Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top 15 Twins Prospects Update

With minor league All-Star Games having already taken place, and the big league midsummer classic quickly approaching, it's probably a good time to check in on the farm. Having ranked my top Twins prospects going into the season, we have a solid list of 15 players to check up on.

The Twins organization as a whole has enjoyed a successful start to the year, and it's on the backs of many of these names that it can be pinned. Knowing that there's a few who should see a continued rise to the show, here's who's making the most progress:

15. Amaurys Minier LF/1B

A big frame with plenty of projectable pop, Minier started the 2015 season on the shelf. After healing from an injury, he was sent to the GCL Twins for two games before making his debut with Elizabethton. Through his first three games at the rookie level, he's got one home run and two RBI. It's early, but getting into games is a great start.

14. Stuart Turner C

Turner was a 3rd round pick by the Twins in 2013. He possesses major league level ability behind the plate, but his bat has always lagged behind. Even more than his first two seasons with the organization, Turner is scuffling at the dish. Slashing just .189/.285/.280 for Double-A Chattanooga, Minnesota has to be wanting more. With catching depth scarce throughout the minors, Minnesota may be forced to address the position from outside of the system.

13. Stephen Gonsalves LHP

Gonsalves made a mockery of Low-A Cedar Rapids to start out 2015. A 1.15 ERA across nine games with a 12.6 K/9 ratio, the 20 year old needed a new challenge. Minnesota promoted Gonsalves to High-A Fort Myers, and he has made three starts so far. His 5.14 ERA isn't where he'd like it to be, but he should be given more time to settle in. Gonsalves remains one of the best left-handed pitching prospects on the farm.

12. Max Kepler OF/1B

Few players have had better seasons than Kepler. He's batting .346/.417/.556 at Double-A Chattanooga, and is knocking down the door for a promotion. He's stayed healthy, and he's flashed plenty of speed along the way (8 triples). A 40 man roster inclusion already, expecting Kepler to debut with the Twins in September doesn't seem out of the question.

11. Adam Brett Walker II OF

As he has done at every level, Walker continues to punish baseballs. His 23 home runs are the best in all of the minor leagues. He is also slashing a career best .272/.328/.612 at Double-A Chattanooga. The unfortunate part of Walker's game is that he swings and misses incredibly too much. He has struck out 109 times and drawn just 21 walks. On pace for over 200 strikeouts at Double-A, projecting forward gets uncertain.

10. Nick Burdi RHP

If there was a reliever I thought would blitz the system, Burdi was it. After an impressive 2014, Burdi has fallen off this season. After posting a 5.93 ERA and 33/22 K/BB ratio at Double-A Chattanooga, the former Louisville Cardinal pitcher is now being sent back to Fort Myers. Burdi should still end up being a back end of the bullpen asset for the Twins, but he needs to regain form, and the debut isn't going to come in 2015.

9. Jorge Polanco SS

Moved almost exclusively to shortstop now, Polanco may be next in line to take over the position at the big league level. Hitting .295/.342/.402 for Double-A Chattanooga, his time should come any day. With Danny Santana flopping in 2015, and Eduardo Escobar being utility level at best, Minnesota is nearing a long term promotion of the 21 year old.

8. Lewis Thorpe LHP

After a solid 2014 for Cedar Rapids, Thorpe's 2015 ended before it began. Undergoing Tommy John surgery, Thorpe will not be back in action until early 2016. Just 19 years old, he's still go plenty of time. However, the Australian will be battling back after the invasive surgery.

7. Eddie Rosario OF

My pick to be the first prospect called up in 2015, and someone that could turn heads this season, Rosario has lived up to the billing. In 42 games for the Twins this season, Rosario is slashing .274/.305/.418. He's added solid defense to the outfield, and his four home runs have come at timely moments. Rosario's arrow should continue to trend straight up.

6. Jose Berrios RHP

Maybe somewhat of a cautious approach in ranking him, Jose Berrios has continued to excite in 2015. Across 15 Double-A starts, Berrios compiled a 3.08 ERA and a 9.18 K/9 ratio. He led all of Double-A in strikeouts, and earned a promotion to Triple-A Rochester. There's little reason to suggest that a September debut with the Twins is out of the question.

5. Kohl Stewart RHP

Stewart ended his season last year on a lackluster note. Battling arm issues, getting off to a good start in 2015 was going to be important. So far, the results have been mixed. Still just 20, Stewart owns a 3.56 ERA across 12 starts for Fort Myers. He has a lackluster 32/22 K/BB ratio and the 4.42 K/9 is extremely disappointing. Staying healthy is one problem for Stewart, but the production needs to ramp back up as well.

4. Nick Gordon SS

A long term answer at shortstop has eluded the Twins for years, and they are no doubt hoping Nick Gordon can eventually become one. At 19 years old, he's now getting his first taste of Low-A ball at Cedar Rapids. The bat remains behind the glove as Gordon owns a .250/.324/.297 slash line. He should continue to develop as a hitter, but is trending towards and elite fielder. Gordon is still a few years away, but patience could end up being a virtue here.

3. Alex Meyer RHP

Meyer has had an interesting 2015 to say the least. Rocked to a 7.09 ERA and 41/24 K/BB ratio as a starter, Meyer turned things around in relief. Owning a 0.53 ERA in 17 innings for Triple-A Rochester, the Twins inserted Meyer into the bullpen. He was shelled by the Brewers in Reds in his first two outings, and is seemingly going to need some time to settle in. Long term hopes as a starter may be dashed, but getting Meyer to the big leagues wasn't a bad thing for the Twins.

2. Miguel Sano 3B

Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Miguel Sano needed to knock some rust off. At this point, he looks all but ready for his big league debut. He's hit .464/.531/1.000 with 3 HR and 10 RBI over his last seven games, and his 15 HR on the season would be a nice boost in the middle of the Twins lineup. If I'm the Twins, here's up in the big leagues any day now.

1. Byron Buxton CF

Like Sano, Buxton was coming off of a mostly wasted 2014 season due to injury. A slow start at Double-A Chattanooga was turned around and eventually led to a .283/.351/.489 slash line in 59 games. After earning a promotion to the Twins, Buxton scuffled to a .189/.231/.270 slash line in his first 11 games. Now shelved with a jammed thumb, Buxton will once again be looking to battle back from an injury.

There's no doubt that the Twins remain in possession of one of the best minor league farm systems in all of baseball. Considering the talent from top to bottom, the surprise winning from the big league club ahead of the influx of prospects only projects positively going forward.

Jose Berrios Continues The Climb

Going into the 2015 season, few Twins prospects brought more intrigue than that of Jose Berrios. The 2012 1st round pick (32nd overall), has flown through the minor leagues, and sights were set even higher. Suggesting he wanted to make a splash in spring training, Berrios is now staring his final hurdle in the face.

As I reported late last night, Berrios has received the promotion to Triple-A Rochester. After pitching to the tune of a 3.08 ERA along with a 9.18 K/9 ratio, Minnesota decided a new challenge was needed for their young star.
Being pushed up to Triple-A Rochester, Berrios will become the youngest player on the roster by nearly three years. At just 21 years old, he is making his Triple-A debut significantly faster than both Trevor May (24) and Alex Meyer (24) before him. Joining Double-A Opening Day starter Tyler Duffey in Rochester, Berrios will help to create an even more formidable starting rotation.

In 2014, the Twins sped Berrios through their entire system. Starting the season at High-A Fort Myers, Berrios went on to pitch 16 games before heading to Double-A New Britain. Eight starts later, Berrios found him ending his season with a start at Triple-A Rochester. Now at the highest rung of the farm system for good, it will be on Berrios to prove he's ready for his next challenge.

Found amongst nearly every top 100 prospect list heading into the 2015 season, Berrios still has his fair share of doubters. Chief amongst those may be ESPN Insider Keith Law. Law ranked Berrios in the 90's when going through his top 100 list, only to move him into the top 25 after re-evaluating part way through 2015. The climb has no doubt been impressive, but it isn't over yet.

At just 6'0" tall, Berrios has often been knocked for his low plane and the lack of life that may cause on his pitches. At the Double-A level, Berrios has been able to survive on pure stuff, and overmatch many hitters. As he embarks on the next challenge at Triple-A, Berrios will be forced to perfect his pitching as a whole, and show he has what it takes for the big leagues.

Right now, the Twins have more starting options than any time in recent memory. With the scales starting to tip from quantity to quality, it could be Berrios who highlights that transition. Expecting a September call up may not be out of line, and betting against the young phenom doesn't appear to be in anyone's best interests.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Is Ervin Santana Really A Midseason Addition?

In just a few more days, the Minnesota Twins will be afforded the opportunity to see their $55 million free agent acquisition in action. After serving his performance enhancing drug related suspension, Ervin Santana will rejoin the 25 man roster, and the starting rotation for the Twins. With the Twins pitching staff being where it is in 2015, what the Twins should expect from Santana remains somewhat of a mystery.

After four years of futility from their starters, the Twins have seemingly turned a corner in 2015. No longer ranking at the bottom of the big leagues, Minnesota has finally opened a door that has afforded both more quality, and a higher quantity of starting pitchers. 16th in the majors when it comes to team ERA (3.87), and 8th in the American League, the Twins are in a much better place. Still dead last in the big leagues in strikeouts (439) and 27th in batting average against (.271), the Twins have plenty of reason to work towards continued improvement.

It's fair to question how Santana plays into that equation however.

As things stand currently, the Twins have some difficult decisions to make regarding the rotation. Phil Hughes is the staff ace, despite owning a 4.20 ERA. Hurt by the longball in 2015, Hughes has taken steps back, but is still a lock amongst the group for years to come. Kyle Gibson and Trevor May highlight the young core of the rotation. Both top draft picks, Gibson has been one of the club's best pitchers, and May has operated as the ace for the majority of the season. That leaves Mike Pelfrey and Tommy Milone.

Pelfrey continues to defy odds and owns a club best 3.06 ERA. Despite striking next to no one out, Pelfrey continually has gotten the job done after being sent to the bullpen out of spring training. Milone was jettisoned to Triple-A Rochester earlier this season, and after tearing up the farm, he's been on fire since his return. In five games since his return Milone has thrown to the tune of a 2.03 ERA and .246/.288/.364 slash line against. So how does Santana fit?

Most seem to be operating under the impression that it's Milone who could be sent packing. With team control, and the ability to send him back to Triple-A, the former Athletics pitcher possesses the most flexibility. Ideally, a trade of Pelfrey would happen, but there's no doubt his value is not high around the league. No matter who is moved out of the starting five however, the addition of Santana may not be what it seems.

Last season, Santana pitched in the National League for the first time in his career. His 3.95 ERA was backed by a 3.39 FIP (fielding independent pitching) mark. Despite being better than his final ERA suggested, Santana is far from a lights out pitcher. Owning a career 4.26 FIP in front of better fielding teams, there could be some cause for concern. Hovering around the high 3.00 ERA marks for the majority of his career, Santana's biggest asset to the Twins may be in his 7.2 career K/9, easily ranking amongst the best on the Twins staff.

There's little doubt that Santana would fall under the category of being a quality arm added into the rotation. In recent seasons, the Twins have needed to push more quantity to the mound than anything. However, expecting Santana to come in and light the world on fire seems far fetched as well. Considering the staff has been pitching well of late, the shuffling of that chemistry and those arms could come at a cost for Minnesota.

The Twins have a good problem in that they have more quality arms than they know what to do with. Right now though, Santana remains a wild card, and until Minnesota finds out exactly what he is going to bring, the hurt or gain from moving around Milone or another starter won't be felt.

Despite being a long term concern, it's also fair to suggest this problem may again rear its head in September. Due to his suspension. Santana is not eligible to pitch in the postseason. Should the Twins remain in the hunt, another rotation shuffle would need to take place before playoff baseball kicks off. Inserting Milone or someone else back in Santana's spot after a demotion, and knowing production is immediately necessary, could also be a tough ask.

Of course the Twins did the right thing this offseason in bringing in a proven veteran to bolster the staff. Santana sitting out though brings a lot of questions as a midseason addition, and the Twins are being forced to make a change that could definitely bring a result they weren't initially planning on.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Alex Meyer: Destined To Stick

The time is now for the Minnesota Twins and Alex Meyer. On the heels of his recent promotion to the big leagues, Minnesota will now get to experience their return for Denard Span. With Meyer set to make his major league debut, there's no doubt that he wants to stick after his long awaited promotion. The good news, he should be expected to do just that.

Heading into the season, Baseball Prospectus ranked Alex Meyer as their 14th best prospect. At that time, he was still a starting pitcher, and that no doubt contributed to the high ceiling. Although he will debut with the Twins out of the pen, it's probably best to assume the door to the rotation isn't yet closed.

After struggling to the tune of a 7.09 ERA and 41/24 K/BB ratio as a starter this season for Triple-A Rochester, it became apparent that the Twins would need to get creative. At 25 years old, there's no doubt that Meyer's "prospect" status was waning thin, and getting him to a competitive level in the big leagues was a must. If the rotation wasn't going to be the stepping stone to do so, the bullpen then made a lot of sense.

With plenty of scouts and front office personnel believing that Meyer was always destined for the pen, the decision was pretty easy. Having an electric fastball, and the ability to ambush hitters late in games, the Twins could cash in on Meyer in another way. Since the transition down in Rochester, Meyer has proved that to be the case.

On May 25, Meyer made his first relief appearance for the Red Wins. Throwing a perfect inning with two strikeouts, Meyer flashed a sign of things to come. Fast forward 16 innings and Meyer has compiled quite the impressive stat line. In 17.0 IP, Meyer has allowed just a .188/.268/.219 slash line while owning a 0.53 ERA striking out 20 and walking just six. His 10.6 K/9 would be easily the best mark in the bullpen (Glen Perkins would be closest owning an 8.31 K/9), and his decreased walk rate is great to see.

For a team lacking the ability to strike batters out, Meyer becomes more than just another bullpen arm. Owning a career 10.3 K/9 across 394.0 minor league innings, his strikeout ability is more than substantiated. While command has always been his knock, Meyer has curbed some of those struggles in relief. Giving manager Paul Molitor a true asset in the bullpen, Meyer should be expected to be someone the Twins can lean on.

Despite getting solid starting performances throughout the season, the Twins currently have pitchers with 8.22 (Brian Duensing) and 5.40 (Aaron Thompson) in their bullpen. Taking relief appearances away from pitchers clearly not capable of them, Meyer should be able to provide the Twins another added boost.

Challenging for the top of the AL Central due to a hot start, a Twins team adding players like Byron Buxton, now Alex Meyer, and eventually Miguel Sano along the way, should contribute to an exciting summer. Although Meyer's promotion may not have come through the rotation as originally expected, he appears poised to contribute, and should be absolutely counted on to stick.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jose Berrios Continues The Gold Standard

In just a few more days, the Minnesota Twins will have a pitching issue on their hands. This time, it isn't about whether or not Minnesota will have options, but in fact, that they will simply have too many. Although he isn't yet going to come into play, Jose Berrios has made himself the gold standard among minor league options for the Twins, and their pitching depth is all the better for it.

After blitzing the Twins system last season, starting at High-A Fort Myers and ending with a start for Triple-A Rochester, Berrios has started strong at Double-A Chattanooga. With 14 starts under his belt, he owns a 3.23 ERA and an impressive 9.3 K/9. Having walked just 2.5 batters per nine innings this season, his stuff has continued to handle the competition.

Going into the season, evaluators seemed to be all over the board with the young Puerto Rican. Short in stature, Keith Law nearly had him on the outside looking in when it came to his top 100 prospects. Not knowing whether or not the throwing plane would translate against more advanced hitters, evaluators seemed nervous about projecting Berrios going forward.

Now with more than half of the season under his belt, Berrios has continued to squash those concerns. Law has since moved Berrios into the top 25 of his top prospects list, and the hurler has only made the nation take a heightened level of notice.

After pitching, and getting the win, in the Southern League All Star Game a few days ago, Berrios added another honor. I was able to report on June 23 that Berrios would in fact be headed back to the Future's Game, this time in Cincinnati. After starting for the World Team at Target Field last year, he will again showcase his ability on a national stage.

For a player that has such high goals, wanting to crack the Twins Opening Day roster in 2015, the Future's Game has to be a nice consolation prize. Knowing Jose's determination and focus, the game should simply serve as another milestone on his journey to the big leagues. Despite Minnesota having options, there's plenty of reason to believe that could come in September.

Berrios is an incredibly grounded individual, relying on faith and family to propel him to new heights. With wife and daughter alongside him, and someone even bigger watching over him, the transformation and growth has been fun to watch unfold. A humble pitcher, Berrios has continued to let his game speak for itself.

It was after 16 games and a 1.97 ERA at Fort Myers that pushed Berrios to the next level. He's started 14 games for the Lookouts, and Triple-A Rochester may be opening a spot soon. No matter when it happens, expect Berrios to hit the ground running, backed by all the right things, and with the determination to succeed at the same speed as his fastball.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Byron Buxton Superhero: But Who Is He?

June 14, 2015 a day that will forever go down as one of the most highly anticipated days in all of Minnesota Twins history. Byron Buxton, the Twins second overall pick, joined the big leagues to an exorbitant amount of fanfare. With only three Twins picks ever drafted higher (Tim Belcher, Johnny Ard, and Joe Mauer went first overall), Buxton was seen as the superhero the Twins needed. But what exactly are his superpowers?

Now having spent just over a week in the big leagues, there has been mixed results. As with most prospects, expecting otherwordly production out of the gate is silly. After all, a young player is joining a league full of the best players in the world, and they have not yet seen that kind of competition. Expecting immediate success isn't a fair judgement, and suggesting a trip back down to the farm (stop being silly people) would also be counter productive.

The fact of the matter is that for the first time since Joe Mauer, the Twins do have their superhero, but he needs to harness his powers.

From the get go, some of them are going to play immediately. Against the Chicago White Sox on Monday night, Buxton flashed his two most impressive assets. On a dying liner to center, White Sox left fielder Melky Cabrera decided to try and score from second base. Buxton likely smirked and chuckled, and then he unleashed. The throw strayed no further than eight feet from the ground and was an absolute missile to the plate. Cabrera was dead in his tracks, and Buxton put the big leagues on notice. His right appendage is nothing short of a cannon.

Earlier in the same game, Buxton led off. It was the first time in his career that Byron would be given the opportunity, and manager Paul Molitor wanted him to ambush opposing pitcher John Danks. Buxton obliged at the plate and did just that. On a 2-0 fastball, Buxton went to right field with a looper than landed a few feet to the right of Avisail Garcia. Having already rounded first base by the time the ball hit the ground, Buxton galloped into second for a stand up double. A ball that was cut off before the gap, and had no business warranting extra bases, Buxton utilized unfairly. From somewhere in another galaxy, The Flash blushed at his competition.

Major League Baseball scouts attempt to quantify super powers into five distinct categories. Buxton has shown that he is the prototype when it comes to speed, fielding, and arm strength. It's in hitting, and power that Buxton may find his kryptonite.

A career .296/.380/.486 hitter through 263 minor league games, there's little doubt Buxton's bat will play at the highest level. However, it shouldn't be expected to do so right away. Over the course of his first 32 plate appearances, Buxton has worked a 3-1 count just twice, and a 2-1 count only five times. He's been ahead in the count just 38% of the time, and he's faced two-strike counts 53% of the time. For a guy working on brandishing an elevated hitting ability, he's fighting an uphill battle. Sometime in the not so distant future, he will hit but right now, that shouldn't be expected to be his game.

In the power department, Buxton is adept if nothing else. While not Thor like, the Twins phenom put up 27 home runs in those 263 minor league games. At a 16 HR/162 game pace, Buxton can eventually be counted upon to contribute in the slugging department as well. Just 21, the frame can still add muscle. While he'll never be the Hulk, Buxton no doubt should have the ability to banish a few baseballs in his time.

As a whole, the excitement and anticipation for the superhero known as Byron Buxton is absolutely warranted. It's time to stop talking about a possible trip back to the farm, and it would be best not to over manage the budding star. Know that a complete arsenal of weapons will come, but that currently only half of them should be expected to play. Allow Buxton to be what he is on the field and basepaths, and grow through the coming months.

Minnesota no doubt has a star on its hands, and while he may have the simplicity of The Flash now, showing a patiently observing approach could soon produce Captain America in the most desirable Twins form.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Pete Rose Draws A New Line In The Sand

As the 2015 Major League Baseball season plays out, there have been plenty of storylines that have unfolded, however one may take the cake thanks to breaking news this morning. With ESPN's Outside The Lines revealing documents regarding Pete Rose's betting habits, the polarizing Charlie Hustle has sealed his fate. The path he chose is an ugly one, but it draws some interesting comparisons.

Since being banished from baseball in 1989, Rose has maintained that he only bet on baseball as a manager, and never while playing the game. The news from Outside the Lines shows notebook pages full of bets Rose placed while playing as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. Having bet on both his team and those around the league, Rose is now in a category all on his own.

I have always been a big Pete Rose supporter, and believe that his on field accomplishments have a right to be in the Hall of Fame. Today, only half of that equation remains true. 4,256 hits, 3,562 games played, and 14,053 at bats later, the hit king will never be enshrined in Cooperstown. Knowing he first had to be reinstated by MLB Comissioner Rob Manfred (a process that recently had gained momentum for Rose), the dream is all but dead.

Rose didn't use steroids, human growth hormones, or performance enhancing drugs (that we know of), but instead, he tried to publicly and continuously shame the sport he claimed to love. Caught for betting over 25 years ago, he made a habit of argumentative tirades against the sport, and continued to hide the truth. More a character flaw than anything else, the way in which he handled things will forever keep him blackballed by the sport.

Despite being looked upon less than favorably (to put it lightly) Rose finds himself all alone in the context of today's poor character players such as Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds.

Steroids have run rampant in baseball since the day Bud Selig decided to turn a blind eye and allow for the sport to reinvent itself. They continued to do so until Selig decided he'd had enough, and they will continue to remain a part of the sport until the gain is deemed not worth the punishment. While Bonds and Rodriguez are some of the latest poster boys, they aren't Pete Rose.

For those two, character has shaped the public's perception of them off of the field. On it, they all have performed at an elite level, and certainly belong enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Their career accomplishments may be tainted, and they may not have admitted to what they did, but baseball didn't enact and end all level of discipline.

Rose did something that Major League Baseball had long said was punishable by banishment from the sport. He then went on to spend the next 25 years of his life lying about it, trying to lessen it's severity, and make a mockery of a sport that had given him so much. Up against the knowledge that reinstatement was the first step to ever appear in the Hall, Rose instead chose the path of most resistance.

Continuing to argue in favor of his character, cut corners on where he went wrong, and deny the severity of what took place, his future is now over with baseball. Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds have a lack of morality and character because of how they went about a portion of their careers. Pete Rose overstepped a clearly defined boundary, and then continued to believe he was superior to that boundary. His accomplishments on the field may always be tied to his name, but because of his character, Pete Rose will never be tied to baseball.

Grading Paul Molitor's Early Returns

We are now coming up quickly on the halfway point of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, and for the Twins this year, things have been notably different with Paul Molitor at the helm. Ron Gardenhire was given a tough deck of cards to play with the past few years, but Molitor has innovated early, and it's been a welcomed addition to the organization.

After being named the next Twins skipper, many suggested that Minnesota was once again going with the easy internal option. Stick to the "Twins Way," choosing Molitor would allow Ryan to continue many of the same practices he always had. While there were those outside of the organization considered, it was always believed to be Paul's spot to lose. So far, that has been absolutely the right choice.

Early in spring training, and even through a tough couple of weeks to begin the season, Molitor began to put his stamp on this team. Shuffling the lineup to put it in a position to best succeed, handling pitchers in a different manner, and squeezing what he could out of a team that was no doubt over performing, the Twins were better for their new manager.

While as a whole things have been different under Molitor, there have been a few very welcomed moments that have stuck out in the early going. Often, Glen Perkins was not used in key situations during years past. As the best reliever on the team, Molitor has put Perkins on the mound for non-save situations as well as four-out work. To this point, it's lead to a major league leading 23 straight saves, 100% conversion, and a 1.48 ERA.

Outside of the bullpen, Molitor also flashed some new age thinking while the Twins traveled to St. Louis for an interleague series this season. Batting the pitcher in the 8th spot, something only Joe Maddon has done previously, Molitor created a run in game one against the Cardinals. Although it doesn't always work out the way you draw it up, it was Molitor's innovation that led to the Twins being in a position to benefit.

The club has shifted often this season, being right around the middle of the major leagues in doing so. Aggressiveness on the basepaths has seemed heightened as well, with more runners being sent home in an effort to squeeze out extra runs.

Although there has been a significant amount of good, Molitor has also been bullish in some respects, and that should be noted as well.

With lineup innovation being one of the most notable changes early on in his tenure, Molitor has also showed a hesitancy when it comes to moving around his big names. Joe Mauer continues to bat third most nights for the Twins, despite struggling to offer production in the role. Hitting .413/.524/.540 with runners in scoring position, Mauer is a black hole in every other situation (.184/.221/.279). Profiling more like a six or seven hitter, Molitor to the detriment of his offense, has yet to make that switch.

When it comes to the lineup and defensive construction, Molitor has also made some curious decisions. As recently as the series with the Chicago Cubs, the Twins skipper forced Eduardo Escobar's bat (slashing .242/.267/.368) into the lineup by playing him in left field. Making routine catches circus-like, the infielder is generally out of position, and takes poor routes to the ball. With Shane Robinson as the fourth outfielder, Molitor would be best served to leave either Eduardo Nunez or Escobar on the bench when they are not playing shortstop.

As a whole, there has been far more positive than negative, and you'd be hard pressed to make the argument that much of the surprise this season isn't due to Molitor's style. The Twins manager has squeezed wins and production from places otherwise not tapped into, and Minnesota has been an early season surprise because of it. As this team grows and continues to improve going forward, Molitor being at the helm should be a big boost.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Twins $55 Million Dollar Question

The calendar has already passed halfway through June and the 2015 Major League Baseball season is starting to take shape. Nearing the halfway point of the season, teams are starting to categorize themselves as contenders or pretenders. Right now, the Twins land somewhere in the middle, and while they may not be buyers at the trade deadline, they can improve from within. The biggest question though, is what they do with their $55 million dollar man.

Over the winter, the Twins sought to address their lackluster starting pitching. A season ago, the Twins 4.57 team ERA ranked 29, or second to last, in all of Major League Baseball. Generally out of games before they started, Minnesota knew that pitching needed to start giving their offense a chance. In making a splash, the club signed free agent Ervin Santana.

After spending a season with the Atlanta Braves in the National League, Santana was ready to return home to the American League. Having pitched the season before in the AL Central, the Twins were a relative comfort zone for the free agent. His career 4.48 ERA is indicative of a pitcher that can be a difference maker, but someone who still has some questions to answer. For the Twins though, he's a legitimate number two that should provide plenty of value.

Now coming to the end of a 80 game suspension due to performance-enhancing drug use, Santana is nearing the day that he can rejoin the fold. After the Twins jettisoned Jordan Schafer, the club has an open 40 man roster spot for their high dollar pitcher. However, how does the ninth best pitching team in the American League (3.84 team ERA) accommodate him?

It's probably safe to consider both Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson locks to stay in the rotation. Despite Hughes' struggles in 2015, he's still seen as the staff ace. Hughes 4.79 ERA is dented by his inability to control the longball this season. After giving up just 16 home runs all of last season, he's allowed 15 through June 19.

Gibson has been one of the early season bright spots. Despite a tough outing his last time out, the Twins former first rounder owns a 3.33 ERA and has been one of the American League's best pitchers in the early going. His strikeout and walk numbers virtually match his career lines, and despite his 4.41 FIP (fielding independent pitching), he should be counted on to keep his roll going.

Owning the middle ground is rookie Trevor May. A 4.26 ERA probably doesn't do justice to just how good May has looked at times. Despite a few tougher starts, he's looked every bit a top of the rotation type. His 7.7 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 are both great, and his 3.16 FIP suggests he should only continue to improve. Whether or not the Twins see him as locked in, the reality is that he should be.

Arguably the toughest to dissect of the group is Mike Pelfrey. Going from a rotation snub, to the bullpen, and back into the rotation, Pelfrey has been the club's best pitcher this season. It's hard to include him as a lock because he seems to make us continually hold our breath, yet suggesting he's middle of the road with his current numbers is also not doing him justice. A 2.97 ERA is going to be tough to sustain while striking out right around four batters a game, but the Twins absolutely have to ride the wave until it crashes.

That leaves recently reinstated starter Tommy Milone. Of the group, Milone is probably the least likely to have success in the bullpen. A soft tossing lefty, Milone absolutely dominated Triple-A after being sent down earlier this year. In his three starts since rejoining the big league club, Milone owns a 2.37 ERA and has allowed opposing hitters just a .236 batting average against him.

In short, the question becomes, where does Ervin Santana fit?

There's absolutely no doubt that the Twins need to find a place for him in their rotation. It's also a great thing that we are having to ask this question, rather than be able to point to three different pitchers that don't belong.

Santana is making the first of what will be three starts for Triple-A Rochester on Saturday. Over the course of the next week and a half, Minnesota will be evaluating their staff as a whole, and trying to answer the big question.

While I don't envy the decision makers in this situation, the reality is that as a whole, the Twins staff still is a bit more quantity than quality. Santana should boost the quality aspect, and the Twins will know the have depth when they need it. I'd look at inserting Santana in the place of Milone, knowing that if and when Pelfrey blows up, you have an option you can immediately turn to.

Regardless of what happens, this is a position the Twins have not found themselves in for at least the past four seasons. Quality pitching had become a thing of the past, but this club, under Paul Molitor and Neil Allen, it turning over a welcomed new leaf.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Beauty And Brokenness Of Interleague Play

The Minnesota Twins are in the midst of interleague play for the second time this season. Instead of cramming all of the fun into a designated week or two over the summer, Major League Baseball reconstructed the scheduled to allow American and National League teams to clash throughout the season. As Minnesota has now traveled and hosted National League teams, we have seen both the beauty and brokenness of the tradition.

As the Twins traveled to Pittsburgh in May, both Ricky Nolasco and Mike Pelfrey were subjected to the silliness that is a league without a DH. Nolasco faired worse flailing through three different at bats on route to a three strikeout game, while Pelfrey totaled two base hits raising his career average to a paltry .105.

After welcoming the Brewers to Target Field, it was again in St. Louis that Twins pitchers would be forced to brandish a bat. This time it was Trevor May and Kyle Gibson at the plate. The pair combined to go 1-3 (the hit being Gibson's) with a strikeout (being May's). While first year manager Paul Molitor got creative and batted his pitchers 8th this time around, the offensive production from the position remained a black hole.

On the flip side, fans at Target Field have and will get to see the beauty of a National League team playing with the designated hitter. The Cardinals were able to use slugger and everyday shortstop Jhonny Peralta as their designated hitter for the day. The bigger prize for both National League lovers and Twins fans is yet to come however.

Over the weekend, the Twins will play host to the Chicago Cubs. Never mind the parallels that connect the Twins and Cubs as two franchises trending in very similar directions, but the Cubs bring plenty of intrigue on their own. Already promoted this season, top prospects Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be on full display in front of Target Field. On top of that, and because of the DH, Twins fans will get an early glimpse at another phenom, Kyle Schwarber.

During the same week that Byron Buxton was promoted by the Twins, Chicago decided to bring Schwarber up from Double-A Tennessee in order to serve as their designated bat through interleague play. Schwarber trails Twins prospect Adam Brett Walker in minor league home runs with 13, but he brings a .320/.438/.579 power stick to the show. Although Theo Epstein has insisted that the Cubs will send him packing after the tour is over, it is the DH that makes it all possible.

Rather than digress to far into why the DH should be universally accepted (and it should) I will instead point you to this article. Whether for or against the designated hitter, the argument seems clear. A flailing pitcher who may provide a manager with some tougher decisions is still less beneficial for the sport than a player who can accomplish the set goal at the plate, to hit.

Minnesota will welcome the Cubs over the weekend, and then head to Milwaukee and Cincinnati the following week before wrapping up interleague action. When the dust settles though, it will be hard to argue that the clash with the NL Central in 2015 wasn't for the betterment of the season, and that interleague play didn't provide some fun.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Time For Twins To Let It Sano

The Minnesota Twins have played through their first third of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. As they came out of the gates slow, surprises started to take place throughout the month of May. After sitting alone atop the American League and AL Central, the calendar then turned to June. Since then, the summer has been anything but pleasant for the Twins.

In June (as of this writing), the Twins are 4-11. In those 11 losses, the Twins have scored more than two runs just three times (with one of those times being a total of three runs). Two of their four wins have come scoring just two runs. Also in that span, the Twins have lost to run totals of one, two, and three (three times) runs. At this point, it's pretty safe to say the offense is struggling and needs a boost.

Enter Miguel Sano.

Earlier this month, Byron Buxton was promoted by the Twins. While Buxton was the organization's (and baseball's) top prospect, it was Sano who was expected to reach the big leagues first. After missing last season due to Tommy John surgery, there was no doubt Sano would need to shake off some rust. Now into June, Sano appears like he could immediately provide a boost to a struggling Twins lineup.

Since May 20, Sano has hit .324/.410/.592 over the course of 19 games for Double-A Chattanooga. In that time span, he's launched four home runs and driven in 17. His 16/10 strikeout to walk ratio is in a good place, and it would appear that Sano is more than clicking at the plate. His power has been talked about since the day he was signed by the Twins. On the season Sano has 12 home runs, and he's compiled 102 longballs in his 435 minor league games.

So far in 2015, the Twins have started both Kennys Vargas and Kurt Suzuki in the 5 hole 18 times. While Vargas may profile capable of that role, he's hit .150/.150/.150 with nine strikeouts, zero walks, and no extra base hits since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester. Suzuki has regressed from his career year in 2014 as expected, but even at his best (15 HR in 2009), he isn't a power threat.

What's worse than Vargas and Suzuki getting at bats in the heart of the order, the Twins have started Eduardo Nunez and Eduardo Escobar in the 5 hole a combined 12 times on the season. The two utility men have combined for four home runs over the course of 234 at bats. Looking for power in the middle of the lineup, Escobar's .624 OPS simply isn't going to get it done.

Now, although Sano has tormented Double-A pitching, expectations for his major league contributions should no doubt be muted. As with Buxton before him, Sano will be making the leap from Double-A when his time comes. This is definitely the right move, but the success may not immediately translate. The one thing that should however, is his power.

Where Buxton's hit tool is one that is still developing, Sano commands the strike zone well (he's striking out a career low $24.6%), and has an elite level of power. Currently graded 80/80 Raw Power by Fangraphs, Sano possesses the ability to destroy plenty a baseball. His Double-A career .292 ISO (isolated power, or slugging minus average) should be more than welcomed at Target Field.

Paul Molitor hinted that they have been keeping an eye on Sano, and his promotion could come sooner rather than later. The argument probably should be that it needs to be sooner rather than later. Sure, Sano may not hit .300 or even .280 in his first go-round at the big league level, but give him three months and you can bet on him launching 15-20 home runs.

The Twins offense needs a boost, it's time to let it Sano.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Byron Buxton You've Waited For, Maybe

Byron Buxton has now played his first major league game, he's recorded his first major league hit, and he's all but delivered on the enormous amount of hype that has followed him since being selected in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft. Needing seven at bats over the course of two games to record his first hit, we can now begin to wonder what the first tour of duty may look like for the Twins phenom. The expectations are high, but where does reality lie?

As a minor league hitter, Buxton owns a career .296/.380/.486 line over the course of four seasons, 263 games, and 1,014 at bats. In that time, Buxton hit 40 doubles, 36 (!) triples, 27 home runs, drove in 150 runs, and stole 92 bases. He batted .248 in his first professional season, following that up with a .334 average through two levels of A ball. 2014 was cut short by injury and saw Buxton post just a .234 average in 31 games, and that was followed up by a .283 avg at Double-A Chattanooga this season.

Nearly any way you cut it, Byron Buxton was a very good minor league player. If not elite, he was very, very good. To suggest the expectation of the second overall pick is anything but very good would seem silly, but Buxton more than did his part. Having now made the leap to the big leagues, the expectations once again need to shift.

Buxton is in the same prospect realm as Kris Bryant or Mike Trout before them. Looking at both of those players however, Buxton shines elsewhere. As a minor league, Trout owned a career .342/.425/.516 slash line across 286 games. Bryant spent less time on the farm having come out of college, but he compiled a .327/.426/.667 slash line across 181 games.

Obviously Bryant has yet to complete his first big league season, but he's off to an impressive start slashing .294/.403/.482 through his first 53 games. Trout had bigger struggles in his first season at the big league level. In 40 games in 2011, Trout batted just .220/.281/.390 for the Angels.

Looking at what some similar Twins players have done, maybe only Joe Mauer can hold a candle to the kind of hype Byron Buxton brings with him. As a hometown kid, and the first overall pick, Mauer went on to hit .308/.369/.570 in his first 35 games with Minnesota. A .330+ minor league hitter, Mauer's early success was not all that surprising.

Both Torii Hunter (20th pick 1993) and Justin Morneau (3rd round 1999) were prospects with a lesser degree of hype. Hunter hit .255/.309/.380 in his first big league season (135 games in 1999). Morneau, who has always hit more for power than average, batted .226/.287/.377 in 40 games during the 2003 season for the Twins.

Looking at what's been done by those before him, it's understandable to suggest dulling offensive expectations for the Twins new centerfielder. Always regarded as a speed threat (as already witnessed at the MLB level), Buxton's bat was the tool noted as needing the most time to develop. Despite success on the farm, it is going to take time to get acclimated to the pro game. Sp when the dust settles, what does 2015 look like for Buxton?

Across the minors, Buxton struck out at roughly a 19% clip, that number should rise a little bit in the big leagues. He is still adjusting to offspeed pitches, and doing so against MLB caliber players on a nightly basis will prove more challenging. His biggest asset is no doubt going to be his speed.

Not a big bunter, as witnessed by the ugly attempt in his first game against the Rangers (and Buxton himself noting that was his first sacrifice bunt in years), his speed will play in stretching bases. Infield hits should be something Buxton can make a habit of, and his standup triple in his first major league hit was a sign of things to come. With 12 triples across 59 Double-A games in 2015, he's got a real shot to lead the bigs at years' end.

Although I'd argue that Buxton's ceiling is significantly higher, I think 2015 looks a lot like Billy Hamilton's first major league season. The Reds speedy centerfielder put up a .250/.292/.355 slash line in his first season with Cincinnati. Somewhere around five home runs would seem realistic for Buxton, and he should steal plenty of bases. It's going to take him some time to adjust, and with that, there will be growing pains.

No matter how 2015 shakes out however, Buxton is going to benefit greatly from the experience as the Twins will need to lean on him in 2016. As he morphs into the superstar he should become, it will be the next four months that help to springboard that journey. Patience is going to need to be practiced with Buxton, but it should be well worth the wait.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Brian Dozier Is Entering Elite Territory

Earlier this season, the Minnesota Twins signed second basemen Brian Dozier to a four-year, $20 million extension. In doing so, the Twins locked down their star second basemen into the foreseeable future, and bought out some of his arbitration years in the process. Now over a third of the way into the 2015 season, the contract that seemed to be a slam dunk, has turned out to be exactly that in the early going.

Despite Dozier being a fan favorite, and one of the Twins best players, there was some initial criticism of the Twins decision. While the contract did buy out arbitration years, the Twins failed to eat away at any free agency time Dozier would have. In doing the deal this way, Minnesota was locked into a $5 million average annual value until 2018, but Dozier would then be able to be immediately eligible for free agency.

Minnesota was seemingly banking on Dozier being a highly productive player over the course of the next four seasons, while hoping that the loyalty paid early on may offer them a hometown discount when and if that was needed in the long term. So far, both sides are putting their best foot forward.

Obviously it's still extremely early in the life of the contract, but Dozier has broken out even bigger in 2015. After looking the part of an All-Star in 2014, the Twins second basemen owns a .265/.346/.538 slash line this season, all career highs. He leads the team in HR (13), runs scored (51), on base percentage (.346), slugging (.538), on base plus slugging (.883), hits (63), doubles (20 which also leads the American League), triples (3), and walks (27).

It's pretty easy to suggest that Dozier is off to a good start, but to put it into even further context, where he may be going is all the more impressive. As Twins Daily's Nick Nelson notes, Dozier is on pace for 53 doubles, 34 HR, 133 runs scored. Those are marks no Major League Baseball second basemen has topped since 2011. Through just 61 games in 2015, Dozier has been worth 2.6 fWAR and is on pace for a 6.4 fWAR (previous career high is 4.8 in 2014).

Heading into the season, one of the biggest worries for Dozier was his tendency to sell out and pull the ball.  Tony Blengino looked at Dozier's pull tendencies for Fangraphs and suggested he may be about to quickly decline from a ceiling he had reached. So far, the Twins second basemen has stuck with the same process, and the results have followed suit.

In 2015, Dozier has pulled a career high 62.6% of the balls he has put in play. However, Dozier has also recorded a 30.5% hard hit percentage, which is also a career high. While Dozier is hitting just 14.4% of his balls in play to the opposite field (a career low), he's supplemented it by hitting a career high 26.3% of balls in play as line drives.

On top of being great across the board in 2015, Dozier has actually silenced critics in regards to one of his most common knocks. Discredited for having an often low average (which matters very little), Dozier has actually struck out a career high 19.9% this season while batting .21 points above his career mark.

At this point, it's pretty apparent Brian Dozier has been nothing short of spectacular at the plate for the Twins. He's been the power hitter they didn't know they had, and he's gotten it done in multiple facets of his plate appearances. On the defensive side of things, Dozier isn't too shabby either.

Errors haven't been an issue for Dozier since moving from shortstop to second base following the 2012 season. This season, he has just one in 61 games, putting him on pace for 2.5 on the season (would be a career low). He currently has been worth one DRS (defensive run saved) while being on pace for a career best 1.9 UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating runs above average per 150 games).

Looking at what Dozier has been compared to the rest of the major league second basemen, he ranks behind only Jason Kipnis (3.7 fWAR) and Dee Gordon (2.8 fWAR). He is out-slugging both players by at least .034 points and leads all second basemen in home runs (next closest is Dustin Pedroia with 9).

Taking a top down view and assessing everything as a whole, Fangraphs puts Brian Dozier's current value in dollars at $21.2 million, or roughly $1 million more than the entirety of his four year contract. Whether you adhere to advanced analytics or not, the eye test has corroborated the numbers this season, Brian Dozier is very good. At this point, it looks like the Twins got a steal, and if this continues for even half of the contract, both parties are in a place to benefit greatly from one another.

The Torii Hunter Effect, And What's Next

It's 2015, Torii Hunter is 39 years old, and the Minnesota Twins are going to soon be looking at the question of what's next for their heralded fan-favorite. Signed to a one-year, $10.5 million contract, Hunter stated that the Twins were the last team he would play for prior to returning to the fold this season. Now with 55 games under his belt, and a respectable season underway, the Twins are forced to start considering options.

Through just over the first third of the 2015 season, Hunter has posted a .268/.325/.427 slash line. He's added eight long balls and is the team leader in runs batted in. Through 55 games of action, Hunter is worth 1.0 fWAR and has virtually continued along his career trends (.279/.334/.464). At the plate, there is little doubt that Hunter has given the Twins everything they could have asked for and then some.

In the field, Hunter was expected to be more liability than asset, and that too has played out. He's been worth -6 DRS (defensive runs saved) and has a UZR (ultimate zone rating) of just 1.4. Having posted a career worst -18 DRS last season for the Tigers in 1114 innings, he is on pace to be right around that mark once again in 2015. He has also committed three errors in just 44 games, putting him on pace for what would be a career high, eight. Finally, his lone outfield assist has him on pace for just under three on the season, which would be the lowest mark for Hunter since 2009.

Obviously the least quantifiable measurement of Hunter's value to the 2015 Twins is what he has done off of the field in the form of veteran leadership. Between dance parties in the clubhouse, and a sense of early season accountability, Hunter has transformed what has been a culture of losing in recent seasons. Helping to push young players to new heights while allowing veterans to latch on to a vocal leader, Hunter has proved invaluable in that regard.

It may be in his leadership however that causes the most questions for the Twins going forward. In 2016, the Twins should be full throttle into their youth movement. With star prospect Byron Buxton now called up, and youth in the form of Eddie Rosario and Kennys Vargas seeing regular playing time, the roster turnover has begun. Despite being surprisingly competitive in 2015, the Twins push towards relevance should have always been expected to really kick off with the 2016 season and beyond. Looking at what Hunter brings to the table, there's no doubt a question of where, and maybe even if, he fits in.

On one hand, it's quite apparent that Hunter's bat can still play. Despite looking at 40 years old in the 2016 season, Hunter could prove to once again be a valuable asset in the middle of the lineup. While that bat will no doubt be taking away opportunities from young, developing hitters, the Twins could choose to go that direction. On the other hand, the defensive liability Hunter has become should really not have a place in the big leagues going forward. With Buxton and Rosario holding down two spots, Aaron Hicks could be paired to round out the outfield and provide an elite level of defense.

Minnesota factoring in Hunter for next season and beyond will no doubt be a topic of conversation in the coming months. If Torii is willing to be looked upon as solely a designated hitter, and in a rotation with other players at that, then the Twins would no doubt have to listen. Should Hunter want to remain a regular in the field as well however, the Twins may be better off asking him to lend his leadership capabilities in a coaching or consulting capacity.

Torii Hunter has given the Twins so much over his 19 year career, and the organization is all the better for it. In 2015, he continues to be more asset than liability, making sure that remains the scenario into the future is something both parties will have to discuss.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Who's On First, And What's Coming Next?

It's 2015, Joe Mauer is 32 years old, and maybe for the first time in his career, the red flags should be popping up all over the place. Not only is he having arguably the worst season of his career, but it also appears that there may be no end in sight. Whether it's the lingering effects from a concussion, or the wrong side of 30 catching up to him, Twins fans are left wondering what happened to the hometown kid. With that wonderment, the a stark reality presents itself, what happens next?

Through the first 58 games in 2015, Mauer has remained healthy, which is a good sign considering ailments of recent seasons. However, in that time, he has batted just .260/.321/.356 (all significantly ranking as career worsts). On top of the poor batting line, any semblance of power has left him as he has put just two balls over the fence (and six in the last two seasons). If it were not for what he was doing with men in scoring position (.397/.486/.517 30 RBI) you'd be hard pressed to find a value at all.

So when the un-quantifiable value that is "clutch" hitting evens out, what is next for Mauer and the Twins?

I'd argue that depth at catcher may be one of the most problematic positions for the Twins looking through the farm system. Of course, having a sure-fire Hall of Famer move on from the position early didn't help, but there hasn't been much development in the role either. Not far behind however, is the question as to who can play first base.

As it stands currently, Mauer is holding onto the position in large part, because the hope is things will get better. Whether they do or not, what stands waiting in the wings holds little promise as well. On the major league roster, Kennys Vargas is the only true first basemen. Although he possesses the power bat that profiles for the position, in limited action last season (107 innings) he owned a -1 DRS (defensive runs saved) rating and a -2.1 UZR (ultimate zone rating). Vargas lacks ideal reactions and just doesn't look like a long term fit in the field.

Looking past the top tier of the organization, there may be more questions than answers. Reynaldo Rodriguez has played first base for Triple-A Rochester of late, and he profiles as little more than a career minor leaguer or replacement level player.  The Lookouts probably have the most respectable organizational fit in Max Kepler, but there's no doubt questions there as well.

Kepler has dealt with his fair share of injuries and has never played more than 102 games in a season (2014). On the flip side, his 2015 at Chattanooga has provided some serious weight to the promise he has carried through the system since signing as a 17 year old. Batting .299/.352/.488 with two home runs and 21 runs batted in, Kepler has put himself front an center as a consideration for the Twins immediate future.

A converted outfielder, Kepler is no doubt going to take some time to settle into the role at the big league level. Looking through an organization void of many options however, he is a bright spot. The Twins could turn either Trevor Plouffe of Miguel Sano into a first basemen, despite neither of them being there currently. In either case, a learning curve would come into effect as well.

Most importantly, the Twins and what they expected for Joe Mauer has panned out. Looking at what he was as a catcher, and what he has become as a first basemen, we have watched a worst-case scenario unfold. Whether concussion induced, or a multitude of other factors, how the Twins handle who is on first is becoming something needing consideration sooner rather than later.

The Twins Silver Lining

Quite possibly the most often, or even overused word to describe what may lie ahead for the Minnesota Twins in 2015 has been regression. While it's hard to assume that a three game losing streak is indicative of what's to come, there's no doubt Minnesota's offense has struggled of late. Although that may be reflective of a team that has capitalized in high leverage situations, there's something bigger at play here. The Twins offense slumping has not been combined with an all-around collapse, and pitching has been the silver lining.

On the season, the Twins team ERA sits at 3.88; a mark that's good enough for fourth in the American League and ninth in all of baseball. Putting that into context, Minnesota is still without their key free-agent acquisition, and Phil Hughes owns the worst ERA (4.81) in the rotation. On the flip side, the biggest bright spot comes in the form of Mike Pelfrey, who's 2.28 ERA ranks fourth in the American League.

Over the course of the last week, Minnesota has last games giving up 1, 4, 3, and 2 runs. In those games, the offense combined to score three total runs. Wasted quality starts have become something that has hurt the Twins in their recent slide. While the offense has been missing in action, the hurler on the mound has kept things interesting.

The Twins have done some shuffling in hopes of sparking a lineup resurgence. Kennys Vargas was brought back to DH from Triple-A Rochester, and Danny Santana was sent packing. Vargas should add some much needed punch to the lineup as he was on a tear before his initial demotion. Eduardo Escobar leaves a lot to be desired in taking over for Santana, but the Twins could turn to Jorge Polanco in the near future.

As the summer continues on, prospects like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano should also force their way into the Twins lineup, giving them another added boost. Slumps from Trevor Plouffe and Torii Hunter shouldn't be expected to continue, and at the end of the day, the Twins still have their silver lining.

Riding out the recent offensive downturn, the Twins pitching has been there to lead the way. Expect Ervin Santana to be a difference maker for Minnesota when he returns in July. Top pitching prospect, Alex Meyer, also looks like he could provide some immediate value. Since transitioning to the bullpen, Meyer owns a 1.17 ERA 10/4 K/BB ratio and a .148 batting average against. Despite not being given up as a starter yet, Meyer may provide more value out of the pen in the short term.

Going into the season, and considering the recent years of struggle, it would have been hard to convince someone that it would be the pitching that kept the Twins afloat. Now as a true asset, Minnesota is in an advantageous situation as soon as they can rectify the offensive woes. That still needs to happen sooner rather than later, but for now, it looks like the men on the mound are in a good place.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Adding Punch To The Twins Offense

Coming into the week, the Minnesota Twins found themselves preparing for a very important series for the first time in a while. Having played solid baseball to start out the 2015 season, the Twins positioned themselves for more meaningful series early on in the year. Facing off against a Royals team also at the top of the division, Minnesota could create some separation. Unfortunately, that's when the bats went quiet.

Although a small sample size when considering just the first two games against the Royals, the Twins have fallen into the boom or bust trap far too often this season. In the month of June, Minnesota has failed to score more than three runs seven out of nine games. On top of the offensive firepower being void, the Twins have wasted solid pitching performances. Three out of the nine games have been lost with pitchers giving up three or less runs to the opposition.

So, how does the 5th best run scoring team in the American League have such a lackluster offense? The answer is that the Twins have lived and died by an unquantifiable statistic, and the timely hitting is bound to run out.

Minnesota has won a handful of games this season by piling on. Scoring runs in bunches, and driving in runners on base, the Twins have jumped out to insurmountable leads. It's when those hits don't come however, that the offensive construction is unsustainable. No doubt the biggest culprit is one of baseball's most reliable hitters, or he was, Joe Mauer.

On the season, Mauer has 34 runs batted in and is well ahead of his 2014 pace as well as looking at a potential to set a new career high. With runners in scoring position, the Twins first basemen is slashing .411/.500/.536. No doubt those numbers are impressive, but the falloff when the "clutch" situation doesn't present itself is staggering. With the bases empty or a runner on first, Mauer is slashing just .184/.209/.256.

As a whole, the issue has translated into a .260/.322/.358 slash line. While I argued just about a month ago that Mauer was reinventing meaningful statistics, it's a trend that he couldn't possibly keep up. It's hard to fault a line drive hitter for lacking power, but Mauer has turned into something completely different.

Batting out of the three hole, Mauer has not only failed to hit for power in recent weeks, but has offered nothing in the sense of hitting at all. His timely hitting continues to be something that can't be counted upon, and he's become and issue in an important part of the lineup. Immediately behind him, things don't get any better.

For the first two months of the season, you could make the argument that Trevor Plouffe was one of the best third basemen in all of baseball. If Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas weren't having incredible years, Plouffe would be the talk of the American League. Unfortunately, a recent slump has all but shelved that talk.

Since the calendar turned to June, Plouffe has just two hits in 32 at bats and owns a .063/.091/.125 slash line. He's struck out nine times, walked just once, and has driven in just a single run. Over the course of those eight games, Plouffe has served as the Twins cleanup hitter as well. In a run production and power position, he has combined with Mauer to leave Minnesota out to dry.

Now there's no doubt you'd be hard pressed to pin the offensive woes on the bats of two players. Kurt Suzuki and Eduardo Escobar both have batting averages below .240, and the Twins bench is composed of players such as Chris Herrmann and Eduardo Nunez. Regardless of who's at fault, the question for the Twins now becomes, how do you fix it? Still in a great place record-wise, doing so sooner rather than later would no doubt be the best course of action.

Talking points for the shaping the Twins going forward have centered around the promotion of prospects such as Byron Buxton as well as working to sustain the early success. Offensively, the Twins need to focus on raising the bar wherever they can. Of course Buxton should be at the center of those conversations, but recently promoted Jorge Polanco should be as well.

Polanco is being called up for one game as Eddie Rosario spends a day on the paternity list. While I have a hard time seeing how the move is justifiable, I also wonder if the Twins aren't planning to do something more there. Plank may still be a defensive liability at shortstop, but there should be little doubt that his bat will play.

Upgrading deficiencies remains the best course of action for Minnesota. Both Polanco and Buxton would check off those boxes. Another name that seems to make sense would be Josmil Pinto. Hermann offers nothing in terms of a bat off the bench, and is little to write home about behind the plate. Should the Twins have another power threat at their disposal, a once dismal bench could provide Paul Molitor with another option.

At the end of the day, the Twins must begin to get creative. Working the 25 man roster to the best positioning for sustained success shouldn't negate any sort of long term plan, and it's vital if the Twins want to capitalize on 2015. The pitching has been there of late, and the offense has let it down. It's time to bring both facets of the game to a similar high level.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

When Do The Twins Make Their Move?

The Minnesota Twins find themselves playing a pivotal series in the month of June after having suffered through four straight 90 loss seasons. On top of being easily the most surprising team through the first third of the season, the Twins have positioned themselves extremely well. However, to stay consistent with their current positioning, a push towards an improved roster will need to take place.

A season ago, the Minnesota Twins made the surprising move of signing free agent Kendrys Morales. The slugger had sat out all of spring training and was looked past due to having a draft pick tied to his signing. The Twins agreed to a deal with Morales on June 8, signifying their desire to stay relevant. At that point in the season, Minnesota owned a 29-32 record.

The decision to bring Morales into the fold blew up in all sorts of ways for the Twins. He slashed .234/.259/.325 in 39 games while hitting just a single home run for Minnesota. On July 24, just over a month after being signed, the Twins dealt Morales to the Mariners for reliever Stephen Pryor.

Fast forward to 2015, and the Twins find themselves in a similar position, but one that seemingly has so much more control linked to it. In 2014, the organization made the reactive move to go after Morales only after they had begun to slip having hovered around the .500 mark for the first few months. Rather than deciding Morales' bat could help them early on, they brought him in after it was too late (not to mention his lack of production helped to sink the ship). This time around, the Twins can choose to handle the situation proactively, and maybe even from within.

As of this writing, Minnesota is tied for first atop the AL Central with the Kansas City Royals. At 33-24, the club has played above their heads, but have continued to get the job done. With a pitching staff that has been improved, the offense has actually been the detrimental factor of late. Currently, the big league club is offering up positions to lackluster bats such as Chris Herrmann, Eduardo Escobar, and Eduardo Nunez. Rectifying those areas prior to the eventual fall would signify the Twins staying ahead of the proverbial game.

Last season Minnesota felt the need to go outside of the organization for their difference maker. The prospect bats were deemed not ready for the big leagues, and it's hard to blame them for that strategy. This season however, there's no doubt that the narrative is different. Miguel Sano is currently batting .253 for Double-A Chattanooga, but his 10 home runs would rank near the top of the Twins leaders. Byron Buxton has slashed .318/.376/.541 since May 16, and Jorge Polanco owns a .315 average at Double-A. Oswaldo Arcia still remains on the farm (and maybe for good reason) as does Josmil Pinto. While not all of the mentioned names should be considered, it's apparent that the Twins have options.

Going forward, the Twins have some difficult decisions to make, as well as a skinny tightrope to walk. Without sacrificing future development, there's little reason for them not to make the most of their current opportunity. While they don't need to deplete or rush the farm system, they should be supplementing the big league group with realistic internal talent. Promoting Buxton or Polanco in August after the dust has settled is going to be little more than a consolation of what could have been.

If nothing else, the Twins have shown a decent job at being more aggressive this season. Under Paul Molitor, the big league club has ran the bases differently, Terry Ryan has made notable promotions, and this club is fun to watch again. It's getting to be decision time though at the major league level; the Twins need to capitalize on the position they have put themselves in.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Did Correa Open Buxton's Door?

The Minnesota Twins have spent the last week or so jostling for position atop the AL Central. Having somewhat cooled off after their torrid run in may, the offense has been somewhat to blame. Now having brought power hitting designated hitter Kennys Vargas back into the fold, it appears that may be a targeted approach for run support. To help further, the Twins could look at the blueprint laid out by fellow AL surprise team, the Houston Astros, and allow top prospect Byron Buxton to follow in Carlos Correa's footsteps.

Houston made the move to call up top prospect Correa over the weekend. He was the lone player drafted ahead of Buxton, and has also experienced a ton of success at the minor league level. Starting at Double-A Corpus Christi this season, Correa slashed .385/.459/.726 with seven home runs and 32 runs batted in. He added 15 stolen bases and legged out 15 doubles as well. By all accounts, Correa dominated the Texas League.

The Astros sent Correa to Triple-A Fresno for 24 games following his hot start. While his average dipped (.276) he still got on base at a high clip (.345) and slugged .449. It was after just 24 games in the Pacific Coast League that Houston believed they had seen enough. In bringing up Correa, the Astros signified a desired to maximize their current winning ways, and continue along that path well into the summer.

Now the Twins have the opportunity to follow suit. With the Cubs having promoted Kris Bryant a few weeks ago, and Correa getting the call, Byron Buxton remains the last of the elite tier of prospects expected to reach the major leagues this season.

Much like Correa, Buxton suffered a lost season in 2014. Correa played in 62 games before suffering a season ending injury. In 2014, Buxton was only able to play in 31 games after dealing with a wrist injury and then a concussion. Now 54 games into his 2015 season, there's no doubt that the countdown to his arrival is on.

Unlike Correa, Buxton hasn't lit the Double-A Southern League on fire. After starting incredibly cold, he has evened out and is now batting .267/.327/.475. Outside of the traditional batting line however, his speed has played tremendously, evidenced by his league leading 11 triples and 19 stolen bases. Things are also continuously trending up for Buxton, who has batted .318/.376/.541 since May 16.

There's no doubt the Twins could use a boost at the top of their lineup, and Buxton profiles as an ideal leadoff hitter. Despite what Brian Dozier has done for Minnesota this season, it still makes sense to get a couple of guys on ahead of his power bat. Followed in the lineup by players like Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer, Buxton hitting ahead of that group would no doubt be a positive.

On top of the added offensive boost, the Twins could transform their outfield into a positive situation less than halfway through the season. Instead of Oswaldo Arcia and Torii Hunter flanking center, Minnesota could go Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Aaron Hicks from left to right. Hunter would factor in at the DH spot and could spell Hicks in certain situations. No matter the configuration, Buxton possesses Gold Glove ability in the outfield with speed that would make Target Field look small.

At this point, it's hard to imagine that we aren't past the Super 2 deadline for prospects, and whether or not the Twins are taking that into consideration really shouldn't matter. I'm not ready to suggest that Buxton will be in Minnesota by the end of the month, but Correa's promotion should be seen as more of a blueprint for the Twins to follow than anything.

While believing we would see the star centerfielder sometime in August a few weeks ago, there's no doubt the timeline has changed to sometime in July at the latest. Minnesota is on a great run, and sustaining it will be done from within. Getting your best asset to the big leagues sooner than later is a great place to start.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Problem Behind The Plate

The Minnesota Twins are in the midst of a very impressive run. Easily the most surprising team in Major League Baseball this season, the Twins have positioned themselves atop the AL Central. While it's been a fun run, all of the advanced analytics suggest that regression is coming. While that sentiment may be overblown, the best way to curb the downfall in your favor is to attack it. That's something the Twins haven't necessarily done, and it may start behind the plate.

Whether you put stock in analytics or not, you'd be hard pressed to convince someone that the Twins aren't playing over their heads right now. Of course at some point that will begin to show, and if Minnesota wants to dull those effects, being proactive should be the taken route. Players such as Tim Stauffer, Chris Herrmann, Danny Santana, and even Eduardo Nunez could be upgraded from within. Doing so would result in a net positive for the Twins floor. One position and player not being talked about however is Kurt Suzuki, and the catching role.

Prior to this season, the Twins handed out a two-year extension to the veteran backstop. Regardless of his All-Star season in 2014, that was absolutely the right move. Locking down a reliable starting catcher is something that every major league team must do, but they all come at a relative premium. Minnesota didn't face a hefty price tag for Suzuki, and he fits with this team in the immediate plans. That said, he along with Santana, was a glaring candidate for regression. It's interesting to note that while it's hit hard, it's been overlooked.

In recent weeks, Suzuki has spent a considerable amount of time batting 5th in the Twins lineup despite lacking any semblance of power. This season, he's slashing .239/.317/.324 and has driven in just 15 runs. Not a high strikeout guy, Suzuki hasn't failed in one certain area, but rather has underwhelmed at the plate as a whole.

For Twins fans though, it's quickly pointed out that Suzuki is on the roster to catch. Many are quick to assimilate him to a defensive catcher, even while that doesn't appear to be the case. Forget the fact that Suzuki is one of the worst in the majors when it comes to pitch framing, he's actually been worth -2 DRS (defensive runs saved) this season. To put that into context, Chris Herrmann, the backup catcher and career minor leaguer, is worth exactly the same fWAR (0.2) and a better -1 DRS number.

There's little doubt that defensive catchers have value to big league teams. Typically they are paired with an offensive counterpart (ie. Drew Butera with Joe Mauer). In his time with the Twins, Drew Butera was worth 3, -1, and 2 DRS, a quantifiable asset behind the plate. While he did nothing with the bat, his presence was a welcomed addition to the lineup in a reserve capacity.

More often than not, Josmil Pinto has been tied to his lack of catching ability. There's no doubt he's not an every day backstop (he threw out ZERO runners in 25 chances last season), but that's the problem. He doesn't have to be.

Twins catchers are combining to hit .203/.265/.325 with 3 HR and have played below average defense. Down on the farm (and even in the midst of a relative cold spell), Pinto has hit .253/.330/.418 with 6 HR. The home run total would put Pinto tied for 5th best amongst MLB catchers. Currently, 12 teams have catchers with more home runs than either Suzuki or Herrmann.

The culmination of each of these issues is that the Twins have a position without a relative plan. Catcher's are generally regarded as power producing hitters, something the Twins have decided to balk on. Pinto was told he needed to hit, which he has, yet he sits behind two catchers that don't. Defensively, both catchers on the Twins rosters are also a net negative, and the best thing either one has going for them is a veteran presence that is respected by Twins pitchers.

In no way should the suggestion be that the Twins do anything with Kurt Suzuki. He over-performed last season, and the upcoming regression was seen a mile away. However, continuing to balk on Chris Herrmann as the backup makes little sense. Pinto brings immediate positives over the alternative, doesn't need to focus solely on catching, and removes lackluster options from the designated hitter role.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, regression may be looming for the Twins, but it's up to them in how they combat it. Making internal upgrades to stave off potential downfalls seems like a good place to start. Doing so behind the plate sooner rather than later seems to make too much sense.

What Happens To Oswaldo Arcia?

In recent seasons, the Minnesota Twins have been chastised for keeping players on their 25 man roster in somewhat of a scholarship situation. Veterans that have served their time have been given the benefit of doubt, regardless of the detriment to the team. With young players however, the Twins have made a point to make known that maturity is a priority. Miguel Sano was taught this, and now it appears Oswaldo Arcia is the latest project.

After spending a few weeks on the disabled list, the Twins activated Arcia and then promptly optioned him to Rochester. In somewhat of a surprising move, the Twins could point to Arcia's lack of production in Triple-A while on his rehab stint. Going 0-14 over that time span, he'd seemingly lost all ability to protect a strike zone.

Last night, the Twins Opening Day left fielding reached a tipping point. After being disgusted with a strike two call, and showing his displeasure to home plate umpire, he did this on the very next pitch:
There's little doubt that this isn't going to go over well with front office management for the Twins, and it likely isn't going to help shorten Arcia's time down on the farm. For all of the upside the young Venezuelan has, he has also become synonymous with a less than ideal attitude. No doubt the Twins want him to hit his way back to the big leagues, but the attitude has to follow suit.

Looking at Arcia and a return to the big leagues, that also brings into question what the Twins do with him. He's been brought up by many in regards to a trade. Whether that be because of declining performance, or the perceived log jam in the outfield, Arcia is consistently tied to being the odd man out. That being said, it would appear that following a strategy like that would be less than an ideal path to take.

Still with an affinity to chase pitches, and an unrefined swing, Oswaldo Arcia blasted 20 home runs in just 103 games last season for the Twins. In 97 games in 2013, Arcia hit 14 long balls. A big frame with plenty of power, Arcia projects as a guy who should hit 20 home runs with his eyes closed for the majority of the next few years. There's no doubt he needs to work on his approach as a whole, but there are far less reason for concern than seem to be discussed.

Prior to going on the DL this season, Arcia was hitting .276/.338/.379 with two home runs in 19 games for the Twins. Right now, his value could not be lower. Coming off of injury, struggling in Triple-A, and showing attitude issues, the Twins would only stand to lose in any deal involving the left-fielder.

There's no doubt the attitude issues can't continue, Arcia displayed plenty of it at the big league level as well. That aside however, his bat belongs at the big league level and playing for the Twins. Minnesota is not in a spot where it makes sense to trade Arcia, and for a team lacking power punch, he should be expected to provide it. Arcia's timeframe probably depends on him right now, but the Twins giving up on him should not be in the cards.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

May Trevor Be The Bigger Prize?

It was the offseason before the 2013 Major League Baseball season was ready to kick off. The Twins were coming off of yet another 90 loss season, and this team appeared to be going nowhere fast. With poor pitching across the board, a reinvention of the organization was in need. That's when the roster shuffle came.

First, Denard Span was sent to the Washington Nationals for a top pitching prospect. Not a month later, Ben Revere was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies for two pitchers in return. It was Nationals prospect, Alex Meyer, that was regarded as the top of the rotation arm that the Twins so desperately needed. The Phillies sent Vance Worley, a regressed rookie of the year candidate, and pitching prospect Trevor May to the Twins. With plenty of promise tied up in each arm, the Twins were willing to let the chips fall where they may.

Fast forward to today, and the narrative has all but played out. Vance Worley played just one season for the Twins (pitching to a 7.21 ERA across 48.2 innings pitched in 10 games) before being sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Alex Meyer overpowered minor league opponents for two years despite struggling with an increasing walk issue. However, a disastrous start to 2015 pushed him to the bullpen in hopes to reclaim his past form. Then, there’s Trevor May.

In his first season on the farm with the Twins, May posted a 4.51 ERA in 27 starts at Double-A New Britain. While his 9.4 K/9 numbers were great, his 4.0 BB/9 ratio had the makings of similar scares Meyer brought with him. In 2014 at Rochester, May looked even better posting a 2.85 ERA across 18 starts with a 8.6 K/9, but the walk issue (3.6 BB/9) still remained.

May had shown the Twins enough, and to be frank the big league club didn’t have many quality options, to earn a cup of coffee in September 2014. His first 10 big league games saw him post a 7.88 ERA, and that 4.3 BB/9 reared its head at the major league level. As the calendar turned to 2015 however, May appeared to leave those issues behind.

In spring training, it was Trevor May that was in the thick of a heated battle for the 5th and final rotation spot. Despite eventually losing out to the likes of Tommy Milone, May impressed far more often than not down in Florida. With the roster shuffling that would quickly take place, May found himself back on the big league roster in short order.

Early results this season were mixed for May. An ugly first start was followed by his first win in which he ceded just one run to what was expected to be a solid Indians team. Despite a short start and a clunker in Cleveland mixed in, May seemed to make progress each outing. The walk numbers were down significantly, and he was throwing better than his defense was willing to help him look.

It was his 10th start however, and first of his career in Boston, that seemed to be the culmination of all the hard work put in. With Minnesota needing a win to avoid a three game losing streak, May put the team on his back. A seven inning, two-hit shutout, was capped off by striking out nine Red Sox batters, and not walking a single one. It seemed, all in the course of one night, Trevor May had arrived.

As it stands currently, May’s 4.45 ERA is nothing to brag about, but his 2.80 FIP (fielding independent pitching) suggests he’s been so much better. The biggest change for the Twins rookie however, is that he has all but abandoned his affinity to give up free bases. Striking out batters at a 7.9 K/9 clip (and leading the Twins with 50 K), May has walked just nine all season (a 1.4 BB/9 ratio). In reinventing himself, May has taken himself out of the discussion as the Twins 5th starter, and pushed himself to be regarded as one of the best on the bump.

There’s little argument to be made that Alex Meyer has not turned out to be what the Twins had hoped at this point. He’s a 25 year old former top prospect that has now been pushed to the bullpen. The days of him being a top of the rotation guy may be over. As unfortunate as that may be, it is in Trevor that the Twins can find promise. Despite not being brought in with the hype of Meyer, May was a 4th round pick on his own, and has begun to come into his own.

It isn’t all there yet for Trevor May, but there’s little doubt that he’s on the right path towards becoming a very solid pitcher. Although it may not have been the expected scenario, May is becoming the prized pitcher they believed they were getting the summer they traded their centerfielders away. It’s just the beginning, but it sure looks like a ride you won’t want to miss.