Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Twins Depth Is Turning Into A Tightrope

Nearing the end of May, over a quarter of the 2015 Major League Baseball season is in the books. As it stands, the Minnesota Twins are in sole possession of second place in the American League Central Division, and they have one of the best records in the American League. With the Twins continuing to trend in an upwards direction, managing their depth and walking the tightrope through some difficult decisions will shape their summer.

At the major league level right now, the Twins have players such as Chris Herrmann, Tim Stauffer, and Eduardo Nunez contributing to games. The former two have been nothing short of disaster, while the latter has provided some surprising value in short bursts. Looking at the group however, none of those names represent irreplaceable players. With an organization chocked full of young talent, roster shuffling over the next few weeks will become an interesting point of observation.

Considering the depth throughout the Twins organization, it may be the lowest rungs that begin to dictate what happens at the top. However, the Twins closest pool of talent generally comes from Triple-A Rochester. Tommy Milone has pitched four games at Triple-A yielding just one run over 31.2 innings and has struck out batters at an 11.7 K/9 clip while walking just 0.6 batters per nine innings. Kennys Vargas was sent down just over a week ago, and is batting over .400 with three home runs. Josmil Pinto has looked like an upgrade as the second catcher for a while, even despite his recent cold stretch at the plate. What's even more impressive, those three players only represent a small sample size.

Rochester could be pushing arms such as A.J. Achter, Lester Oliveros, and Alex Meyer (who recently threw his first inning of relief) all to the big leagues as well. With Stauffer offering little to the Twins, and Brian Duensing struggling often as well, Minnesota could chose to upgrade from within. Although Rochester may be the immediate talent pool for the big leagues, it's in Double-A Chattanooga, High-A Fort Myers, and Low-A Cedar Rapids that the Twins tightrope gets more interesting.

The Lookouts no doubt have one of the best teams in all of minor league baseball. There's little reason to believe we don't see Miguel Sano and/or Byron Buxton in Minnesota before August. On top of those two however, Max Kepler (.345/.385/.555 2 HR 15 RBI) and Jorge Polanco (.311/.348/.431 4 HR 20 RBI) could likely both use a new challenge in short order as well. On the mound, Chattanooga will be ushering Jose Berrios (2.89 ERA 63 K) and Zack Jones (1.72 ERA 22 K) out in short order. D.J. Baxendale has put together a great start, and the Twins could still decide to move both Jake Redd and Nick Burdi on the fast track.

Fort Myers may not have the hitters that the higher levels of the organization tout, but pitchers like Chih-Wei Hu (1.03 ERA 36 K), Aaron Slegers (2.59 ERA 31 K), Brett Lee (2.14 ERA 19 K), Kohl Stewart (2.60 ERA 18 K), and J.T. Chargois (2.40 ERA 19 K) could all be looking at the next level at some point. Cedar Rapids is watching Trey Vavra (.342/.399/.529 6 HR 27 RBI) destroy baseballs, while Stephen Gonsalves (1.50 ERA 54 K), Felix Jorge (2.13 ERA 39 K), and Cameron Booser (0.84 34 K) all confuse opposing hitters. With plenty of candidates in the mix now, the Twins have decisions to make.

The 40 man roster no doubt has some fat that could be trimmed off of it. Even with adding players however, there's still only 25 roster spots at each level. With plenty of deserving candidates looking for promotions, the Twins will need to get creative. Terry Ryan recently noted that guys like Hu and Gonsalves may stick at their current levels longer than anticipated, and part of the reasoning has to be the log jams ahead of them.

With the big league club set to play 12 games in June (4 series) against teams with sub-.500 records, it's conceivable the high level of winning could continue. If that happens, the Twins will have to navigate their current tightrope with precision. The question will become, what assets do you deal, for whom, and when? Minnesota could be in a position to package a couple of minor league prospects to land a single player that could vault them into the postseason.

Heading into the season, it was not 2015 that was slated to mark the turnaround for Minnesota. There's no doubt this team was capable of turning heads, and a sneaky playoff run could have been argued, but being a major player at the trade deadline didn't seem reasonable. Minnesota won't mortgage the future that they have built, but there's no doubt that the opportunity to turn depth into an immediate asset could present itself. How Terry Ryan navigates it could be the defining moment in how the Twins finish 2015.