Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Roster Moves Are Coming, Aren't They?

Yesterday, the Minnesota Twins played one of the worst baseball games I have witnessed at the professional level for quite some time. With Phil Hughes leaving after five innings due to an injury, Tim Stauffer came on to take over. Handed a 7-3 lead, he promptly allowed two solo home runs (giving up three total runs), while getting just two outs. Casey Fien later allowed three more earned runs before leaving with an injury, and the Twins fell by a score of 10-7. Losing centerfield Jordan Schafer to injury in the game as well, the Twins looked to be hurting in every aspect. The assumption was that moves would be coming, but the matter now is when.

Looking at the game yesterday, the Twins watched as their two biggest deficiencies were exploited to an ugly extent. Having a below average defense hurt them on multiple occasions. Schafer and Oswaldo Arcia looked inept in the outfield, and a popup fell for a hit in the infield. Following a good start, the bullpen imploded giving up not only the lead, but also seven earned runs on 10 hits in just four innings. There's no doubt that Minnesota gave away a win yesterday, a chance at being a game within .500, and an opportunity for a second consecutive series win. With players like Stauffer and Schafer repeating those types of performances more often than not, Minnesota needs to make some changes.

It appeared initially that Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan may have had their hand finally forced. Losing Hughes, Schafer, and Fien all in the same game suggested that some moves would need to be made. For now however, it looks as if all three players should be able to overcome their setbacks in short order and avoid missing time. For the sake of the Twins however, injuries shouldn't dictate a certaint few moves being made.

Defense has been a problem all year, and it's only going to continue to be an issue. Minnesota has tried Schafer in center for plenty of time, and it's past the period of moving on. Aaron Hicks no doubt was the most sensible option in center for this club out of the gate, and it's time the Twins fix the mistake. Schafer is batting .188.204/.229, by all measurable standards, horrible doesn't being to describe that. Hicks is hitting .288/.385/.485 in Triple-A, and brings a plus level of defense to the field. His mental lapses can't happen, but Molitor can inflict that discipline on him. Shane Robinson makes sense as a fourth outfielder, and he's hit well even in a small sample size. Schafer has worn out his welcome in Minnesota, and Hicks should be up with the big league club within the next couple of weeks.

Despite snagging two hits yesterday, Kennys Vargas is slashing just .183/.246/.250. His power has not shown up, and he's been caught chasing pitches all over the plate. A trip to Triple-A to mash some breaking balls would probably do him well. Offering little at first base defensively, a switch to Trevor Plouffe or Chris Herrmann as the backup wouldn't be a big downgrade. In Rochester, Josmil Pinto continues to pound baseballs, and would immediately add a boost to the Twins lineup. Pinto is slashing .305/.397/.373. On top of that, he's thrown out 2-8 would be base stealers, and has allowed just one passed ball in 14 games. Pinto has little to prove on the farm and should also be with the big league club before the middle of May.

If Minnesota wants to be able to hang onto leads, a bullpen shakeup is going to be necessary. Rather than continuing to mutter that the club is looking for help, a quick glance at the farm would do the Twins well. Terry Ryan took fliers on Blaine Boyer and Tim Stauffer likely with the idea he could turn them into something later in the season (a la Sam Fuld). We can see that's not going to happen with Stauffer. His 8.38 ERA is horrid and just keeps climbing. DFA'ing Stauffer sometime soon would probably be the best practice. Boyer has looked sharper of late, and the Twins could still get value out of him if he can continue along that path. It's not a guarantee though, and there shouldn't be much of a leash there either.

The Twins bullpen is currently void of power arms, and the ones they could have taken north are in Triple-A. Michael Tonkin currently owns a 2.45 ERA with Rochester, and is striking out batters at a 12.3 K/9 clip (he is now taking over in the pen for Casey Fien who will hit the DL). Ryan Pressly's 4.50 ERA isn't where you'd like it to be, but it's only been 10 innings. He does however have a 13.5 K/9 and owned a 2.86 ERA for the Twins in 2014. Finally, Lester Oliveros owns a 1.04 ERA with Rochester, and has struck out batters at a ridiculous 17.7 K/9 rate. You could probably throw A.J. Achter into this group as well, and make the argument that all of them are better bullpen options than a handful of the guys the Twins currently are running out there. I'd expect to see at least one of them with the big league club within the next two weeks.

At the end of the day, it's a sad situation if it ultimately becomes injuries that force the Twins briantrust to make necessary moves. With that in mind however, this team needs to stretch wins in its favor by putting their most competitive lineup on the field each night. Running low-ceiling guys out there hoping they don't get burnt isn't a good practice. It by no means is time for the kids (check out how Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are hitting, the rust needs to come off first), but there's significantly better options in the organization than what the major league team has gone with. Let's get those moves queued up.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Who Is "This" Mike Pelfrey?

With just one week left to go down in Fort Myers, the Minnesota Twins spring training campaign was winding down. First year manager Paul Molitor was faced with some tough decisions, and of those, the most important revolved around his starting pitching options. Choosing to send Mike Pelfrey to the bullpen, the veteran met the decision with anger, criticism, and some angst. Fast forward a few hours, and the Twins had inserted Pelfrey back into the rotation due to a suspension handed down to free-agent signee Ervin Santana. It looked like a head-scratching move at the time, but a few weeks into the season, Pelfrey has only puzzle with his surprising ability.

After his first four starts in 2015, Pelfrey owns a 2.25 ERA (by a wide margin, the Twins best mark by a starter), and is 2-0 across his four contests. He owns a 15.3 K%, which ranks as his highest mark as a Twin, and is tied for the highest mark of his career (also owned a 15.3 K% in 2012 with the Mets). He owns the lowest WHIP (1.13) of his career, and his 5.63 K/9 is the second highest mark of his career. Obviously all of those numbers are fun, but it's also fair to note the small sample size. Through just one month of the season, the question now for the Twins and Pelfrey is, can he keep this up?

After making just five starts a season ago, and pitching just 23.2 innings (a mark he has already surpassed in 2014), injury concerns will always loom close for Pelfrey. Wondering whether the ineffectiveness Pelfrey displayed a year ago can be completely attributed to injury, or if he had slipped as a professional is also worth questioning. So far however, the Wichita State alum has had nothing but positive answers.

Looking for regression, there are some definite warning signs for Pelfrey. Most glaring, an FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) totaling 4.47 suggest that a lackluster Twins defense is to be commended for keeping Big Pelf's ERA so low. On top of a concerning FIP number, Pelfrey has also experienced just a .232 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). That mark is the lowest of his career by a wide margin, with 2014 being the only other time Pelfrey has allowed a sub-.300 BABIP. Both of those statistics have the potential to return towards a mean, which in turn, would make Pelfrey's shiny start to the season take somewhat of a downturn.

It's not all doom and gloom however, as Pelfrey has numbers in his corner this season as well. Having his splitter working well in the early going, Pelfrey has only allowed opposing hitters to bat .209 against him. That mark is the lowest in his career by a wide margin, owning a previous best average against of .268. Looking at batted ball percentages, Pelfrey has only surrendered 12.7% of his hits as line drives. Typically the easiest to fall in as a hit and create damage, the low line drive percentage is just the second time (excluding the five game 2014 season) in his career that he has held that percentage below 20%. Also, in allowing his defense to help him, Pelfrey has gotten opposing batters to hit ground balls 57.7% of the time, just his third time above 50% in his career. Again, although early, it appears that sustainability and regression are evening each other out in the early going.

Knowing that the Twins have decisions to make with their rotation in regards to Ricky Nolasco, Trevor May, and eventually Alex Meyer and Ervin Santana, Pelfrey has done well to take himself off of the hot seat. I'd still love to see him pitch out of the bullpen at some point if things fall apart, but at least in the early going, the Twins have to be ecstatic about his output. The two-year, $11 million contract hasn't worked out thus far, but the 2015 production has been a nice return for Minnesota.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Twins Facing A Rotation Shuffle

The Minnesota Twins are 8-11 through their first 19 games of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. Across those contests, surprisingly enough, it's the odd man out that holds claim to the best ERA. Mike Pelfrey currently owns a 2.65 ERA through his first three starts of 2015, with his rotation partners falling in behind. However, with arms coming into the fray, the Twins have some decisions to make.

Ricky Nolasco recently pitched in Cedar Rapids for a rehab stint and appears close to returning to the mound for the Twins. Alex Meyer was virtually unhittable in his last start for the Rochester Red Wings, and while holding his walks in check, looked the part of a big league pitcher. Another strong start could put him in contention for a callup sooner rather than later. Taylor Rogers owns a shiny 2.00 ERA through four starts for Rochester as well, and should be considered part of the conversation soon as well. So what do the Twins do?

Right now, the big league club has a plethora of options, but that's not to say all of them reside in the land of quality. Tommy Milone was off to a good start before getting hit around by the Tigers. Phil Hughes actually has been better in 2015 than he started in 2014, even with the numbers being less than ideal. The jury remains out on Kyle Gibson, and Trevor May is teetering on doing just enough to stay relevant right now.

Paul Molitor is first going to have to figure out which domino falls when he inserts Nolasco back into the rotation. There's no doubt Nolasco has to start. His contract and commitment the team has to him is a trump card still, and will unseat someone from the bump. The likely option is May, and while I wouldn't be a huge fan of that, the options aren't plentiful. Molitor could choose to keep May at the major league level in a bullpen role (because there's no doubt the Twins need help there), but that would take away valuable starts from the young pitcher.

If Terry Ryan walked away from his recent trip to Rochester impressed with what he saw from Meyer, there's little doubt his promotion could be coming soon as well. When it does, the Twins will likely be looking to move him into a starting role. Operating under the assumption that May is already removed, the Twins would need to select another guy to look past. Pelfrey has pitched himself into contention, and Tommy Milone could conceivably become the odd man out. Milone was forced to Triple-A last season with the Oakland Athletics, but there's no doubt that the staff in California was significantly better than what the Twins currently employ.

With the big league club having to get creative in shuffling arms, the discussion begins to revolve around quality rather than quantity. Minnesota appears to have somewhere around eight big league options, but they need to figure out how to get the best five into the rotation. Molitor may be forced to go with a shorter leash with certain players, but that brings the risk of too much fluidity. There's no doubt that with pitching being what it is, the Twins situation on the mound over the next month is one to monitor.

Monday, April 27, 2015

It's Time To Change The Rules, Make The DH Universal

Over the past few weeks, the purpose and viability of the designated hitter in Major League Baseball has been a talking point for national media outlets. With the game in a state of popularity that it has never reached before, it seems new ideas are brought forth to increase that trend. With the American League often slighted for turning from the old ways of forcing pitchers to hit, and in turn managers to manage, I'd argue that it's in fact the National League that's for the whole thing backwards.

To be fair, I understand that with National League rules being reflective of baseball purity, that's probably somewhat of an outlandish statement. However, when it appears the sport is after a state of progression and advancement, maybe something should have been changed a long time ago. The designated hitter has become something that baseball needs to look at, but in the context of making it universal.

Recently, Adam Wainwright the pitcher was turned into Adam Wainwright the hitter. Understandably, it's not fair to argue an if/than scenario, however while hitting, Wainwright suffered a season ending Achilles injury. Undoubtedly, the same outcome could have taken place from the mound, but, and that's a very important but, it didn't. Because Wainwright was put in a situation not conducive to his job on the diamond, he was allowed an enhanced level of risk to injury, and one that may ultimately change the level of play for the Cardinals in 2015.

Like I said, sure, a pitcher could just as easily be injured on the rubber as in the batters box, there's no doubt about that. There is doubt as to why it would seem a good idea to subject them to a heightened level of injury however. To the common person, stepping in against a 90+ mph fastball wouldn't seem to be an intelligent idea. While a major league caliber pitcher is far from that designation, there's little argument to be made that they also aren't of the ability to best handle the situation. Even if you could convince yourself of that being a non-issue, reasoning the chance of injury once again comes back into play.

Max Scherzer recently became the latest pitcher to sign a contract in the triple digits. Ervin Santana signed with the Twins for over $50 million, and that number holds even after a PED induced suspension. David Price should be the next pitcher in line for a payday, and there's no doubt his price tag will be somewhere near Scherzer's. Looking at those numbers, there should be little question as to the value and quantity of major league starting pitching. Everything surrounding the game of baseball begins and ends on the mound, and having an elite asset gives you an advantage.

Of course there are the David Ortiz and Victor Martinez types, but designated hitters are rarely of that caliber. It can be argued that finding a hitter capable of producing while focusing solely on hitting is a tall task in and of itself. Having to circulate through multiple options provides yet another challenge for the role. Even in making the wrong choice however, the American League manager has the advantage of his pitcher being protected on one side of the ball.

It's hard to overstate what pitchers mean to the game of baseball. Watching the good ones go down at the expense of a solid sacrifice bunt or occasional few and far between home run doesn't appear to be a good trade off. Forget the fact the Major League Baseball is always pushing for offense to draw in the casual fan, the best argument for the universal designated hitter may be in protecting your highest paid assets.

Josmil Pinto And His Bat

Through the early part of the season, the Minnesota Twins knew they were going to be without the services of Josmil Pinto. After taking three swings to the back of the head in a spring training game, there's no doubt the time lost due to injury was going to cost him a roster spot. After a largely unimpressive 2014, Pinto needed to earn his way on, and time simply ran out. Knowing that it's his bat the will carry him at the next level, the promotion is coming, but what will it look like when it does?

Currently, the Twins have a two man catcher rotation with Kurt Suzuki splitting time with Chris Herrmann. Suzuki was signed to an extension a season ago, but even by backup standards, it remains a relatively modest deal. After being a prime candidate for offensive regression, the former Athletics backstop has failed to break the Mendoza Line for much of the season. Hardly a defensive whiz in his own right, it's fair to say that the Twins were hoping for more from Suzuki in 2015.

On days where Suzuki rests, and there haven't been many, Herrmann has slotted in behind the plate. While hitting for a respectable average, he hasn't had the plate appearances to put much weight into his numbers. Serviceable behind the plate, it was just a season ago that neither the Twins nor Herrmann himself saw catcher as his most valuable role to the team.

Out of the gate in Rochester, Pinto has gotten it done at the plate. Although the power numbers haven't been what the Twins would have hoped, he's hit for average and gotten on base. Behind the plate, he's made strides in both his ball receiving and his controlling of runners on the base paths. It was probably unfair to speculate how long the Twins would go without what would appear to be at least their second best catching option, but it seems as though the door is quickly opening.

With the calendar turning towards the second month of the season, Pinto's role with the big league club should be quickly defined. As has always been the case, his bat should once again prove to be the most valuable asset. The catching situation is something I ran through above, but unlike his comrades, Pinto should see time solely as a hitter through DH at bats. Kennys Vargas has struggled mightily in his second big league season, and as of right now, there doesn't appear to be an end in sight. Whether or not the Twins send Vargas to Rochester with Pinto making the return trip or not, losing at bats is something the switch hitting slugger is now becoming prone to.

Both Pinto and Vargas being young hitters, confidence remains as one of the most vital aspects to their success. Although Herrmann filling a roster spot isn't ideal, the best practice may be to allow both Pinto and Vargas to use confidence to their advantage. Kennys crushing some Triple-A pitching could ignite the spark, and Josmil employing an already hot bat on a team looking for an offensive jolt would be a nice reward. It would seem fair to argue the Twins are reaching decision making time, and Josmil Pinto's bat is probably going to be at the center of the discussion.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Early Decisions To Pave Twins Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Proven Promotions Or Happenstance For Twins?

The Minnesota Twins no doubt have plenty of story lines that will evolve throughout the entirety of the summer. Whether this current club slogs towards a fifth straight 90 loss season (they won't), or they compete for an AL Central division title (they won't), plenty of intrigue will play out on the 25 man roster. With injuries having already been the story of the early going, and less than ideal play happening out of the gate, it begs the question as to how we should want promotions to take place.

There's no doubt losing Ervin Santana for the first 80 games of the season was a crippling blow for the Twins. Whether deemed a poor choice (however it did get him paid) or bad luck, the Twins were forced to improvise from the get go. Ricky Nolasco's injury only further threw a wrench into the starting rotation, and the bullpen has imploded more times than it hasn't. Although things may appear less than ideal on the mound, we probably shouldn't be so quick to rush for replacements.

On the farm, top pitching prospect Alex Meyer has struggled to show any promise of being a top of the rotation starting pitcher. Through two starts he's issued way too many free passes, been less than economical with his pitch counts, and generally fallen flat. Although Jose Berrios has looked good during the early going for Double- Chattanooga, he doesn't profile as the type to skip Triple-A. Less then overpowering in his lone start for Rochester last year, Berrios needs to be able to pitch consistently, rather than just throw by hitters that aren't on his same level. While I'm not as concerned about him developing as others may be, seasoning is definitely needed before he arrives at Target Field (likely late in 2015).

Despite touching on just two of the Twins top pitching prospects, and admittedly overlooking relief arms like Nick Burdi, Zack Hones, and Jake Reed, the groundwork is being laid for the question. Should Minnesota be looking to their young talent to fix their issues, even if the body of work suggests otherwise? Before we answer that though, looking at the offensive side of the game is the next step.

The Twins have failed to get much out of hitters such as Danny Santana, Oswaldo Arcia, Jordan Schafer, or Trevor Plouffe in the early going. Although it's far to quick in the season to suggest that the production isn't coming, looking on the farm may not be the best answer either. Sure, there's excitement and admittedly a higher ceiling, in players such as Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, and Byron Buxton. The latter two are top prospects, while the former would be a clear upgrade over their MLB competition. That being said, none of them are lighting their respective levels of the system on fire. Despite the perceived merit through ability and body of work, it's hard to argue that 2015 provides substantiating evidence.

That brings us back to our original question. Should the Twins be promoting their top talent because it has been warranted by play, because of perceived value, or by happenstance? It's probably unfair to lump each situation together in a general sense, but they all have common themes.

On the pitching side of things, even and injury at the big league level would make it tough to argue that Meyer deserves a shot. He may end up doing more damage than good, and the move to reliever is not yet the Twins want to take. With their relief arms (Burdi, Reed, Jones, Achter, Pressly, etc.) the case could definitely be made. Outside of Burdi, each has begun the season on a high note. The Twins bullpen is frankly not very good, and little of it has a future in the organization.

When it comes to the offensive side, there's no doubt the Twins could use help at some point. Both Hicks and Rosario would be superior defensive options in comparison to the Schafer/Shane Robinson platoon. Unfortunately, neither are hitting well enough for that to be an immediate consideration. While Plouffe may not be a franchise cornerstone, he's definitely got a future in Minnesota, and Sano isn't knocking down that door yet. There's no doubt Buxton's call up would be fun, but playing in just his first handful of games, after a lost year, and with just lukewarm returns, it's wise not to jump the gun.

There's no argument that Trevor May was called up due to happenstance, however, his spring training was evidence of him pushing for a role. No matter how the season unfolds for the Twins, ideally you'd like to see talent elevated through merit rather than a forced circumstance. While there's a silver lining in promoting a top prospect after a major leaguer goes down, there's no doubt you'd like them to kick in the door first.

As this club takes its lumps and finds its identity, it's best to practice some patience knowing what the outcome will soon be. Top prospects will filter into Target Field this year, but wanting them do to so prematurely could stifle game winning home runs like the one last night. The promotions are coming, but hopefully they are a by-product of solid performance.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Twins New Life Suggests Patience

Coming off of a series win against the Kansas City Royals, now seems like as good of a time as any to remind you that baseball is a beautiful sport. More often than not, statistics regress towards a mean, and patience proves to be a key practice when trying to determine future outcomes. When everything looked bleak just two series into the season, it was the third series that the Twins were able to provide some perspective.

Currently the Detroit Tigers are amongst the best teams in baseball. There's hardly any shame in a sweep on the road in Detroit to start out the season. While the White Sox aren't at the level I believe they will reach, facing Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija was no easy task either. Regardless of how each contest played out, the next game provided new opportunity. As Minnesota took their first home series, and knocked off one of the hottest teams in baseball in the Royals, it's probably best to remember that.

Paul Molitor recently tweaked his lineup, moving Torii Hunter up in the lineup, and having Brian Dozier hit in the cleanup role. While a small change, it seems to have made a difference. Hunter has benefited from much better at bats, and has been on base significantly more in the process. The Twins posted their highest run and hit total of the season in the finale against Kansas City, and things are trending in the right direction.

With a rotation including Phil Hughes at the top and Mike Pelfrey at the bottom, there's no doubt the Twins are going to continue to take their lumps throughout the season. Kyle Gibson is looking to breakout, and there will be growing pains throughout the process. His latest start against the Royals however, suggest that there is plenty of reason to be excited about the future.

As bad as things looked a week ago, a handful of games have provided some new context. The Twins remain right in the thick of the AL Central, and have plenty of opportunities to improve their positioning throughout the month of April. With only one out-of-division foe prior to the month of May, the Twins will have a chance to best all of their rivals early.

There's no doubt that this current team has a ways to go before they become a playoff contender, but as the roster evolves, they should continue to play relevant baseball. The Twins should continue to provide more excitement than disappointment this year, but taking it in stride seems to be the best practice.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lineup Shuffles Provide New Thinking

The Minnesota Twins recently got their second win of the Major League Baseball season, and while it wasn't on the back of an offensive outburst, the run support was enough to get the job done. A stagnant start to the season had Paul Molitor searching for creative ways to get things going. After making a few lineup tweaks, the Twins got back in the win column. The question is, what should we expect going forward.

In changing around the lineup, the key differences were in swapping spots between Torii Hunter and Brian Dozier. After batting leadoff once, Dozier went from his traditional two hole, back into the cleanup spot. Hunter then moved out of the cleanup role, and into the two spot in the lineup, one he hit out of often during his days in Detroit. It's hard to extrapolate much from early returns (Dozier went 0-2 with a sac fly, while Hunter was 1-3 on Wednesday), but at least half of the change makes sense.

Hitting from the second spot in the lineup relatively often for the Tigers, Torii posted a .295/.327/.456 slash line across his two years in Detroit. He smashed 34 home runs while driving in 167 runs. His 49 walks in comparison to 202 strikeouts leave a bit to be desired, but are serviceable nonetheless. The bigger question mark of the equation is no doubt how Dozier projects as a cleanup hitter.

Last season, the Twins second basemen hit 23 home runs (a career high). With extreme pull tendencies, there has been plenty made of Dozier potentially exerting extra effort to get around on, and drive the baseball. Now hitting from the cleanup role, a traditional power spot, that effort could be multiplied even further leaving Dozier susceptible to problems covering the outer half of the plate.

On the flip side, Dozier has tended upwards when it comes to power potential (18 HR in 2013 followed by 23 in 2014). Spending most of that time batting second in Ron Gardenhire lineups, Dozier's longballs were generally wasted and produced seasons of only 66 and 71 RBI respectively. Working out of the fourth spot in the Twins lineup, Dozier will likely lose out on extra at bats, but could provide benefit to the Twins in that he should be hitting with more runners on base. Until things play out further, it's probably best to leave Dozier's status as cleanup hitter to be determined.

Looking at traditional options for the cleanup role, the Twins find themselves doing more wishful thinking than anything. At the major league level, Kennys Vargas is probably the ideal candidate in theory. However, batting just .208/.269/.250 on the season, after hitting .228/.291/.446 in September last year, there's plenty of reason he isn't in the role. Oswaldo Arcia has been overmatched more often than not in 2015, and Josmil Pinto is still down in Triple-A. While Miguel Sano could see time in the cleanup role for the Twins in 2015, he's currently in the midst of a 3-21 slump batting just .143/.333/.286.

If and when Molitor decides to shake things up again, it probably should start at the top. There was no reason to believe that Danny Santana was going to be a .300 hitter this season, his .405 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) last season was simply not sustainable. The decline probably could have also been somewhat expected. A guy that doesn't walk often (just 19 in 405 AB in 2014) and strikes out far too much (98 in 405 AB in 2014) is recipe for disaster at the top of the lineup. Santana has yet to walk in 2015 and has struck out 28.6% of the time this season (a career high). Also, for a guy that utilizes speed to such a high extent, Santana's 40% fly ball rate in 2015 is not a great start either.

Conventional wisdom, and comments previously provided by Molitor, suggest that the Twins are against the idea of Joe Mauer batting leadoff. While he may be their best option (.382 OBP since 2013), he lacks the speed Molitor seems to crave at the top of the lineup. Of course Santana can't steal first base, and a shake up may need to take place there should things continue.

Regardless of how the lineup evolves over the course of the season, it's somewhat comforting to see Molitor open to new ideas. Rather than quickly abandoning them, figuring out how to stretch results from this lineup through different tactics is going to be a key process for the Twins new skipper. Doing more with less in something that Minnesota will have to count on if they want 2015 to look differently than the past four seasons.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Twins Return Empty Handed For Denard Span

Today, Alex Meyer pitched for the Rochester Red Wings. The top pitching prospect in the Minnesota farm system turned in another clunker. Walking five batters in just 3.2 innings, Twins fans have to wonder when or if Meyer will ever get his control issues figured out. Having dealt Denard Span for the former first round pick in 2012, Meyer's window of opportunity to provide a return is closing.

Last season, Meyer spent the entirety of his season at the Triple-A level pitching for the Rochester Red Wings. He compiled a 3.52 ERA across 27 starts, and while his 10.6 K/9 was impressive, the 4.4 BB/9 was no doubt ugly. Shoulder issues plagued him down the stretch last season, and eventually derailed any possibility of a September call up. Arm issues aside though, Meyer just wasn't effective late in the year last year. Poor starts marred by ugly command put a halt to any fast track talk for the highly touted prospect.

Two starts into the 2015 season, the issues have only gotten worse for Meyer. After failing to crack the rotation out of spring training, Meyer has allowed six and five walks in his first two starts. He has yet to pitch past the 5th inning, and his pitch counts have been largely taxed with pitches missing the plate. Although he is considered the ace for the Red Wings, there's no doubt that all involved parties have to be feeling some frustration.

When Minnesota sent Span to the Nationals, they believed they were getting a top of the rotation arm in return. Although that may still end up being the case, there's no doubt that the clock is ticking. 2012 is now three years in the rear view mirror, and the Twins have a 25 year-old Triple-A pitcher who still isn't major league ready. At 6'9" the mechanics may never come together, and making Meyer a viable starter could be something that fails to come to fruition. An eventual bullpen shift could be in the cards as well, but there's plenty of complications there as well.

Plenty of statistical backing would suggest that pitchers are more often able to hit the strike zone in a relief role. Also, plenty of scouts have noted that they see Meyer as a shutdown reliever, rather than a starter, when it comes to learn term projections. The problem is that his frame and mechanics may also throw their own wrench into that situation. The majority of major league players are not going to be free swingers, and although success has been achieved before, struggles have taken place at the highest levels of his career. Walking batters out of the bullpen is no less of an issue than it is out of the rotation.

Then the age of Meyer comes into play.

Minnesota is not yet to the point where giving up on Meyer the starter is a real thing. At 25 however, the leash can't be long, especially because they have seen no return on their trade investment from three years ago. Should the organization wait another year to get Meyer shifted towards a bullpen focus, they then have an unknown reliever on the wrong side of 25. With that comes the sad reality that a trade made four years prior, produced nothing more than a shot in the dark reliever four years down the road.

Meyer's issues may be organization, there's no denying he achieved success in the Nationals system. They could be a by-product of him growing into his frame, and continuing to learn to pitch rather than just throw to hitters. It all could be completely overblown as well, and Meyer may turn things around in May and make a difference for the Twins in June.

At the end of the day, Minnesota needs to start deciding what the future for Alex Meyer is, and figuring out how to best fit that into their own plans. Right now, because of a multitude of different reasons, that picture is as murky as Meyer's fastball location.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Twins Problems Have Become Redundant

The Minnesota Twins have started out the 2015 season in just about the worst fashion possible (ok they could be winless). While there's no doubt at all that being this bad is concerning, the bigger issue seems to come from within. From Terry Ryan on down through Paul Molitor, the organization seems to be operating on the principle that doing the same things they have always done, will somehow now produce different results. As if four abysmal seasons weren't enough evidence to the contrary, the beginning of this season should definitely be.

Because everything starts and ends with pitching, the Twins have gone out and targeted the problem area in hopes of addressing it. Unfortunately, only one of the past three starting pitchers signed has panned out thus far. There's no doubt Ricky Nolasco has an incredible hole to dig out of, and Ervin Santana still remains up in the air. Starting pitching however is still not yet an asset for the Twins, and the bullpen is even worse.

Suggesting the bullpen is bad probably isn't quite fair, it doesn't do justice to the definition. Phil Mackey recently penned a pitching manifesto in regards to the Twins, and it should be a mix of tears and laughter to you. Once again, the Twins have struck out on nearly every pitching option they have used to fill out their bullpen, while overlooking internal prospects that would seemingly offer a higher ceiling. Trying to pick up arms off the scrap heap has rarely panned out for the Twins before, yet the continue to follow the trend.

Rounding out the roster, Minnesota has given jobs to players such as Eduardo Nunez, Shane Robinson, and Jordan Schafer. An already uphill battle to be competitive, the organization has made regulars out of fringe major leaguers with little to no ceiling. Knowing the production has already been cast off by better organizations, the Twins continue to operate under a belief that they know better.

Getting to where things currently stand, Terry Ryan and the Minnesota Twins have become a by-product of their own poor decision making. You may have heard the idea that in order to do something you haven't previously achieved, you must be willing to take action you were previously unwilling to do. Minnesota has yet to operate under this belief, and continue down a cyclical path of mediocrity. While Ryan and the organization suggest that their goal is to win now, the actions and execution suggest nothing but the exact opposite.

With a loaded farm system, the worry must translate into the handling of some exciting up and coming prospects. Currently out of the every day reach of Ryan and his handling of the major league club, the eventual promotion of players like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano may now bring fear. An organization lacking the self-awareness to pull out from underneath the issues it has created, only brings a bigger level of uncertainty when more important assets find themselves mishandled.

There's no doubt that throwing away the 2015 season at this point would be incredibly premature. However, there's also no doubt that if drastic changes in theory and execution in regards to how a competitive baseball team should look aren't made, there's little reason to expect different results through September. At this point, it's bad, and I'm uncertain as to whether or not the Twins are willing to do things they've never done.

Problems Highlight Twins Opener

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Yesterday, the Minnesota Twins kicked off their home schedule by hosting their first game of the season. Enjoying a sellout for the first time in what seemed to be forever, there's no denying that problems were the story of the day both for the product on the field and off of it. Having experienced every opening day since the opening of Target Field, few felt more deflating than what took place against the Kansas City Royals.

Off of the field, the Twins made the last week or so about the incredible food additions to Target Field. Touting new delicacies including a bacon filled cheeseburger, Oreo churro bites, and bacon tator tot hot dish, there were no shortage of promotion. However, it seemed like the promotion of said foods were the only practices taken in the week leading up to the game, and that there were no execution plans whatsoever. Long lines, broken registers, and overwhelmed employees turned what could have been an exciting new food experience into certain frustration. Looking back at all previous opening day games, including the first season at Target Field, I have never experienced a less prepared execution with regards to concessions or traffic flow. Although giving out hoodies to every fan was a nice touch, the concourses became stagnant and created more problems than could have been imagined. Prior to sitting down, the fan experience had already been diminished.

Then the Twins took the field.

Sure, Torii Hunter's introduction with "I'm Coming Home" playing in the background was chill inducing, but things were all downhill from there. Though Trevor May started off well, and even worked around a Kendrys Morales solo blast, doom was sure to come for the Twins. Prior to exiting the game, May had given up the lead and worked himself into trouble. Giving way to the bullpen, the floodgates were about to break open.

Brian Duensing and J.R. Graham both hit batters, while the latter walked runners around the bases giving up free runs. Poor outfield play by both corner outfielders only compounded the problem. Hunter struggled to reel in what looked to be a routine fly ball, and then made things worse by making an errant throw back to the infield. Oswaldo Arcia crashed into the left centerfield wall in pursuit of a well hit ball, but came up markedly short on making a play. By the end of the ninth inning, fans were asking the Royals for mercy on what looked to be a high school level Twins defense.

As many problems as the bullpen had yesterday, they were only magnified by how poor the defense looked behind them. While walking batters around the bases, the Twins turned routine outs into difficult plays, and the game as a whole became on of the sloppiest I can recall seeing in quite some time.

There's no doubt that now at 1-6 the Twins have some serious issues. The bigger question becomes how willing they are to fix them. The answers for the bullpen issues are not at the major league level, while offense and defense may need to be cured from the farm as well. No matter what Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor decide, this club is going nowhere fast in its current form, and that's an issue. The Twins home opener was supposed to be an exciting start to baseball in Minneapolis, and the problems made it anything but.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Twins Must Measure The Leash
Heading into the 2015 Major League Baseball season, there's no doubt that the Twins took some significant chances. While deciding to play it safe, at some point, the organization must push themselves in a better direction. Now through the first handful of games, it's fair to question just how long the leash is for a couple of players that were questionable roster inclusions in the first place.

Whether on the mound, in the field, or at the plate, the Twins have failed to get production out of a handful of players. Having a minor league system filled with top prospects and capable placeholders, aging veterans was probably never the ideal way to go. Looking to right the ship before it sinks, Minnesota and Paul Molitor will need to start making some tough decisions, and quickly.

In trying to figure out what options the Twins have, let's first take a look at who's playing themselves out of being an option:

Blaine Boyer

First and foremost, Boyer's name comes up. He has all but shown why he has bounced around a handful of major league teams in his career (even retiring for a two-year stint). In his three relief appearances on the season, he has failed to leave the game without giving up a run. With an ERA north of 15.00 and owning only one strikeout while giving up 11 hits across 3.0 innings, things aren't good. As a reliever, names like Michael Tonkin, A.J. Achter, Caleb Thielbar, and Ryan Pressly all appear to be far superior options. This experiment shouldn't have too much time left on it.

Mike Pelfrey

Maybe somewhat of a surprise inclusion, there's no doubt in my mind Pelfrey belongs in this grouping. After being spotted a four run lead against the White Sox, a meltdown inning allowed the White Sox to pull even with the Twins. Pelfrey gave up two home runs, while striking out just two in five innings of work. If the outing against the White Sox was the floor, we may be having a different discussion. Unfortunately, I think we have already seen Pelfrey's best outing of the year. After fighting his way into the rotation, I'm not sure the Twins move him back to the bullpen. It may be time to ask him to go to Rochester, or be on his way.

Jordan Schafer

While still early in the year, there's no doubt Schafer has proved incapable of the one aspect of his game he was included for...defense. Taking poor routes in the outfield, not commanding his corner fielders, and struggling to make the routine play, he's all but worn out his welcome in the outfield. At the plate, he has provided some positives, but there's no doubt his at bat against Chicago's David Robertson sums up his ability. With the Twins needing a hit, coming to the plate offering a bunt attempt on the first pitch, swinging at a bouncing ball on the second, and being completely overmatched on the third was an ugly look. Schafer's game is mainly focused around bunting, and owning up to that being a more likely way to get on than swinging, provides little to no faith. Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario are both far superior options until Byron Buxton arrives.

Although the argument could be made for a few more players that are preventing a more talented or higher ceiling option from being included on this club, they haven't yet played themselves out of a role. If the Twins want to turn the page on what has been an ugly opening to the 2015 season, making roster moves to correct the three misses above should happen sooner rather than later. There's no doubt the organization has options throughout the farm system, but it's up to them whether or not they want to utilize them.

Molitor Struggles To Innovate With Twins

Today marks the Minnesota Twins home opener. A game that represents the first sellout of Target Field in quite some time, may be more a letdown than originally expected. With no Ervin Santana, and a team that owns a 1-5 record on the season, expectations have already plummeted. In the early going however, the Twins have seen less innovation and more of the same from Paul Molitor, and it hasn't been a good thing.

When hired, Molitor was regarded as an elite baseball mind, and someone that embraced what the game had transitioned into. While not a full blown sabermetrics guy, he appeared to be someone that would be up to date on any new way to win. Hired from within, Molitor seemed to buck the trend of the Terry Ryan cloth and bring a fresh bit of insight to the bench. Thus far, the Twins have seen anything but, and their record struggles to deter from more of the same as well.

Down in Fort Myers, Molitor mentioned being open to the idea of batting Joe Mauer (a high on base percentage hitter) second, while moving Brian Dozier (a power guy) into the third spot. This happened once during spring training, and has yet to take shape since. With Torii Hunter batting in the cleanup spot, the Twins have struggled to get much going from the bulk of their order, and the run production hasn't been there.

Over the weekend, the Twins decided to place starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco on the disabled list. The move cleared up a spot on the active roster. It was announced that Trevor May would be called up to pitch the home opener on Monday, but as a starter, he didn't need to be added back until the end of the series with the White Sox. Instead of calling up a bullpen arm that could have helped the club in Chicago, the Twins added Trevor May immediately on Saturday. Instead of having a fresh bullpen arm (because no doubt the pen had been taxed in Detroit with starters only going just over 12 innings in three games) Minnesota had May on the bench sitting in a windbreaker.

On top of that move, Eduardo Escobar headed to Minnesota and missed a game due to the birth of his child. The Twins failed to call up a bench bat in his place for the day, and Jordan Schafer was forced to look overmatched against David Robertson to end the game on Saturday (while Josmil Pinto hit a 2 run walk-off home run for Rochester).

Really what it all adds up to is just a curious set of circumstances. While the Twins touted a changing of the guard for much of the offseason, Molitor has more often than not deferred. Whether Ron Gardenhire or Molitor is on the bench, it would seem hard to differentiate at this point. It's probably still to early to be grabbing pitchforks, but there's no doubt that a change of thinking needs to be implemented. For the Twins to accomplish heights they have not in recent years, a shift in the thought process needs to take place. It may start above Molitor at the Terry Ryan level, but there's no doubt on field execution needs some fine tuning.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Series To Forget, And AL Central Foes Looming

The Minnesota Twins wrapped up their first series of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, and unfortunately they left Detroit without a win. Opening up against the defending AL Central Division champions was a tall task, but the level of futility the Twins displayed was also unexpected. Hoping to turn things around in short order, the Twins will have to be much better than they have been.

Over the course of three games, the Twins were outscored by a tally of 22-1. Mustering only 14 hits, while the Tigers were able to total 27, the Twins found themselves without a runner on third base until the 7th inning of the third game. Minnesota sent 10 pitchers to the mound over the course of three games, and only four of them were able to keep a 0.00 ERA. Of those four (Brian Duensing, Glen Perkins, Casey Fien, and J.R. Graham), only Graham pitched more than one innings (2.1). Of the 24 innings pitched by the Twins, only 12.2 innings were pitched by starters. Really, it all boils down to one of the worst opening series possible.

So, on a positive note, the only way to go is up. Today, Minnesota travels to Chicago to take on the White Sox. Chicago also was swept (by the Kansas City Royals), and is looking for their first win of the season. Chris Sale will return to the active roster over the weekend, and is scheduled to take on the Twins during the series finale. Currently, the pitching matchups look as follows:

  • Game 1 (Friday 4/10): Tommy Milone vs Hector Noesi
  • Game 2 (Saturday 4/11): Mike Pelfrey vs Jeff Samardzija
  • Game 3 (SUnday 4/12): Phil Hughes vs Chris Sale
No matter how you cut it, that breaks down to a pretty daunting setup for the Twins. While Milone has a decent shot at out-pitching Noesi in the opener, there's little doubt that the Twins will send the inferior starter to the mound in each of the following contests. Looking to get back into the thick of the AL Central race from the get go, Minnesota will need to turn in a solid series this weekend.

As noted prior to the season kicking off, the Twins could find themselves behind the eight ball early in the year. After facing Detroit and Chicago for their first two series of the season, the Twins will play five of their next six series against AL Central division opponents. By the end of April, separation on one end of the spectrum or the other could be in full swing.

Yesterday I talked about misplaced concerns for the Twins, and while the offense will no doubt come around, Minnesota can't wait forever. With plenty of other concerns, the Twins will need to right the ship in short order. It begins today in Chicago.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Misplaced Concern Doesn't Highlight True Issues

Minnesota Twins center fielder Jordan Schafer misplays the triple hit by Detroit Tigers' Yoenis Cespedes during the sixth inning of an opening day baseball game in Detroit, Monday, April 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Yesterday, the Minnesota Twins completed their second game of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. While they are now 0-2, after 1/81 of the season, it appears as if a large contingent of the fan base is already waving the white flag. Considering the stretch that is the Major League Baseball season, two games is representative of a very small sample size. In football, it may equate to one drive, or basketball, a possession. With that notion, joining the knuckle-dragging contingent suggesting doom seems premature. That being said, there are some definite concerns in the early going, it just appears they are misplaced.

Much has been made about the offensive drought the Twins are currently going through. In 18 innings this season, they have yet to score a run, and even worse, have not reached third base. Dating back to 2014, it's been 24 innings (all against these Detroit Tigers) in which the Twins have failed to cross the plate. Again, while problematic, offensive issues aren't where concern should lie for this club. After all, a season ago virtually the same lineup was 7th in the majors when it came to scoring runs. However, yesterday's game highlighted some significant problem areas for the Twins.

First and foremost, Ricky Nolasco. I still remain of the belief that Nolasco will make good on at least of portion of what was the largest Twins free agent contract handed out at the time. The unfortunate reality is that it should have been Phil Hughes, and not Nolasco, that was the priority in the first place last year. Nolasco was a relatively average pitcher for the Marlins and that was in the National League. Expecting him to be a top of the rotation guy in the American League also seemed to be a longshot, and it's biting the Twins hard now. Today, Nolasco was sent back to Minnesota for an MRI. After pitching through injury last season and doing more damage than good, it's no doubt a positive thing that he's getting it figured out early in the process. While even a healthy Nolasco is an unproven commodity, a hurt one is not a good thing at all. The Twins are in a position to handle a rotation in flux with names like Alex Meyer and Trevor May, but there's no doubt a sense of concern with an injury out of the gate.

Moving on from the starting pitching and to the bullpen, the Twins weakness was already exposed. As Brandon Warne noted on this week's episode of Twins Tuesday, the bullpen is neither good nor interesting. Boasting a handful of journeyman types with low velocities and even lower ceilings, bullpen pitching is going to be an issue for the Twins until they start to call up some of the kids. Through 18 innings of baseball, the Twins have gone to the bullpen for four different pitchers, and only one has yet to give up a run. That pitcher is J.R. Graham, who prior to this season, hadn't pitched above the Double-A level. Of the 16 innings the Twins have pitched (the Tigers haven't needed to bat in the 9th yet), seven of the innings have been worked by bullpen pitchers. At nearly a 50% rate, an already overmatched bullpen is set to be overworked as well.

Rounding out the issues the Twins have faced in the early going is one that was highlighted coming into the season, outfield defense. Although during the first game, issues weren't as prevalent as game two, the uncertainty has reared it's head. Yesterday's game featured multiple misplayed balls by centerfielder Jordan Schafer (one of which he simply fell over trying to field), an error (though it wasn't recorded as such) by Torii Hunter, and a circus experiment on a catch made by Oswaldo Arcia. The corner outfielders are no doubt there because of their bats (and to be fair, Hunter did make a nice catch against the wall). In center however, Schafer was somehow viewed as a better option than Aaron Hicks of Eddie Rosario. What it all amounts to is that Paul Molitor will be faced with some early decisions.

Three games in, Eduardo Escobar is making his first start in left field. Arcia has struggled at the plate, looking overmatched in the early going. Schafer is being run out there again today and Hunter is no doubt here to stay. As Schafer and Shane Robinson continue to provide little value, the Twins will need to hope a quick start by Hicks or Rosario forces their hand. Getting less than ideal starting pitching is an issue, and compounding it by fielding a less than talented outfield only makes matters worse.

While Minnesota is only two games into the season, there are some concerning trends that need to reverse themselves. Reaching third base and scoring runs are not reasons to panic in the slightest, but the above may prove to be costly unless the new manager does something about the bandaid that is no doubt peeling off.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Watch Out For The Lookouts

The Minnesota Twins have started their 2015 Major League Baseball season already, and they did so with a tough luck loss to David Price. While the big league club is starting to trend in an upwards direction, there's no doubting that it's going to be another year with some lumps being taken. However, down in Chattanooga, Tennessee, there's a club ready to make waves.

Minnesota's newest affiliate, the Chattanooga Lookouts are responsible for the Double-A rung of the farm system. Managed by Doug Mientkiewicz, the Lookouts may be one of the most intriguing teams constructed in all of baseball.

Recently, the club released their Opening Day roster. Starting pitchers include names like Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffery, and Alex Wimmers. Out of the bullpen, the Lookouts have fireballers like Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, and Zack Jones. There's no doubt pitching is going to be an asset, but it's the offensive positional players that could set the game on fire. A roster that includes Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Levi Michael, Jorge Polanco, Stuart Turner, Travis Harrison, Max Kepler, and Adam Brett Walker is no doubt going to be exciting. With much of this club making up the Fort Myers Miracle Florida State League champions a season ago, expectations are incredibly high.

Mientkiewicz will have plenty of assets at his disposal, and here is how his lineup could potentially shake out:
What it all adds up to is some must watch baseball. Although the Twins may stumble throughout the season, it will be in Double-A that the groundwork is laid for the Twins future. Despite being upset about losing out on the Twins managerial role, and having no problem voicing it, Mientkiewicz may have an even more important role. Mentoring these young prospects and pushing their development forward is what the organization is currently banking on.

Following up an impressive run in the Florida State League a year ago is going to be no easy task. That being said, there's no doubt that this Lookouts roster should strike fear into any opposing team's dugout. Understanding that the Twins are going to be shuffling the roster throughout the season, it is from the reaches of Double-A that plenty of callups could come.

Thus far, Terry Ryan has suggested that top tier prospects like Buxton and Sano may not need a stop in Triple-A Rochester. With more journeymen minor leaguers filling out the highest level, it may be in Double-A that they face their stiffest competition. If Dougie Baseball can get his Lookouts off to a good start, there's no telling how soon we could see some of them at the big league level.

No matter what happens with the Twins, you can bet the baseball world is taking notice of the Chattanooga Lookouts.

Ricky Nolasco Begins His Redemption

Today the Minnesota Twins take the field at Comerica Park for their second game of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. After dropping the first contest at the hands of David Price, the Twins will go up against Anibal Sanchez in game two. On the mound for the good guys in Ricky Nolasco, who will set out to start his 2015 of redemption.

After signing the richest free agent contract (at the time) in Minnesota Twins history, 2014 became a disaster for the former Marlins pitcher. Pitching through injury much of the season, he compiled a 5.38 ERA across 27 starts while striking out a career low 6.5 K/9. A dependable 200 inning pitcher, Nolasco threw just 159 innings for the Twins a year ago, and very few of them were quality.

Today, as he takes the mound in Detroit, Nolasco will be looking to begin what he hopes to be a turnaround year. At 32 years old and with nine big league seasons under his belt, the understanding of what Nolasco is as a pitcher should be pretty well documented. Not a high volume strikeout guy, Nolasco is capable of missing a few bats, and he can keep you competitive. An ERA somewhere in the high three to low four range should also be expected. While none of that rings spectacular, it is all a massive step forward from where he was at a season ago.

In 2014, Nolasco posted his highest FIP (fielding independent pitching) since his debut in the major leagues at 4.30. Considering a lackluster Twins defense behind him, that only aided to balloon his ERA over 5.00. The long ball was also an issue for Nolasco in 2014. Having not given up 20 or more home runs since 2011, Nolasco allowed 22 home runs to opposing batters a season ago. While struggling to strike batters out, allowing runs in bunches was only going to spell disaster for the California native.

This season, Nolasco should be expected to turn the page, if for no other reason than his health. After being brought in by the Twins, much was made of the signing. The club made Nolasco out to be a staff ace and an incredible innings eater. With the number attached to his contract, there was no doubt a considerable amount of pressure to fulfill those definitions. Never capable of being a true ace, Nolasco was in an uphill battle before he even got started. Combining that notion with trying to eat innings while at less than 100%, disaster quickly became the reality.

With an offseason to heal under his belt, and the certainty of where he will play this year, Nolasco enters the 2015 season in a different frame of mind. In 22.2 innings pitched this spring, Nolasco owned a 3.97 ERA. His five home runs surrendered down in Florida led the team, and again could be a cause for concern this season. He did however strike out batters at a higher clip than a season ago, and will need to miss more bats if he is going to be successful this year.

At the end of the day, today sets in motion Nolasco's 2015 season, but hardly defines it. Regardless of the outcome of this one start, Nolasco will need to build early confidence and push forward throughout the year. A ten hit, five run outing against the White Sox was how 2014 began, and is not what Nolasco wants today. No matter what happens however, Nolasco will need to focus on keeping a short memory, and pushing himself back to the pitcher he built himself off of being.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Safe To Prove Costly For Twins?

The 2015 Major League Baseball season is just one day old. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Twins find themselves with only a tally in the loss column to this point. More unfortunately is that observations from one game have cause knuckle-dragging fans to already deem the 2015 season a failure. Whether because of anger that four years of losing causes, or the disappointment that still looming prospects has provided, a vast contingent isn't pleased. While those aren't viable reasons for angst at this point (and frankly lack even a decent sense of comprehension), the Twins safe decision making was on display yesterday, and should be plenty scrutinized in the immediate future.

Against the Tigers, the Twins sent out what can be considered their top lineup. With Phil Hughes on the mound, at no other point (outside of replication) will the Twins 25 man roster be better represented than it was yesterday. Forget the fact that they were facing Cy Young level pitching in the form of David Price, there's no denying we might have seen and heard the first glimpses of concern.

Starting in centerfield yesterday was Jordan Schafer. A protoypical fourth outfielder, generally utilized for his speed, the Twins have given the offed Atlanta Brave the keys to the outfield. In turn, on at least two occasions, defensive missplays cost the Twins. Allowing a run while stumbling late in the game, the Twins saw the deficit increase further than it should have due to their own doing. As a secondary option, manager Paul Molitor chose to bring journeyman Shane Robinson north along with Schafer. Employing a two man (remember it's not a platoon) centerfield, the Twins have gone with options that are definitely not starters, and potential questionable roster inclusions.

When the bullpen entered the game yesterday, it was by way of Double-A Rule 5 Draft Pick, J.R. Graham. The hard thrower immediately worked himself into trouble, and then showed the resolve to get himself out of it unscathed. While it worked out in the team's favor this time, there's no doubt that Graham's shaky first inning doesn't bode well for the future. Considering that Molitor has said he plans to use some combination of Graham and Duensing in a 7th inning role, disaster could be looming for Minnesota.

Despite not factoring into the action yesterday, Mike Pelfrey was also removed from his bullpen role in favor of Aaron Thompson. Following the loss of suspended starter Ervin Santana, Pelfrey was added back into the rotation. Despite a less than promising track record, the Twins decided to go with what was comfortable, rather than what may push them forward.

That point gets us to the elephant the Twins see sitting at the end of their bench. Each and every roster move made this season has signified a stagnant style of thinking. Knowing this team isn't necessarily built to compete (despite what Terry Ryan has stated publicly), the ceiling has been purposely lowered from within. With options in house that could potentially stretch the ceiling, push the organization forward, and enhance development as a whole, the Twins have turned an opposite direction.

It's fair to suggest that promotion of youth for the sake of doing so doesn't make sense. There is no reason to sacrifice potential ability because of immediate desire, but what the Twins have put in place leans towards the other end of the spectrum. Names like Schafer, Robinson, Nunez, Pelfrey, and well really the whole bullpen sans Glen Perkins, suggest a lack of faith in organizational advancement. Imagine if the Twins had instead included Hicks, Rosario, May, Meyer, or Tonkin? What if they went out and replaced their bench bat with a name like Dayan Viciedo? What if they increased their own ceiling by allowing for the floor to be lowered because the upside was substantially greater?

The premise is simple, knowing you aren't built to be amongst the elite, transitioning towards a future gain strategy would seem to make a lot of sense. While Pelfrey or Schafer may not make the mistakes a Meyer or Rosario will, they also represent a muted level of talent. Outside of finishing first, the positioning is relatively irrelevant, and the Twins have sent out a roster that fails to maximize upon this concept.

At the end of the day, most of the "safe" options for the Twins are immediately replaceable. When the bullpen falls, or Pelfrey blows up, or the outfield crumbles, the Twins can turn over the keys. The question becomes, why not do some of that from the beginning in hopes of advancement, rather than after issues in response to failure?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Phil Hughes Looking Up In 2015

Minnesota Twins' Phil Hughes warms up with a teammate at the start of a morning workout at baseball spring training in Fort Myers Fla., Tuesday Feb. 24, 2015. (Associated Press)
Today the Minnesota Twins kick off their 2015 Major League Baseball schedule against the Detroit Tigers. Taking the mound for the Twins is Phil Hughes. After coming over from the New York Yankees a season ago, he went on to set a major league record for strikeout to walk ratio. As impressive as he was a year ago however, the ceiling should be even higher.

Last season, Hughes ended his season with a 3.52 ERA. While there were points in which he looked like a Cy Young candidate, there were also periods of uncertainty. It was not until his fourth start of the season that Hughes pitched six full innings, and that also marked the first time he gave up less than four earned runs (three). Hughes seemed to figure things out on an April 26 start against the Tigers. Going seven innings and giving up just one earned run, he recorded his best start as a member of the Twins.

Through May and into June, Hughes was virtually unhittable. His 1.74 ERA over six starts from May 4 through June 1 was incredibly impressive. From there however, the Twins say some unexpected regression. Six times through prior to the month of August, Hughes allowed more than five earned runs. While the Twins were capable of scoring, they found themselves out of it more often than not. Once August hit, Hughes turned around his season once again. A 2.38 ERA from August 5th through the end of the year capped 2014 on a positive note. At the end of 162 however, you couldn't help but wonder what could have been.

As 2015 kicks off, Hughes has some significant room for improvement. While the walks don't necessarily need to be as limited as they were a season ago, Hughes still has room to improve. His 8.0 K/9 was the highest mark since 2009, and was something the Twins definitely found benefit from. Whether that mark increases or not, Hughes biggest benefit needs to come through his defense. In 2014, the former Yankee pitcher owned a 2.65 FIP (fielding independent pitching). With his ERA nearly a full run higher, there's no doubt he was let down behind him. This season there has been plenty made about how bad the Twins outfield defense may be, but statistics may not show everything.

Last year, Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia handled the corner outfield roles. This season, Arcia will be paired with Torii Hunter, as they utilize Jordan Schafer in center. While the metrics suggest the Twins could have one of the worst outfields in the majors, it would also seem that they have taken a step forward over last season. Arcia is not a good fielder by any stretch, but the removal of the distractions in right field should only benefit him. While Hunter isn't young anymore, he was winning Gold Gloves while being below average by defensive metrics as well. Schafer isn't an ideal centerfielder, but is serviceable by most standards. What it all adds up to should be enough to help Hughes help himself.

On top of a defensive boost, there's no doubt that Target Field also provides opportunity for Hughes. The success he saw a season ago was not unexpected, and made the signing one of the best from the get go. Getting away from Yankee Stadium's poor dimensions, Hughes should have only been expected to get better. What comes as a surprise however is that he was actually more dominant on the road. Despite Target Field being an asset to pitchers, Hughes struggled more in his home park. If he can maximize the opportunity at home this season, he should benefit there as well.

Kicking off the season with a tough test against David Price and a good Tigers lineup, Hughes will want to start things on a good note. No matter how today's outcome plays out however, understand that Hughes should be expected to be even better in 2015.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Ervin Santana And His Wrench

In this Tuesday March 3, 2015 file photo, Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana (54) throws batting practice at baseball spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. (Photo by The Associated Press)
Friday afternoon, just days away from the Twins heading to Detroit to take on the Tigers and open the 2015 Major League Baseball season, free agent pitcher Ervin Santana was popped with an 80 game suspension. He was caught for using an oral steroid, Stanozolol. With the news, the Twins immediately have a different outlook for not only their rotation, but the upcoming season as a whole.
A situation such as the one that the Twins have been put in due to the poor decision making of Santana has somewhat of a ripple effect. There are quite a few factors at play here, and they add up to what should make for an interesting summer. First, Santana himself. His press release following the news toed a similar song and dance. He suggested that he had no idea how he ingested an oral steroid, and the he "needs to be more careful as to what he consumes in his home country." Of course that's the storyline, however thinly veiled it is. At this point, how and why don't matter. He's been paid, he's a part of the organization going forward, but the Twins will be without his services for the next 80 games.

That leads us to his replacement, and there may be more reason for frustration here than any other. Not minutes after the news regarding Santana broke, Paul Molitor announced that it would be Mike Pelfrey replacing him in the starting rotation. Earlier in the week, Pelfrey was "demoted" to the bullpen after the club announced that he wound up finishing third out of three when it came to the fifth starter competition. Both Tommy Milone and Trevor May were given one last prove it start, while the club decided that Pelfrey was not a viable option. A temper tantrum ensued, which then turned more cordial as Pelfrey realized the writing was on the wall. Now, whether a by-product of timing or indecision, the Twins have contradicted their initial decision and skip over May for the sake of Pelfrey.
With the decision, the unfortunate reality is not that Pelfrey is now a starter for the Twins. What happened however is Minnesota organizationally contradicted a decision they made just a week earlier. Suggesting that it was May, not Pelfrey who gave them a better chance to win, the move is a puzzling one. In fairness, Pelfrey was strong this spring, and looked more than capable. He's battled back from injury and looks healthy for the first time in years. With the upside of an average at best pitcher however, the Twins once again balk on a higher ceiling and go against what they had seemingly decided.

From an overall pitching standpoint, the loss of Santana may actually provide long-term value. Although it is Pelfrey who gets the first crack, there are no two fluid rotation spots if pitchers should falter. Both Milone and Pelfrey become replaceable in the right circumstances. For the Twins, this means that both May and Alex Meyer could get looks sooner than initially anticipated. An 80 game suspension is virtually half of the season, and while I expected both prospects to be in the majors prior to that time, now it would seem certain. The development gained by having forced the Twins to accelerate them, should prove vital for both players advancement going forward.

Looking at the team as a whole, Santana's loss probably doesn't hurt the bottom line as much as perceived. As I noted in an earlier post, despite the strong spring, there was plenty of reason for skepticism in 2015. Now without his services for half of the season, the greatest impact will likely be felt on the top end. I have had the Twins winning 79 games all offseason, and I'm going to stick with that number. Where the deficiency may be felt is in the club trying to elevate past that mark. If the Twins upside was surprising some and pushing for a wild card spot, they would need to win somewhere near 85 games. Considering the roster shuffle, that may now be a tall task. This club is still markedly better than a season ago, and I believe they remain out of the final spot in the AL Central.

At the end of the day, Minnesota has just one spring training contest left before the end of the season. Losing a star offseason acquisition is by no means ideal, but it still doesn't launch the Twins into the ability level they have been in the previous four seasons. The shuffle should push for those trades from within to come a little sooner, and the Twins will no doubt be getting a good pitcher back on July 4. A poor decision, compounded by poor timing could spell disaster, but the Twins have some options.