark is a slight increase from a season ago, but it's hardly the 1.9 tally from his big league debut season. Even if there's not much movement made off of that mark, it's hardly a death sentence given the complete formula.

Berrios never got the national love of being an ace, and most projected him as a solid #2 starter. Topping out at 17th on the Baseball Prospectus to prospect list, he saw plenty of fanfare, but not quite enough to put him in elite territory. We don't yet know how this will all play out, but there's little reason to put a ceiling on him anymore. You'll struggle to find anyone willing to outwork the young man, and his abilities are shooting upwards each time he toes the rubber.

Forever, the Twins have needed to develop an impact arm that can shoulder the load of being the guy in the starting rotation. Right now, we're seeing Berrios become not just a premier pitcher for the Twins, but among the best in baseball.

Sota Stick Goes Super Rosario

In Twins Territory, you have plenty of options when it comes to beat writers, bloggers, and baseball coverage. Being focused on the hometown team, I can't speak for other organizations, but what Twins fans are offered seems like some of the best in the business. Fortunately, you can also support your favorite baseball team through shopping with local outfitters. SotaStick Co is one of the best boutique clothing brands to display your Minnesota sports pride.

From their official about us page, SotaStick Co says, "SotaStick Co. was created by a hockey player with a broken wood hockey stick looking for a fun way to open his bottle of beer. The original SotaStick Co. hockey stick bottle opener was created during the winter of 2015 and the brand launched in 2016. The brand name takes the "sota" out of Minnesota and the "stick" out of Hockey Stick. We teamed up with a group of local artists and illustrators when the brand launched in 2016 to create original artwork that is featured on our apparel and man cave artwork." 
With the Twins currently playing up and down baseball, no player has given Paul Molitor's club a spark more than outfielder Eddie Rosario. Now deemed fully powered-up by SotaStick Co, the Super Rosario shirt has hit their online marketplace. As the expected representative for the Twins in the 2018 MLB All Star Game, Rosario's season has been nothing short of exceptional. The premium tee would be an awesome way to show off the Twins star and you can grab yours here.

SotaStick Co should be a must stop shop for all your Minnesota sports apparel needs. You can always click the link here on the main page at Off The Baggy, or check them out on Twitter at @SotaStickCo. Stay tuned to my Twitter @tlschwerz for a giveaway in the not-so-distant future.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Gut Punch, Sano Gone

The Minnesota Twins were in the 9th inning of another lackluster offensive performance today against the Detroit Tigers. Despite a wonderful outing from starter Lance Lynn, Minnesota found themselves trailing 3-1 in the final frame. With 2 outs, a runner on, and Miguel Sano on the bench...Jake Cave hit for himself. It was at that moment the Twins had solidified their decision. Miguel Sano needed to go.

Immediately following the game, it was announced that the slugging third basemen would be sent to High-A Fort Myers. He wasn't going to Triple-A Rochester, or Double-A Chattanooga. Instead, he was headed all the way down to Florida. Both the Red Wings and Lookouts have roster space for the Twins third basemen, so this move is no accident. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have sent the message to Sano that it's time to get right or get gone.

In Fort Myers, Sano will be surrounded by the Twins complex, and monitored and a pretty small microscope. He's going to need to figure out how to ditch the terrible check swinging habit, learn to pick up pitches again, and decide that this shell of a player is not who he wants to be. While the former two issues are big ones, it's the latter that remains the most frustrating for me.

Over the course of his career, Sano has relied on natural talent, casting aside an ability to work hard and elevate himself to heights that a player of his caliber should be reaching. As I've stated in this space before, weight has never been the issue for Sano, but instead the message in regards to what he expects from himself. At some point, and the Twins hope this is it, the Dominican native is going to have to push for more. There's a really, really good ballplayer in there, but he'll need to be the one to find it.

The move surrounding Sano isn't unexpected, and it's likely the correct one. My estimation would be that recently acquired Taylor Motter will come up to take over as the bench utility player. Motter has done little-to-nothing at Triple-A for the Mariners and Twins this year, but with Robbie Grossman and Bobby Wilson on the pine, Paul Molitor needs an infielder. Motter can play all over the diamond, and should be plenty capable of spelling regulars over the next couple of weeks.

If there's a less than ideal wrinkle to the whole situation, it's that Jake Cave was again sent back to Rochester. He's been better than Ryan LaMarre, there's reason to believe his ceiling presents a significantly more appealing skillset, and LaMarre has been relatively awful on his own accord. Minnesota has turned from a contender into a pretender. This team is scuffling at the very least, and keeping LaMarre around for the story he was during spring training is silly. There's no track record to suggest he's anything more than a quad-A type player, and Paul Molitor isn't doing this lackluster lineup any favors by running him out there.

When the dust settles, Minnesota will welcome Mauer back with open arms. He isn't going to cure all the warts this team currently has, but it's definitely a positive to have him back in the fold. Negative as it may be right now, Sano deciding to invest in himself long term is the best development Minnesota could get out of this season. Hopefully Cave will get another shot to prove his worth soon. It was a busy day in Twins Territory to say the least.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Twins Pen is a Problem in More Ways Than One

Prior to the news of the Minnesota Twins re-signing veteran reliever Matt Belisle, I had every intention of writing a piece on the curious usage of Matt Magill. Paul Molitor has routinely been lackluster when it comes to bullpen managment during his time as Twins skipper, but things got even more confusing today. After revamping the relief corps going into the season, Thad Levine, Derek Falvey, and Paul Molitor have found a way to make a relative strength into a revolving door.

Needing a fresh arm at the tail end of April, the Twins turned to Matt Magill. Prior to that point, Magill last pitched in the big leagues during the 2016 season. He had just 32 innings under his belt, and at 28 years old, he was a relative flier. Now having been on the 25 man roster for 40 games, he's been used just 13 times in that stretch. Without knowing his numbers, it may not seem egregious given the lack of history to build off of. The numbers though, well they're very good. In 20.2 IP with Minnesota, Magill has posted a 1.31 ERA with a 7.4 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9.

It wouldn't be a terrible thing to Magill to be largely unused if the Twins found themselves avoiding a need to go to their bullpen. However, in that 40 games timeframe he's been with the club, Ryan Pressly has been ran out to the mound 21 times, while Addison Reed has been called upon on 19 occasions. In the 21 games Pressly has appeared in, he has a 6.11 ERA and is allowing an .886 OPS to opposing hitters. Reed's 19 appearances have equaled out to a 3.38 ERA (compared to a 2.57 mark prior), and an .895 OPS against. To say they are running on fumes is an understatement. It being only June makes matters worse.

Then comes the news of Matt Belisle.

Not only is Paul Molitor not using his full relief corps currently, but he's now been given a veteran arm that the worst bullpen in the big leagues (Cleveland) decided to give up on even at Triple-A. Belisle filled in admirably as the Twins closer down the stretch last season, but his fastball velocity has declined to a career worst 90.9 mph. He's also ceded runs in three of eight appearances at the highest level this season. Molitor hasn't given Magill the opportunity to spell his horses despite Matt proving worthy of a chance, now he'll have an arm that should be utilized in a similar vein to Tyler Kinley or Phil Hughes before him.

Sure, there's a value to clubhouse presence, and that will be a notion disseminated freely when referencing Belisle's signing. That's more a cop out than anything however. Addison Reed, Zach Duke, and Fernando Rodney were intended to be the veteran presence brought in over the offseason. All solid clubhouse guys, they effect Belisle has in the matter should be well represented in the doldrums of Target Field. By spinning an odd fit with the clubhouse tag, Minnesota should and does likely alienate more deserving players toiling away at Triple-A.

Tyler Duffey noted frustration when he was recently optioned back to Triple-A. While he's had poor stints with the Twins this year, he was perfect in his recent opportunity and likely deserved better. Most egregious in all of this is none other than Alan Busenitz. Across 24 Triple-A innings thus far, Busenitz owns a 0.38 ERA, 10.5 K/9, and 1.9 BB/9. There's no other way to put it except that it's a massive mistake to have him be wasting bullets in Rochester. No longer a prospect at nearly 28 years old, Busenitz has proven he's well above the Triple-A level, and he should be working his way into a back-end role with the Twins.

The signing of Matt Belisle on its own isn't some terrible decision. Given the factors at play however, it's one that Thad Levine, Derek Falvey, and Paul Molitor should all be questioned for. The bullpen is currently mismanaged, internal options likely provide a higher impact, and a negative message is sent throughout the organization. While the front office deserves to be commended for how they handled the offseason, the roster moves since the games began are puzzling at best.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Sano's Problems Aren't New, but Are They Fixable?

For better or worse, Miguel Sano has been the same player for much of his big league career. On one hand, that's a hulking slugger that drives baseballs deep into the outer reaches of major league ballparks. On the other, it's a free swinging giant that frustrates both fans and coaches alike. Regardless of which side of the fence he finds himself on during a given day, he's remained largely the same player throughout his career. What's someone comforting is that 2018 is no outlier.

Coming into the season, really at the beginning of spring training, I wrote about how Sano's weight itself isn't the issue. My problem with the big third basemen's size is more in relation to what it says about his level of commitment to both the Twins as well as his own ability to be great. By deciding not to adhere to guidelines suggested by his employer, and turning a bit of the extra baggage into muscle mass, there's a higher tier that goes from reachable to a distant memory.

On the field, and even with as bad as he's been for the Twins in 2018, much of the underlying numbers suggest he's not far off from who he's always been. Sano's .859 OPS in 2017 earned him his first All Star trip, and was in line with the .916 OPS he produced as a rookie in his first 80 major league games. Last season, he posted a 29.1% chase rate, and just a 62% contact rate. He swung through pitches 18.3% of the time, and he made contact on strikes just 73.5% of the time. None of those numbers are great, and especially so combined with a 35.8% strikeout rate. That being said, they combined to provide more than welcomed results.

This is where we get into some of the silver lining that Sano has left for 2018. On the season, he owns a 32.6% chase rate (3% worse), 64.9% contact rate (3% better), and a 16.5% swinging strike rate (2% better). The biggest dip is his 40.6% K rate (5% worse), and his 18.4% HR/FB ratio (9% worse). While the strikeouts and lack of home runs are certainly egregious, none of the other areas in which he's slipped up have been too drastic. On top of that, he's not being attacked in an entirely different fashion. Teams are throwing him nearly 40% fastballs, which is a career high, while it's changeups and curveballs that have been offered to him less.

So where does that leave us? Well if you've observed Twins broadcasts or watched a game in the park, I'm sure you can figure it out. Right now, Miguel Sano's biggest failure is in pitch recognition. For one reason or another he's guessing entirely too often at the plate, and in doing so, he's seen check swinging a crazy amount, while watching otherwise perfect pitches go by. The dip in offspeed offerings may have Sano waiting on pitches that won't ever come, while he's then susceptible to the fastball being blown right by him. He's swinging and missing less, and he's not chasing all the much more. In fact, when he's making contact, it remains at a comparable clip in terms of hard hit rate. Simply put, he just doesn't know what he's swinging at.

When taking a look at his pitch chart, we can see that Sano is being abused by the breaking ball low and away. Pitchers have gotten a ton of swings and misses from Sano on sliders and curveballs that are off the outside corner of the zone. Despite not being a dead pull hitter, those are the balls he's either check swinging on, or shouldn't be offering at whatsoever. Conversely, he's yet to swing through anything up and in, while six of his seven homers have come on pitches in the middle of the zone.

If you've checked out Rob Friedman's GIFs on Twitter (under the handle @PitchingNinja), you'll see how difficult attacking pitches can be. Both sliders and fastballs can get to the zone on the same plane, before one drastically turns away from an opposing batter. With a lacking ability in pitch recognition, spin isn't something Sano is currently picking up, and it leaves him flailing through both types of offerings not fully knowing which is which.

There's plenty of drills that can be executed to help with this sort of deficiency, and while they are simple in practice, application is hard. Big league pitchers are the best in the world for a reason, and even while Sano is always going to be a strikeout machine, the reality is that he can also hit very well. Until he can once again read offerings as opposed to guessing or reacting through them, he's going to struggle.

James Rowson did an incredible job of breaking down Byron Buxton's swing to the bare minimum and rebuilding him at the highest level last season. Sano shouldn't need that level of an overhaul, but the Twins hitting coach has his next big challenge in front of him. Pitch recognition isn't something you can simply use your given ability to get through however, and that's where this could take a tough turn for Miguel. He;s going to need to rededicate himself at the plate, and put in the work to see a different set of results. There's been different times and instances where the Twins have hoped that blueprint would play out for their third basemen and it hasn't.

Miguel Sano has the opportunity to be great, but he could choose to settle for being average. There's another crossroads in his path, and it'll be interesting to see how he attacks this one.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Midseason 2018 Minnesota Twins Top 15 Prospects

With the 2018 Major League Baseball draft in the rearview mirror, the Minnesota Twins have now brought more young talent into the organization. Despite not having the first overall pick this season, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were able to identify a handful of players that could be making an impact at Target Field in years to come. While this class seems catcher and college heavy, there's also a juggle of names already included in the Off The Baggy top 15 prospects.

Before diving into an updated, post draft list, here's a few key areas to check out first:

2016 Top 15 Prospects

2017 Top 15 Prospects

2018 Top 15 Prospects

2018 Draft Picks

Now that we have the foundation laid, here's who I have as the Midseason Top 15 Prospects for the Minnesota Twins:

15. Wander Javier SS

Coming into the season, I found myself incredibly high on Javier, thinking he could end up being the Twins best positional prospect not named Royce Lewis. Unfortunately, he's been handed a season ending injury, and despite the surgery not being on his throwing arm, the biggest setback is missing out on a year of development at 19 years old. By the time he's back on the diamond, Javier will be 20. He's going to need to pick up and go right away to regain his prospect status. There's an incredible amount of talent there, and counting him out would be foolish.

14. Tyler Jay LHP

The Twins 2015 1st round pick is now firmly entrenched as a reliever. After being bounced back and forth between starting and the pen, keeping him healthy has maybe been the largest challenge. In 2017, Jay pitched just 11.2 innings, a mark he's nearly doubled thus far in 2018. He's still at Double-A Chattanooga which is unfortunate, and the strikeouts have dipped to just 7.5 per nine innings. As a lefty, he can bring it, and profiles well in the late innings. He'll need to start putting up numbers indicative of that should he want to jump to Triple-A. At 24, it would be ideal to see him get time with the Twins this year, but that would require a significant breakout in short order.

13. Lewis Thorpe LHP

Starting the season healthy for the first time in more than three years is huge for the Aussie. After a solid display at High-A Fort Myers last season, he was jumped to Chattanooga to begin 2018. The ERA sits at a respectable 3.74, while his 10.2 K/9 is something Minnesota would love to see carry forward. The 1.528 WHIP is a bit out of hand, and it's reflective of a guy that allows a handful of runners to reach base. Thorpe is still just 22, and already at Double-A. If he continues to refine his approach, he'll jump back into the national discussion.

12. Blayne Enlow RHP

The Twins targeted Enlow with some of their early round savings in the 2017 MLB Draft. After appearing in 20.1 innings for the GCL Twins last year, he's spent 2018 with Low-A Cedar Rapids. The 4.46 ERA isn't ideal, but he's another guy giving up too much contact right now. A 1.718 WHIP is buoyed by an 11.5 H/9. He's only 19 and the stuff is still very raw. His bender is impressive, and the velocity probably has a bit of room to grow yet. If nothing else, this is a very good developmental year for the Louisiana native.

11. Akil Baddoo OF

There wasn't a guy I was more impressed with during spring training 2017 than Baddoo when it came to physical body work. He looked as if he'd at half of his 2016 self, and put on a ton of muscle. At E-Town last season, Baddoo posted a great 1.057 OPS across 33 games. Batting as the leadoff guy for the Kernels this year, he owns a .788 OPS. The power continues to play, and while the average has sunk a bit lower than you'd like to see, his plate discipline hasn't fallen off much. He's got a chance to be the breakout type, much like the next guy on this list.

10. LaMonte Wade OF

As a 9th round pick in 2015, Wade hasn't gotten the fanfare he's deserved until recently. Despite posting .840 + OPS numbers in each of his first two pro seasons, he really only began to be a name more commonly known. Now at Double-A Chattanooga, Wade owns an .837 OPS on the year, and has already hit seven longballs. If the Twins really wanted to test him, he could be up filling in for Byron Buxton right now. He's got a tremendous eye at the plate, and controls the zone well. There's a lot to like here, and the ceiling is higher than just a fourth outfielder.

9. Zack Littell RHP

Acquired by the Twins in a shrewd exchange that involved Jaime Garcia, Littell has shown exactly why he was the apple of Falvey and Levine's eyes. He had a strong Twins organization debut at Double-A last year, and had been great in 28 innings with Triple-A Rochester this season. His major league debut didn't go smoothly, but there's little doubt that he'll be back, and that he's a capable arm to count on as a rotation mainstay.

8. Trevor Larnach OF

The 20th overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft, Larnach is of a similar mold to Twins prospect Brent Rooker. The power potential is massive, and he absolutely destroys the baseball when making contact. Swing and miss is a bit less of a worry here, although his position is certainly going to be limited to a corner outfield spot. He used all fields in college, but rarely pulled the ball. Ideally you'd like to see him shorten up a bit, and be able to get around on big league pitching to his drive side. This was a safe pick for Minnesota, and the bat should absolutely play.

7. Brent Rooker OF/1B

I still think Rooker ends up at first base long term, but he's not a liability in the Robbie Grossman sense when it comes to outfield play. After a slow start at Double-A, he's really come around of late. From May 7 through June 6 (29 G), he owns an .890 OPS with seven homers. Rooker's bat was always going to be what drove his promotions, and it's played as expected. The next piece of his game that has to be addressed is the plate discipline. A 66/14 K/BB at Double-A is only going to get wider as he moves upwards.

6. Alex Kirilloff OF

Coming off of Tommy John surgery, it wasn't so much a worry that Kirilloff wouldn't rebound, as much as it was about how the time off would effect him. The short answer has been, not much. While Royce Lewis got the early fanfare as the latest first round pick, it's Kirilloff who's been shining of late as well. His .978 OPS is comprised of 11 homers and 17 doubles through 55 games. It's been a heck of a return to the diamond, and the bat first prospect has been nothing short of exciting.

5. Stephen Gonsalves LHP

After dominating Double-A to the tune of a 1.77 ERA through four starts, Gonsalves was moved up to Triple-A. He owns a 4.13 ERA through seven starts, but the numbers are inflated by a few clunkers. His 10.5 K/9 is more than impressive, but it's the 5.5 BB/9 that still cause the Twins pause. Command has always been the last part of the puzzle for the crafty lefty, and it'll be the piece he needs to hone in before jumping to the big leagues.

4. Brusdar Graterol RHP

Now completely healthy, the Twins next flamethrower has been must see baseball on the mound for the Kernels. His few DL stints this year seem much more roster manipulation than genuine cause for concern. He's gone six trips through the rotation, and owns a 1.95 ERA in 32.1 IP. With a triple-digit fastball in his arsenal, the 11.1 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 suggest he could probably use a new challenge sometime soon.

3. Nick Gordon SS

While shortstop may not be Nick Gordon's longterm home, it probably works out better that way for the Twins roster construction. Yes, he faded down the stretch at Double-A last year, but he's been nothing short of exceptional in 2018. His .906 OPS across 42 games with Chattanooga earned him a bump to Triple-A Rochester. In 16 games since his promotion, he's hitting .350/.371/.467. The five home runs continue to drive home the notion that the nine in 2017 were real, and he could turn into a 15-20 longball guy at the next level. He should be the Twins Opening Day second basemen in 2019, and there's little reason to worry about it.

2. Fernando Romero RHP

It took just 21 innings at Triple-A for the Twins to decide that Romero was ready for the big time. His 2.57 ERA with Rochester came with some walks (4.3 BB/9), but the stuff was absolutely going to play. Since being in the big leagues, he owns a 3.96 ERA over seven starts (36.1 IP). He was lights out against some good teams in the early going, and he's thrown in a clunker or two as well. Long term, he still profiles as an ace, and pairing him with Jose Berrios should give Minnesota a solid one-two punch for quite some time.

1. Royce Lewis SS

After making it to Cedar Rapids to conclude his first season in pro ball, Lewis has torn up the Midwest League this season as well. Currently his OPS is down to .750, but it rested at .799 through 40 games just over a week ago. The power hasn't really shown up yet, but it should come in time. He has plenty of room to fill out and gain muscle, so there isn't much cause for concern. Expect him to hit High-A Fort Myers for the second half of the year, and tracking towards a 2020 MLB debut is very plausible.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Keeping Up With Twins Picks: 2018 Edition

June 4, 2018 kicks off the Major League Baseball draft. With the Minnesota Twins making their first selection at 20th overall, the next crop of future faces to grace Target Field will fill out in the coming days. As players come off the board, the professional careers of hundreds will begin in earnest. Although their impact won't be felt at the highest level for quite some time, this is a big event for Twins fans, the organization, and those now joining it.

Throughout the entirety of the 40 round process, you'll find players selected as well as their pertinent information updated below. Please take a look back at the 2017 class here.

Let's get into it:

Round 1, Pick 20- Trevor Larnach, OF Oregon State @trevorlarnach
Round 2, Pick 59- Ryan Jeffers, C UNC Wilmington @Ryan_Jeffers8
Round 4, Pick 124- DaShawn Keirsey, CF Utah
Round 5, Pick 154- Cole Sands, RHP Florida State @ColeSands
Round 6, Pick 184- Charles Mack, SS Williamsville East HS (NY)
Round 7, Pick 214- Josh Winder, RHP Virginia Military Institue
Round 8, Pick 244- Chris Williams, C Clemson
Round 9, Pick 274- Willie Joe Garry Jr., CF Pascagoula HS
Round 10, Pick 304- Regi Grace, RHP Madison Central HS @rjgrace1
Round 11, Pick 334- Michael Helman, 2B Texas A&M @theHELM_
Round 12, Pick 364- Jon Olsen, RHP UCLA
Round 13, Pick 394- Trevor Casanova, C CSU Northridge @TrevorCasanova
Round 14, Pick 424- Erick Rivera, OF Escuela Superior Urbana
Round 15, Pick 454- Kody Funderburk, LHP Dallas Baptist U @KodyFunderburk
Round 16, Pick 484- Anthony Tuionetoa, RHS Baldwin HS
Round 17, Pick 514- Erik Cha, LHS Cal St. Fullerton @_erikcha
Round 18, Pick 544- Andrew Cabezas, RHP Miami @Andrew35Cabezas
Round 19, Pick 574- Austin Schulfer, RHS UW Milwaukee @FollowSchulfer
Round 20, Pick 604- Seth Pinkerton, RHS U Hartford @S_Pink8
Round 21, Pick 634- Gabe Snyder, 1B Wright State @Gabe_Snyder
Round 22, Pick 674- Jacob Blank, RHS Augustana College @jacob_blank
Round 23, Pick 694- Albee Weiss, C CSU Northridge
Round 24, Pick 724- Michael Davis, 3B Texas Tech
Round 25, Pick 754- Laron Smith, C Foothills Composite
Round 26, Pick 784- Brian Rapp, RHP Boston College @Brapp1327
Round 27, Pick 814- Hunter Lee, RHR High Point @hunterthelee3
Round 28, Pick 844- Austin Hale, C Stetson @halea10
Round 29, Pick 874- J.T. Perez, LHS Cincinnati @JTPerez8
Round 30, Pick 904- Seth Halvorsen, RHP Heritage Christian Academy @HalvorsenSeth
Round 31, Pick 934- Zach Neff P, Miss St. @neffsaid13
Round 32, Pick 964- Ryan Holgate, OF Davis Senior HS @HolgateRyan
Round 33, Pick 994- Denny Bentley, LHP Howard College @denny_bentley33
Round 34, Pick 1024- Dylan Stowell, P California Baptist U @dylanstowell25
Round 35, Pick 1054- Tanner Howell, RHS Dixie St U @T_Howell329
Round 36, Pick 1084- Zac Taylor, CF Illinois @zactaylor15
Round 37, Pick 1114- Luke Ritter, RF Wichita St @RitterLuke
Round 38, Pick 1144- Dylan Thomas, RHS Hawaii
Round 39, Pick 1174- Bryce Collins, RHP Hart HS @Bryce_Collins21
Round 40, Pick 1204- Tyler Webb, SS Memphis @TWEBB8

The 2017 Draft: Where Are They Now?

Tonight, the 2018 Major League Baseball draft gets underway with the first round. As a handful of amateurs begin their professional careers, the event is one of the highlights to take place during the calendar year. After a very good 2017 season, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine won't have the luxury of the first overall pick this time around. Last season, the front office put together what was considered a very strong draft. They'll look to replicate those results this time around.

A year removed from being selected, this day gives us an opportunity to look back on where the players taken in the first 10 rounds are at right now. With plenty of impact talent plucked off the board, Minnesota has been able to bolster the system as a whole by utilizing names from the 2017 class.

With just around a year of pro baseball under their belts, here's where the newest Twins currently find themselves:

Royce Lewis (1-1)

As the number one overall pick a season ago, the Twins hit the nail on the head with Lewis. He's excelled at each level in his young pro career, and should jump to High-A Fort Myers shortly after his 19th birthday. Lewis owns a .312/.359/.422 slash line for the Kernels this year, and has been nothing short of a superstar on and off the field.

Brent Rooker (1-35)

Rooker was going to be put on an aggressive path as a senior sign and bat first player. He was sent to Double-A Chattanooga to begin 2018, and could see time with the Twins as early as next year. The .245/.287/.420 line has room for improvement, but he's been on a tear of late. The power has played plenty for Rooker, and the next hurdle to overcome is plate discipline (59/10 K/BB).

Landon Leach (2-37)

Participating in Extended Spring Training, Leach has not played in 2018. With the GCL Twins last season, he posted a 3.38 ERA across 13.1 IP. He's still settling in on the mound having made the transition from behind the plate.

Blayne Enlow (3-76)

One of the steals of the draft, Enlow has been great in his young career for Minnesota. He's pitching with Low-A Cedar Rapids, and despite dealing with some injury issues, owns a 3.81 ERA across seven starts. He's got room to develop into a more swing and miss pitcher, but the early returns have been plenty promising.

Charlie Barnes (4-106)

Spending all of 2018 thus far at High-A Fort Myers, Barnes has been steady. He owns a 4.42 ERA and has turned in 38.2 IP across eight starts. His offspeed stuff remains some of the best in the organization, and settling in to his other offerings will be key to his development.

Andrew Bechtold (5-136)

Regarded as another savvy pick by the Twins a year ago, the Juco product was seen as a nice bat. He's struggling at Cedar Rapids this year, positing just a .471 OPS across 40 games. Coming off an .829 OPS at Elizabethton last year, there's plenty of reason to believe he'll right the ship. His alma mater Chipola, just repeated as NJCAA National Champs.

Ricardo De La Torre (6-166)

Another EST participant, De La Torre has not yet played in 2018. He turns 19 next month, and will be assigned to another short season team. For the GCL Twins last season, he slashed .268/.341/.359 across 42 games.

Ryley Widell (7-196)

Widell just turned 21 and is currently at EST with the Twins. He played for E-Town last year, and could find his way to Cedar Rapids by the end of the year. He's yet to pitch this season, but posted a 2.43 ERA across 29.2 IP in his first professional season.

Bryan Sammons (8-226)

After making it to Cedar Rapids in his debut season a year ago, Sammons has spent the entirety of 2018 there. He's made eight starts thus far, and owns a very nice 2.70 ERA. Although the strikeouts have dipped to a 7.9 K/9, he's been very good with command, allowing just 2.7 BB/9.

Mark Contreras (9-256)

Spending just seven games in Iowa to start the year, Contreras was quickly promoted to High-A Fort Myers. He owns a .797 OPS in 30 games with the Miracle, and he's continuing to develop in the outfield.

Calvin Faucher (10-286)

Faucher has spent time with both Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers this season. He earned an early promotion, but then scuffled in his first taste of High-A. On the year, he owns a 1.06 ERA with Cedar Rapids in 17.0 IP, and a 7.30 ERA across 12.1 IP with the Miracle. Pushing for more strikeouts and less walks will help him to even things out.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Twins Pitching Excellence but Needing More

The Minnesota Twins dropped their 8th game in walkoff fashion while playing the Kansas City Royals deep into the May 29th evening. Accomplishing that feat means they've surpassed the mark set in each of the previous 13 seasons, and 43 of their 58 in franchise history. While walkoff scenarios can sometimes be a fluke, there's a systemic trend that has Minnesota in the dire position they now face. The pitching is there, but the offense has been nonexistent.

Going into the year, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were vocal about retooling a pitching staff that needed a lift. Despite a successful 2017 campaign, it was clear that Paul Molitor's offense couldn't continue to bail out the pitching staff. Using a franchise record number of starters as well as arms in total, the quality level needed to be increased in order to reduce the quantity. Now nearly through May, it's fair to say that much has been accomplished.

Kyle Gibson and Jose Berrios lead the club in terms of fWAR with tallies of 1.4. Each pitcher has put up a clunker or two, but the vast majority of their outings have been very strong. Gibson has picked up where he left off down the stretch and expanded upon it. Now a strikeout pitcher, he's missing bats and keeping the ball in the yard. Jose Berrios has shown a better level of control, which has led to a walk rate nearly halved from a season ago.

Even beyond the top two starters on the staff, Garvin Alston's group has been plenty good. Jake Odorizzi has served the part of a capable middle-of-the-rotation arm, while Lance Lynn has turned in two recent starts totaling out to a 1.42 ERA. Fernando Romero has burst onto the scene as a potential ace for the future, and the depth down on the farm looks better than ever. To suggest that this is the best Twins rotation in quite some time would be putting it nicely.

Although the bullpen hasn't been quite as sharp, there's a lot to like out there as well. Ryan Pressly looks like one of the best relievers in baseball, while Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney have performed as expected. Zach Duke has been shaky thanks to an uncharacteristic amount of free passes, but the strikeouts have saved him from more trouble. There's room for growth in relief, but the reality is that it's not the significant problem area that the Twins have experienced in the past.

Pitching as a whole has made significant strides within the organization, and it's evident when comparing the club to the league as a whole. Although team ERA checks in at 16th currently (finished 19th in 2017), starter ERA sits at 12th (19th in 2017). Arguably the most impressive boost comes in the form of missing bats, something previous Twins teams simply did not do. In 2018, Minnesota starters have the 9th best K/9 in MLB, and they finished at 26th a season ago.

All of the above represents some very positive developments. The problem however, is that the lineup is doing very little with what they've been handed.

After finishing 7th in runs scored, 10th in extra base hits, and 16th in home runs a season ago, the expectation was for potency from this group. Unfortunately, Minnesota ranks 29th in runs, 29th in home runs, and 19th in extra base hits as of May 30th. Producing at what amounts to a near league worst value, it really doesn't matter what kind of outings Twins pitchers produce.

Through their eight walkoff losses, five of them have come against teams with records at .500 or worse. On the season, Minnesota has played 20% of their first 50 games by scoring one run or less. Simply put, there's way too many guys failing at their jobs up and down the lineup.

Among starters, the Twins have six players with an OPS below .750. Byron Buxton has given Paul Molitor nothing at the plate, while Brian Dozier has decided to slump for a significant period yet again this season. Miguel Sano has dropped off the table when it comes to forcing a fair amount of walks, and Logan Morrison is still attempting to find his footing after a disastrous transition to his new club.

Right now, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler are the only players providing Minnesota any sort of value in the lineup. Eduardo Escobar's hot streak is long gone, and the bench is made up of a handful of players that really have no business being in the big leagues. What's more dire for the Twins is that answers don't really present themselves outside of the clubhouse. Calling up Nick Gordon could provide a spark, but it would be short lived until Jorge Polanco returns. Chris Carter may provide some thump to the lineup, but he could also be an exact replica of what Sano is currently providing.

At the end of the day, it's on the players currently a part of the 25 man (and more importantly the starting lineup) to get their bats going. While veteran leadership off the field is great, there's no better way to lead than by producing while it matters. Sano, Dozier, Buxton, and a handful of others need to get going. The postseason is likely a distant mirage at this point, but turning things around, salvaging something of purpose, and giving the pitching staff much better than they've been afforded are all musts if this collective wants to be taken seriously in the future.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Backboards, Home Runs, and the Power of Interest

The NBA Finals are now upon us. A culmination of an 82 game season, along with a tightly contested playoff tree, has led us here. Where exactly is here you may wonder? Well, the exact point that could have been expected way back in October. For the fourth straight season, the Golden State Warriors will meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Given the predictability of the championship series, expecting the sport to be overlooked would be a good bet; it'd also be a wrong one however. Major League Baseball is an incredibly different sport, but the game could learn a lot from Adam Silver's exploits.

Providing full disclosure from the get go, I am not a fan of the NBA. I do enjoy basketball, but watch intently through the college realm. The NBA has the superstars, but the regular season is a slog of meaningless minutes and uninspired play. With elevator music going on during the action, it seems the league is determined to keep fans involved during weeknight matchups in any way possible. Regardless of my feelings on the league itself, there's zero denying that a large portion of the formula is right.

As the NFL sees ratings take a dip, the NBA has been there to pick up the straggles. Although Roger Goodell is a buffoon, his league remains the most popular in this country. Adam Silver's NBA has quickly risen the ranks however, and now find themselves firmly entrenched as America's number two sport. Marketability in the NBA is off the charts, and a league that's dominated by superstars continues to draw interest levels at an incredible pace. While Rob Manfred struggles through pace of play issues and ways to change the game, drawing from what works elsewhere may be a worthy venture.

Having a marketing background, that tends to be my main area of focus when it comes to how the NBA has ballooned into such a cash cow. Superstars are celebrated and adored, while shoes are most have pieces of memorabilia that fans can connect with on a daily basis. The game itself is one of sexiness, and nothing is done to hinder individuality. Although that may simply scratching the surface, those three avenues are paths that Major League Baseball should emulate in any ways possible.

First and foremost, baseball is a very regional sport. I understand that makes marketing players to the masses somewhat of a challenge. LeBron James is adored by fans not only in Cleveland but across the globe. In baseball, Mike Trout is far and away the best player in the world, but the sport finds reason to argue whether those from other markets (a la Mookie Betts) can contend at the same level. Trout is heralded among baseball fans, but he's hardly emulated in the same form or fashion as LeBron.

Understandably, Mike Trout doesn't have the appeal that LeBron James does to the casual fan. LeBron is a singular name, and while Trout could be argued in that category as well, he doesn't embrace the ability to transcend so many different types of people. James is a walking billboard and pop icon; he embraces those realities. Trout is much more laid back, and ok with taking that route as well.

It's hard to suggest baseball is at fault for making its superstars something they are not as individuals, but it's more than fair to question why the individuals aren't given a bigger stage. Doing more to market the Kris Bryant's and Luis Severino's of the sport would lend a hand towards growing a younger demographic. Youth connect to individuals more than teams, and finding a way to capitalize on the current backbone of the game is a must. There was some outcry in regards to Sony's MLB The Show 17 putting Ken Griffey Jr. on the cover, and it follows this line of thinking as well. With so many must see talents today, skipping out on the marketing opportunity was an odd choice. Aaron Judge rectify's that misstep (even with Babe Ruth included virtually this season), and could be a small step down the right path.

Continuing along the lines of individuality, baseball needs to avoid taking itself too seriously. Without fostering a meaningless regular season like basketball, the sport could benefit from a higher level of encouraged uniqueness. During basketball's regular season, one-on-one opportunities provide highlight reel plays. Individuals showcase themselves by wearing unique shoes that become must have commodities. Abilities during play become the storylines for plenty of pickup games across the nation.

It's hard to fault baseball for failing to drive shoe sales from their superstars. No matter how cool Mike Trout's latest cleat is, the reality is that it will never be applicable for daily wear. That being said, going viral for an attempt to fine a player like Ben Zobrist for wearing PF Flyer's is hardly a good look. On more than just special occasions, MLB should be encouraging players (and footwear companies) to create desirable and individualized looks for wear during the action (the NFL is at fault here as well). Creating more positive buzz about what superstars are wearing allows fans to connect with those they follow in a different way.

That level of individuality and emotion shouldn't stop at the uniform however. It's long been time to abandon some of the stingier unwritten rules of the game. Showing emotion after key strikeouts, bat flips after a big home run, or jubilant displays of excitement following a key play should become mainstays in the sport. Basketball thrives off of the big slam and stare down, or the clutch three and finger wave. Plunking players or starting brawls because of emotion has become a true inhibitor of growth. Both participant and fan can quickly assess whether or not something is being done in an attempt to show up a competitor, and outside of that scenario, there's plenty of room for accomplishments to be celebrated.

Finally, and pace of play be damned, there's nothing better for Major League Baseball than the big play. Where baseball has dunks and football has touchdowns, a home run is a significantly greater athletic feat. Watching a 90+ mph be turned around to travel something like 400 feet is a modern marvel. Rather than allowing questions of why the ball itself has changed to run rampant through the media, embracing the statistical output should be of peak interest. Despite allowing steroids to get out of hand in the sport, Bud Selig saved his game from itself in the post strike years by encouraging home runs to come at a ridiculous pace.

With the amount of slugging power hitters in the game today, seeing lineups like the Yankees launch longballs at record setting paces is something that should be talked about more. Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper, and other big blast bombers should be nightly mainstays on the highlight reals, and finding new ways to describe their exploits can be part of the equation. There's a love for the pitcher's duel from baseball purists, but it's always going to be offense that drives the train when it comes to a level of excitement.

At the end of the day, it's unfair to expect baseball to be something it isn't. Both football and basketball have a much larger level of action simply in how the sport is played. Knowing that however, it's increasingly detrimental for MLB to stymie the game in ways that it doesn't need to. While four hour slogs aren't good for anyone, the focus should be on marketability of those competing as the backbone of the league, and why you should tune in. There's opportunity for baseball to grow, but the sport itself needs to do a much better job harnessing it.