Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Torii Hunter's Departure Ushers In New Twins Outfield

Torii Hunter has officially announced his retirement from baseball. For fans around Twins Territory, this should come with mixed emotions. While Hunter was a player beloved by many, he was an aging player well past his prime. Now with the Twins set to move on, they can focus on crafting their outfield for the future. What exactly does that look like however?

In 2015, Hunter started 121 games in right field for the Twins. He contributed 1,035 innings, made 231 putouts, and added six outfield assists. On the offensive side of things, the fan favorite slashed .240/.293/.409 with 22 homers and 81 runs batted in. From a top down view, that's what the Twins are looking to replace. Broadening the scope though, there's some other factors at play with Hunter's departure.

As an outfield, Hunter has been a liability for some time now. He made a career high five errors, and had the second lowest fielding percentage (.979) of his 19 year career. Looking into the advanced metrics, the Arkansas native was worth -8 defensive runs saved this past season, and he owned a lackluster 0.3 ultimate zone rating. To summarize, Torii Hunter the outfielder is addition by subtraction for the Twins.

Going into 2016, the assume outfield configuration (or at least the one for the bulk of the season), should be Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Aaron Hicks from left to right. It wouldn't be surprising to see Buxton start at Triple-A, but he'll likely spend 75% of his season with the Twins. Despite having those three locked in, Minnesota has been afforded some other options with Hunter's retirement.

While Hicks has the ability to be a 20/20 guy if he can build of his impressive 2015, Rosario and Buxton are tougher to project. Buxton could still face some growing pains, and Rosario's free swinging tendencies make him a prime candidate to face some regression. With that in mind, the focus turns to who's behind the main three.

On what is almost assuredly his final chance, Oswaldo Arcia will need to impress. The defensively lacking outfielder didn't contribute anything significant to the Twins in 2015. Despite a hot homer stretch at Triple-A, his final average was actually below the Mendoza Line. However, Arcia is just a year removed from a 20 homer season at the big league level. Out of options in 2016, Arcia will be given every opportunity to turn the corner.

After Arcia, it's another intriguing prospect, and the Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year, Max Kepler. 23 next season, Kepler broke out big time in 2015. He slashed .318/.410/.520 spending 112 games with Double-A Chattanooga. With nine homers, and 13 triples, Kepler's power and speed combination is exciting. Having gotten a cup of coffee to end the 2015 season, there's no doubt the German wants to be at the big league level for good.

By retiring, Hunter likely saved the Twins from themselves. After playing on a one-year, $10.5 million deal in 2015, a similar situation was going to play out in 2016 had he wanted to return (likely for less money). Instead, Minnesota is afforded an open roster spot, and the position to integrate the talented youth providing outfield depth.

Going into the 2015 season, the Twins had far from a sure thing in Hicks, and Rosario (despite a strong spring) wasn't yet ready for the big time. Hunter manned the outfield with the likes of Arcia and vets Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson. This time around, it's the kids time to run with it. Behind the main three, both Arcia or Kepler can be included among the 25 man to round out the outfield grouping. Should Buxton start on the farm, it'll be Arcia in right with the 4th spot up for grabs.

At the end of the day, Minnesota has plenty of options to pick up where Hunter left off. Almost all of them provide a net gain in being better defensive fits, and the offensive ceiling should only be pushed as time goes on. Although the Torii Hunter era has ended, it's the best case scenario for Minnesota, and Paul Molitor has plenty of weapons at his disposal.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Torii's Next Stop, The Mound

Last night, Torii Hunter decided to officially hang up his cleats after 19 seasons playing Major League Baseball. Having spent the majority of his career with the Twins, the fan favorite no doubt will go down as one of the most celebrated Minnesota sports figures ever. What he should not do though is see his number hung from the rafters (er above Barrio in left field). Instead, his next stop should be the mound for a ceremonial first pitch.

There's little denying that Torii Hunter gave both the Minnesota Twins and the game of baseball a significant amount of lift. He was a nine-time Gold Glove award winner, he went to four All Star games, and he won two Silver Sluggers in his career. The Arkansas native belted 353 career home runs, tallied 2,452 hits, and drove in 1,391 runs. By all measurable standards it was a great career.

That also presents the issue for Hunter in regards to retiring number 48. It was great, but not exceptional.

As things stand currently, the Minnesota Twins have retired just seven numbers. Those include Kirby Puckett, Harmon Killebrew, Kent Hrbek, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Tom Kelly, and Bert Blyleven. Four of those players are in the Hall of Fame, one is an eight-time All Star, another is a two-time World Series manager, and the final is somewhat of a by-product of being a hometown hero. So, where does Torii fit among that grouping?

In terms of statistical quantification, Hunter has compiled a career 41.6 fWAR. That number is higher than only Tony Oliva (40.7 fWAR) and Kent Hrbek (37.6 fWAR). It trails significantly behind Kirby Puckett (66.1 fWAR), Rod Carew (72.3 fWAR), and Bert Blyleven (102.9). Hunter's best season by fWAR standards came in 2012 (with the Angels) when he posted a 5.2 mark. On a per season basis, he's averaged just 2.19 fWAR. To put that into context, Eddie Rosario posted a 2.3 fWAR for the Twins in 2013.

When deciding whether or not to retire Hunter's number, it's probably less about the numbers than the other factors surrounding it. Looking back on his career, you'd be hard pressed to argue that Hunter's value across Twins Territory was not first and foremost felt through an emotional attachment. He was fun to watch, played the game the right way, and got it done. As noted above though, he was great, but not exceptional. Allowing him in the club opens up a difficult door.

Looking back at some of the teams Torii was best known for, there's two other names that would seem to be in his class. Both Brad Radke and Joe Nathan could have a similar claim to make should Hunter's jersey be no more. Radke owned a 38.7 fWAR despite being a pitcher and playing for only 12 seasons (he also was with the Twins for all of them). While Nathan can't be quantified through WAR, his Twins record saves total comes full circle.

In total, the suggestion is far from Torii Hunter not being celebrated, he absolutely should. However, he should not be revered, and the honor of a number no longer being available should remain a sacred right of passage. Hunter has my vote to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day 2016, but leave the jersey retiring to those who achieved more.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Spider-Man In The Flesh, Torii Hunter Says Goodbye

After 19 seasons, and a final farewell, Torii Hunter has decided to hang up his cleats. There was no tour as he completed his final 139 games, there was no final moment, and there wasn't even an at bat in the Twins final game. For Torii, things ended the same way they started, on his terms.

After being the 20th overall selection by the Minnesota Twins in the 1993 Major League Baseball draft, Hunter debuted in 1997 at the age of 21. Becoming a regular two years later, the 23 year-old would go on (unbeknownst to him) to be one of the most celebrated Twins in history. Thinking about the 408ft marker out in centerfield at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was not possible without Torii's image emblazoned in front of it.

For his career, Torii was a man of moments. Despite being celebrated as a defensive superstar, it was the awe inspiring and jaw dropping catches that truly defined his prowess. While not the fastest in center, and without the strongest arm, Hunter relied on instinct and feel. Robbing home runs became his calling card, both at the Metrodome and on the road. While sabermetrics suggest that Hunter was average at best defensively for much of his career, moments such as his robbing Barry Bonds during the 2002 All Star game only took his defensive lore to new heights.

In fact, it was actually the bat that paced Hunter for many of his 19 seasons. Owning a career .277/.331/.461 slash line, Hunter compiled 2,452 hits, 353 homers, and 1,391 runs batted in. He produced his two highest averages of his career at the ages of 36 and 37, and eight times he batted .280 or higher.

Then, there was his durability. Over the course of his 19 seasons, Hunter showed up each and every day. He competed in at least 135 games in 14 of those seasons, and played in over 150 on four different occasions. In his final tour with the Twins in 2015, it was that ability to show up that drew Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor to bring the veteran back one last time.

With young talent such as Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario needing mentorship, it was Hunter who was there to provide it. Throughout spring training and into the season, it was Hunter who dictated clubhouse life, and led the outfielders down the path of success. With his track record behind him, the young prospects on board were able to emulate what they one day would hope to become.

Now with the certainty that Torii Hunter's career has come to an end, the Twins can move on and move forward into a new era. Having bridged the gap between what was and what is to come, centerfield is now being turned over to a new crop of talent. For everything Torii was to Twins Territory, the likes of Aaron Hicks and Byron Buxton will never be able to replace him. What they can do however, is hope to follow his example and light their own path.

For everything, the good the bad, ups and downs, excitement and failures, thank you Torii Hunter.

World Series Primer: They'll Never Be Royal

The Major League Postseason is quickly coming to a close, and we now have entered World Series territory. With the Kansas City Royals outlasting the Toronto Blue Jays, they will meet the New York Mets fresh off a sweep of the Chicago Cubs. Two contrasting clubs go at it with a ring on the line for only one of them. Now, who comes out on top?

For the Mets, the advantage starts on the bump. Throwing Matt Harvey in game one is a nice start, but following him up with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz is what really makes the difference. Utilizing a four man rotation compiled of top-of-the-rotation talent puts the Royals up against a tough task. There's no doubt that the starting rotation for the Mets will pace them in the series.

On the offensive side for New York, it's the tale of two seasons. A competitive club through the first half, it was the second half addition of Yoenis Cespedes that brought them to a new level. Combine Cespedes' bat with the explosion that has been Daniel Murphy in the playoffs, and the Mets have a lethal run producing lineup. For all of the Mets positives though, this is uncharted territory from the team hailing from Citi Field.

Owning home field advantage and one of the best records in baseball, the Royals are back where their season ended a year ago. After falling to the San Francisco Giants a season ago, Kansas City is looking to end 2015 on a better note. While the pitching matchups to start the game are definitely not in their favor, Ned Yost's squad won't take leading games lightly.

If it's the Mets rotation that looms large, it's the Royals bullpen that does the same. Following a starter, opposing hitters know they have the combination of Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, and Wade Davis to look forward to. All but guaranteeing a lead stays in tact after the 7th inning, Kansas City is able to significantly shorten a game.

Offensively, the Royals are nothing to scoff at either. Despite not playing the Mets this season, the Royals owned a +83 run differential (as opposed to the Mets +70). Paced by established youth such as Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Salvador Perez, the Royals talent has been battle tested in this same situation. With the benefit of home field advantage, the Royals also have a 51-30 record on their side at The K during the regular season. Unfortunately for the Mets, they could muster only one game above .500 (41-40) on the road.

Looking at the series from a top down view, it's pretty hard to suggest either team has a substantial advantage. With the extra days rest, it's worth wondering whether or not the Mets bats will have cooled some. The Royals have to wonder what Johnny Cueto will show up. Both teams will be looking to steal at least one contest on the road (I don't see this going seven). By almost any measurement, this season's fall classic looks to be very even.

With that all in mind, give me the American League and AL Central Kansas City Royals. While there's no doubt the Mets pitching is going to be tough to beat up, Kansas City is a year removed from being in this same spot. Knowing the agony of defeat, you can bet the group composed of much of the same players will be looking to taste victory this time around. We're in for a good one, but Kansas City wins their first World Series since 1985 by a series tally of 4-2.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Weeding Through Molitor's Messages

Between blogs (hopefully this is your first stop), traditional newspaper outlets, and advanced media such as radio and television, the Twins are well covered in the Twin Cities. Making a regularly scheduled appearance on ESPN Radio with Patrick Reusse, Paul Molitor provided some interesting tidbits yesterday. Over the course of his 45 minute candid appearance, there were some Twins notes that definitely are worth addressing.

Paul Molitor is heading into his first offseason having been the acting manager the season before. With a full year of evaluation, Molitor now has the task of positioning the active roster for sustained competitiveness in the years to come. Judging by his interview, he's already given the process some serious thought.

Early on when talking to Reusse, Molitor addressed the bullpen, and suggested Neal Cotts could be brought back. As things stand currently, Cotts (acquired from the Brewers) is headed to free agency. There's been some buzz that the Twins would look into bringing him back needing a left-handed arm in relief. Cotts pitched on a one-year, $3 million deal in 2015, and no doubt would be looking for more. He owned a 3.95 ERA across 13.2 IP for the Twins, but had a 5.99 FIP (fielding independent pitching) and a 1.390 WHIP. Cotts struck out just 5.9 per nine and walked 3.3 per nine (walks mirroring his career numbers). If you're looking to fix the pen, Cotts isn't where I'd start.

Following the pen discussion, Molitor then turned his attention toward some of the youth in the Twins organization. First noting pitcher Jose Berrios, Molitor had good things to say of his performance in 2015. With a 2.87 ERA and 9.5 K/9 in 2015, it's hard not to be excited about the production. The Twins skipper did touch on concerns of workload (Berrios pitched 166.1 innings in 2015, previous high was 139.2), despite noting his work ethic and conditioning.

There was plenty of angst towards the Twins in not promoting Berrios down the stretch. Molitor suggested that he was in favor of keeping the Puerto Rican hurler on the farm, and that service time and contracts unfortunately come into play. He'll be pushing for time out of Spring Training, but it doesn't sound like Molitor plans on opening that door too easily.

From the mound to the outfield, Molitor then discussed Byron Buxton's performance down the stretch. Despite not getting into too much action, Molitor noted the staff "saw lots of signs of improvement," also noting his "athleticism is off the charts." It doesn't appear that the organization is convinced Buxton will open 2016 with the big league club however. Buxton shouldn't have a prolonged stay in Triple-A, but beginning the season there seems like the route that may be taken.

Staying in the outfield, Torii Hunter then became a talking point. Molitor praised his season (at least the 20 HR 80 RBI portion of it), and said there's "interest on our side," in regards to bringing him back. It doesn't sound like Torii has made up his mind as to what he'd like to do. Despite Reusse suggesting most don't understand defensive metrics outside of the organization, it's the defensive metrics that should have Twins fans wanting Hunter out the door. He posted an ugly -8 DRS (defensive runs saved) and a poor 0.3 UZR (ultimate zone rating) in 2015. His roster spot is better used on someone more than just a figurehead.

Interestingly enough, and despite the youth out in the outfield, Molitor seems to believe the Twins outfield depth isn't where he wants it. Noting that Hicks is off to a good start but needs to continue that path, and having some other unproven youth, he took the conversation to an unexpected place. Suggesting it's "not out of the realm of possibility" to play Miguel Sano in the outfield, it doesn't seem the Twins are concerned about getting him out of being solely a DH.

Lastly addressing the infield, Molitor quickly suggested that Eduardo Escobar is their shortstop. He earned the role in 2015, and should be allowed to run with it for the immediate future. His fWAR ranks 12th among 72 shortstops with 100 or more plate appearances since 2014 (credit @Brandon_Warne).

With Escobar locking down short, Molitor offered that "We're (Twins) going to run into issues with (Danny) Santana, out of options and all." The problem with this line of thinking is that there really is no problem at all. Both Escobar and Eduardo Nunez filled super utility roles for the Twins in the past. Santana seems like the ideal candidate to do so at least in 2016, and that decision becomes even more clear when not wasting roster spots on players like Hunter.

As a whole, the conversation was extremely candid, and often times Molitor lets slip some very good tidbits of information. The Twins have begun to trim their 40 man roster already, and more decisions loom this offseason. Minnesota needs to take another step forward in 2016, and seeing how that happens will be interesting.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Questions Still Loom For Twins 40 Man

As with all major league organizations, the offseason brings change. The Twins have been done with baseball games since the first week of October. Now looking ahead to preparing for 2016, roster decisions begin. The first came with three players being removed from the 40 man roster. Shane Robinson, Eric Fryer, and Aaron Thompson were all outrighted to Triple-A and cleared waivers.

Heading into 2015, Robinson was signed strictly as a veteran outfielder to provide depth, a move that the Twins missed on the year before. Paired with Jordan Schafer, it was Robinson who proved vital and gave the Twins everything they asked of him. Fryer is was little more than catching depth this past season, and despite getting big league action, it was more out of necessity than anything. Thompson, a former first round pick (by the Florida Marlins), put together a strong first couple months before eventually falling off the deep end for the Twins.

Now with all three players allowed to either accept the assignment to Triple-A or elect free agency (as I would expect Shane Robinson will and should), the Twins 40 man roster stands at 37. With both Logan Darnell and Ryan Pressly on the 60 day DL and needing to be activated, that leaves one opening of the 40. Minnesota no doubt needs more space however.

Before even considering free agency or trade acquisitions, Terry Ryan has some internal housekeeping to do. Minor leaguers Taylor Rogers, J.T. Chargois, Zack Jones, Felix Jorge, Travis Harrison, and Adam Brett Walker all need to be added to the 40 man or be vulnerable in the Rule 5 Draft. Each of those players would seem likely for the Twins to want to protect. In total, that's seven needs with just one open spot.

Having yet to do so, Minnesota has room to trim more from the 40 man however. A.J. Achter came up late in the season and pitched out of the pen, but his minor league success didn't follow, he would seem to be someone that would go unclaimed on waivers and could be outrighted. Ryan O'Rourke would also fit that mold. Concerning more "big-league" type names, Blaine Boyer, Brian Duensing, Chris Herrmann, and Eduardo Nunez are all possibilities.

I'd assume that Minnesota would be open to bringing Boyer back in 2016. Despite pitcher over his head for the most part, he could have a role in an improved pen. Duensing likely won't (and shouldn't) be offered a new deal, so I'd expect him to be on the way out. For Herrman, his place is in secure if the Twins don't address their need for a catcher (they likely will, but that means Herrmann's removal will be spoken for). I'm not quite sure on a read for Nunez and his spot with the Twins going forward. He's arbitration eligible, but he could be bumped if the Twins want to use Danny Santana (who's out of options) in the utility role.

Looking at those raw numbers in a quick sense though, it would seem they open up only three more guaranteed 40 man roster spots. In total, that gives the Twins four openings with seven guys needing protection, and outside help likely on the way. Trades could address some of the roster crunch, and we're sure to see things unfold more completely as the offseason drags on.

The only other guaranteed openings for the Twins come through the removal (or assumed removal) of free agents. Minnesota has five: Torii Hunter, Mike Pelfrey, Duensing, Boyer, and Neal Cotts. Hunter is a wile card, while Pelfrey is anything but. Duensing is assumed gone, and Boyer is up in the air. The Twins will likely talk to Cotts, but his performance down the stretch should have them being cautious, left-handed thrower and all.

For now however, those guys on the bubble have to be wondering where they fit for the Twins going forward. In the Rule 5 Draft this past season, the Twins selected J.R. Graham from the Atlanta Braves, and they lost Sean Gilmartin to the Mets.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Minnesota's Next Free Agent Arm?

After the 2015 Major League Baseball season that the Minnesota Twins just experienced, expectations for the upcoming 2016 year are at an all time high. Having not made the playoffs since the 2010 season, this offseason is pivotal. Terry Ryan and the Twins brain-trust will be expected to make some key moves to push the Twins over the top. Once again, could it be another free agent pitcher that highlights the winter?

Each of the past few seasons, the Twins have made a splash. First it was Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. Last offseason, it was Ervin Santana. Now with pitching as more of a strength, and looking to push the attitude towards a higher quality than simply a quantity of arms, a different type of starter could emerge.

The free agent pool for starting pitchers this offseason has multiple different tiers covered. There's the unrealistic types such as Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke, and David Price. Then there's more of the same (similar to Hughes or Santana) in names like Yovani Gallardo, Jaime Garcia, Scott Kazmir, and even Clay Bucholz. One name not mentioned, and a guy that could be a potential fit, Jordan Zimmerman.

After seven seasons with the Washington Nationals, Zimmerman is ready to move on. Coming off a 2 year, $24 million deal, he's ready for his first big payday. Something in the five year, $90-100 million range seems expected, and for a guy who will be 30 in May, that sounds about right.

In 2015, Zimmerman posted his worst full season with the Nationals. The good news is he was still pretty good. Owning a 3.66 ERA across 33 starts and 201.2 IP, he backed his performance with a 3.75 FIP (fielding independent pitching). His walk numbers (1.7 BB/9) fit in well with the Twins staff, and despite not being a strikeout master (7.3 K/9), he'd be among the Twins best.

Having never pitched in the American League, there's no doubt the Twins would be taking a chance on bringing him over. His sparkling 2.84 ERA at home in 2015 helped to downplay a 4.87 ERA in 14 road starts. Over the course of his career, Zimmerman has mad 24 Inter-League starts. In those games, he owns a 3.05 ERA and has struck out batters at a 7.3 K/9 rate. The expectation should be that he could continue being an above average pitcher in Minnesota.

To be fair, the Twins don't have to go an find a top of the rotation starter this offseason. The Kansas City Royals are going to the World Series without one (Cueto has been anything but), and the New York Mets have shown how important it is to have guys that give you a chance every single night. However, should the Twins target Zimmerman, the next question becomes whether or not the financial implications are doable.

Needing to address the catcher role, and relief pitching, Minnesota has some other priorities this offseason. In 2015, the payroll sat just over $106 million. As things stand right now, Minnesota has contracts handed out to seven players worth a total of $73 million. Obviously that number is going to rise, and before Zimmerman, I'd expect the Twins to be in the $107 million ballpark for 2016. With that said, adding an arm like the former Nationals starter would put the Twins somewhere around $125 million in the year ahead. That jump is significant, and a mark the club has never seen before. It's hard to fathom them being comfortable with that for one player, even if the dollars are accesible (I believe they are).

At the end of the day, Zimmerman is a Midwest native (hailing from Wisconsin), the Twins have a need (potentially), and Minnesota has the money (ideally). It would take an absolute perfect storm for a deal to come together, but it may be the best plan of action. Rather than adding another depth rotation arm, solidifying the top of the rotation may be the best thing for Molitor and Ryan.

There's little room to argue Zimmerman is anything but a longshot, but over the likes of Kazmir, Bucholz, or Jeff Samardzija, give me the guy looking to get paid.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Twins Expendable Hurler

For Twins fans, this is a position that Minnesota has not been in for quite some time. Experiencing a starting rotation drought that had the Twins five at the bottom of baseball for years, a new wave is being ushered in. Now with depth, and improved quality on the mound, Paul Molitor has some tough choices to make going into 2016. However, with more arms than openings, it may be time to consider a more aggressive quality over quantity approach.

As always, there's five openings in the starting rotation. Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, and Kyle Gibson are absolutely locked in for three of them. That leaves a slew of arms including Ricky Nolasco, Tyler Duffey, Tommy Milone, Trevor May, Jose Berrios, and even Alex Meyer to fight over the final two spots. While not all of those options are ideal, a handful of them are. That said, Minnesota could opt to make an aggressive move that may pay dividends both now and into the future.

Formerly a first round draft pick back in 2009, Minnesota selected Kyle Gibson out of the University of Missouri. As a college pitcher, he was expected to accelerate through the farm quickly. Tommy John surgery derailed the debut somewhat, but he surfaced at the age of 25 in 2013. Now 73 big league games under his belt, Gibson turned in a 2015 worthy of turning some heads.

In 32 starts, Gibson owned a 3.84 ERA. It was backed by a 3.96 FIP and a 1.289 WHIP. His 6.7 K/9 mark was a career best and his 3.0 BB/9 tally was in line with his past totals. Gibson also allowed a career low 8.6 H/9 and was virtually one start away from compiling his first 200 inning season. By all standard statistics, Kyle Gibson's 2015 was a breakout year.

Then there's the advanced statistics. They tell a very similar story. Over the past year, Gibson allowed hard contact on just 27.3% of his pitches, in line with his career totals. He also generated ground balls on over 53% of his pitches put into play. While he gave up more home runs than at any other point in his major league career, that may have been his lone blemish. Gibson's 35.7% out-of-zone swings were a career high, and he pushed his swinging strike percentage to 9.8 (also a career best).

So why then would the Twins look to trade a young pitcher at the top of his game? The answer is two fold, and not necessarily cut and dry.

First and foremost, Kyle Gibson is not nearly as young as you'd believe. 28 years old on October 23rd, Gibson is most definitely a late bloomer. While he is under team control until 2020, and doesn't hit arbitration until 2017, the expectation should be that his prime could be somewhat muted. As much as team control is an asset to the Twins, it is also a commodity to a trade partner in any scenario as well.

Then things circle back to the idea of the rotation construction for the Twins. At his best, Gibson may be a number two starter, but more likely is a three or four. Minnesota is in a position to begin a window of competitiveness for years to come. The rotation is currently comprised of arms that would likely top out as a number two starter at best. Moving Gibson could clear the way for that to change.

Both May or Berrios could immediately pick up Gibson's slack, and may have higher ceilings. Any move that would send Gibson away from the Twins would also need to command quite a return. Taking on a veteran, or a higher ceiling prospect with front of the rotation stuff could be something that would move the needle for Terry Ryan.

While a significant longshot, and something I myself am not even convinced I would entertain, there's definite reason to explore what the return for Kyle Gibson would look like. With the Twins entering a time where they should again be good, raising their own floor through higher ceiling acquisitions needs to be a part of the strategy. Whether Gibson is a part of the Twins future or not, his potential to help Minnesota could come on the mound just as likely as it could come off of it.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Twins Newest, And Oldest Backstop

In 2015, there's little denying that the catcher position was one of the largest deficiencies for the Minnesota Twins. After an All Star caliber 2014, Kurt Suzuki regressed towards his career norms. Never a good defensive catcher, his offensive production waned as well. Going forward, it's an area that Terry Ryan knows he needs to address.

Following a season in which Suzuki slashed just .240/.296/.314 and threw out an MLB worst 15% of would be base stealers, things need to change. Suzuki is with the Twins for another year (signed through 2016), but Paul Molitor can't afford to pair him with the likes of Chris Herrmann or Eric Fryer going forward. On a team looking to take the next step, the needle absolutely needs to be pushed.

So, barring a trade bringing in long term depth to help supplement the organization's catching woes, free agency is going to have to be the route. For Minnesota, the most high-profile name is no doubt Matt Wieters. The guy once billed as the next Joe Mauer (when Mauer was a Hall of Fame type of backstop) has never lived up to that status. However, he's a career .258/.320/.423 hitter having spent all seven of his big league years with the Orioles. He owns a solid 32% caught stealing rate, but does have arm concerns after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014. That all said, the Twins answer isn't Wieters.

In fact, it's probably even more of a familiar face.

Welcome back A.J. Pierzynski. The 38 year old catcher is coming off a one year, $2 million deal with the Atlanta Braves. After a dip in production since leaving Texas in 2013, Pierzynski turned in a very strong 2015 campaign. Across 113 games for the Braves, A.J. caught 107 while slashing .300/.339/.430. He added 24 doubles, nine homers, and 49 runs batted in. Striking out just 37 times in 436 plate appearances, Pierzynski's plate discipline scoffs at even Suzuki's (who's regarded as a tough hitter to strike out).

Knowing that Suzuki is not going anywhere, Pierzynski profiles as a solid platoon mate for the upcoming year. Having slashed .309/.342/.457 against right-handed pitching, it would be A.J. picking up the slack for Suzuki (who slashed .232/.284/.303 vs RHP). Pierzynski's 28% caught stealing rate would also be a welcomed addition to a Twins team that was far too easily run on the past season.

Now, there's no doubt Pierzynski has been on both sides of the fence among Twins fans. What matters though is that production is always reality, and getting contributions from the former Twin would quiet those issues. Providing a veteran presence with a high level of production is something that a young Twins roster would no doubt benefit from.

Ideally, Minnesota sees significant improvement from catchers Stuart Turner and Mitch Garver in 2016. Both are playing in the Arizona Fall League, and are regarded as some of the little depth the Twins system has. With Josmil Pinto being a major question mark after an injury riddled 2015, Minnesota buying time with a Pierzynski type makes a lot of sense.

While Wieters may be the bigger name, he's also going to command a much higher price. With uncertainties ahead, he may also not solve the Twins issues going forward. Pierzynski gives the Twins a real positive option in the immediate future, with the ability to not force a decision before the organization has to.

If there's a more realistic trade target out there that solidifies the catcher position going forward, the Twins should make it. The possibility of it coming with as little risk as bringing back A.J. Pierzynski seems far-fetched however, and calling upon an old friend is something Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan should make a plan A this offseason.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Out Of Options: Twins On The Outs

As the Minnesota Twins look towards the offseason, it will be in that period of time that roster decisions are made in setting the landscape for the year ahead. As always, the 40 man and 25 man roster crunches will be felt by an unlucky few. With Minnesota looking to compete at a high level in the year ahead, there's some household names that may be on the outside looking in.

To be exact, the Twins have seven players that are out of options in 2016. With a few of them posing some real significant questions for the Twins, they may be better off dealt during the offseason rather than lost out of spring training. Treating each case differently, here's those seven players, and their likelihood of sticking with the Twins in 2016.

Oswaldo Arcia

Probably the most interesting name on this list, Arcia has some significant complications. He played in just 19 games at the big league level last season, but he slashed .276/.338/.718. Outside of an impressive home run streak during the summer for Triple-A Rochester, his season was abysmal. He finished slashing just .199/.257/.372 at Triple-A, and he struck out 82 times walking just 18 times.

At 25 next season, he's still got youth on his side, but there's problems. Arcia still swings far to freely, and plays terrible defense in the outfield. His upside remains there, but waiting on it is something the Twins don't have the benefit of anymore. In a crowded outfield situation, Arcia could be the odd man out. Trading him now would be selling low, but getting something in return for him would be better than nothing. Minnesota won't put him through waivers (he'd be claimed), so it's either deal him or bring him up. I'd expect he starts with the Twins in 2016 and platoons as a left handed bat to compliment Aaron Hicks.

Aaron Hicks

What a difference a year makes. After 2015, Hicks finds himself in a vastly different place going into the season ahead. Hicks broke out as I expected him to, and he looks the part of a contributor for the Twins going forward. He ended up hitting .256/.323/.398 with 11 homers and 33 RBI. He'd a legitimate 20/20 threat in a full season if he can keep his development arrow pointing up.

Where, how, and in what capacity Hicks is utilized in 2016 will depend on Torii Hunter to a certain extent (please retire). Regardless, he'll be with the Twins (barring a trade), and a trip back to the farm won't be considered. After a tumultuous ride to the big leagues, the Twins former first round pick is here to stay.

Chris Herrmann

In somewhat of a surprising development, it was Herrmann that served as the primary backup to veteran backstop Kurt Suzuki in 2015. He rewarded the Twins with a .146/.214/.272 slash line across 103 at bats. He did catch would be base stealers at a nice 42% clip, but offers little else on a big league roster.

The Twins know catching depth is not something they have within the organization, and the position absolutely must be addressed this offseason. It should be expected that another veteran comes in to pair with Suzuki, and that would render Herrmann's role non existent. He could be sent through waivers and would likely go unclaimed. No matter what happens though, he won't be on the Twins 25 man come 2016.

Michael Tonkin

The 6'7" reliever was sent up and down plenty of times during the 2015 season. At the big league level, he was given 23.1 innings of work and turned in a 3.47 ERA. For Triple-A Rochester, he owned a 1.10 ERA across 41.0 innings. Less than ideal as it may be, Tonkin may be cut of the same cloth as former Twins reliever Anthony Slama.

With strong minor league numbers, and mediocre numbers at the big league level the Twins expect more from Tonkin. Separating him from Slama, the belief that Tonkin actually does have more to give. Coming out of spring training 2016, Tonkin should be in the Twins pen, and in an expanded role, I think he has the stuff to succeed. He'll be with the Twins in 2016, at least to start the year.

Lester Oliveros

Despite pitching well for a stretch in 2015, Oliveros didn't make an appearance in the big leagues last season. He owned a 3.79 ERA for Rochester pitching in 35.2 innings. His 11.6 K/9 mark was impressive, but his numbers ballooned down the stretch as he pitched through some injury issues. The walk and strikeout are solid, but Oliveros leaves plenty to be desired at the next level.

This season, Oliveros will be 28 and he's been given chances at the big league level (29.1 IP 5.22 ERA). Not currently on the 40 man, waivers aren't yet in play for Oliver's (though he'd possibly go unclaimed regardless). Should Terry Ryan address his bullpen as I'd assume he knows he needs to, then I don't see much place for a fringe guy with little upside like Oliveros.

Josmil Pinto

Along the same lines as Oswaldo Arcia, Pinto is a very interesting case. Expected to be Kurt Suzuki's primary backup, a concussion took that off the table during the spring. Then, production and another concussion ended the discussion during the season. Pinto played in only 72 games last season and he slashed just .228/.300/.369. Just 19 extra base hits in over 260 at bats, the power production wasn't ideal either.

Paul Molitor will have Pinto on the 25 man next season, but where he fits will be difficult. The Twins have to bring in another catcher, and they already have plenty of designated hitter options. Even before the concussions a year ago, Pinto was mediocre behind the plate at best. His biggest value to the organization may now be as a trade chip. This is definitely a situation to watch.

Aaron Thompson

A one time first round pick (2005 by the Marlins) Thompson actually pitched well for the Twins for a period last season. Then he got hammered. After being the go to lefty at the beginning of the year, he got exposed and ended up with a 5.01 ERA in 32.1 IP. Contributing to the problem was a strikeout rate of just 4.7 K/9. After being demoted to Triple-A, Thompson posted a 3.71 ERA across 17.0 innings to end the year.

With plenty of mediocrity stacked against him, a less than ideal bullpen at the big league level, and peripherals that do nothing to move the needle, Thompson doesn't fit. He doesn't strike anyone out, and there's other lefty options available. Whether Neal Cotts is back or not, Thompson shouldn't be for the Twins. If he goes unclaimed on waivers, Minnesota has keeps him as a depth arm. Regardless, Thompson doesn't appear to have a 25 man role.

Danny Santana

After a ridiculous 2014 thanks to an incredibly inflated BABIP (batting average on balls in play), Santana was in over his head beginning in 2015. He was the Twins Opening Day shortstop, but lost the job after being both poor at the plate and in the field. He finished with a .215/.241/.291 slash line at the big league level. Santana did hit .322/.348/.500 at Triple-A Rochester, but he walked only 13 times while striking out 93 times.

On the 40 man and having already had a full season at the big league level, it's hard to see Santana not on the 25 man next season. Minnesota may be best served to jettison a guy like Eduardo Nunez to create room, as Santana profiles as a super utility option. He's not a great hitter, and he's an average fielder, but you could do worse off of the bench.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Twins Incoming Splash

After the season the Minnesota Twins just had, it's hard not to get excited about what's to come in 2016. For an organization that has lost 90 games each of the past four seasons, a winning year and Wild Card run was much needed. Now, the way in which Terry Ryan attacks the offseason will help to lay the blueprint for what's ahead.

Today, MLB Trade Rumors rolled out their offseason outlook for the Twins (go read it, it's very good). After author Steve Adams appeared way off base on the Twins going into the season, he couldn't have repeatedly hit the proverbial nail on the head more often than he did in his outlook. The Twins find themselves at an interesting crossroads. Somewhere in the middle of hoarding prospects and making monumental moves, the organization has some big decisions to make.

On the pitching side of things, the Twins have much more quantity than they have quality. That isn't to say the rotation isn't in a better place than it has been in years, but there is a solid group of three and four starter types. Lacking a clear ace, an upgrade would only make sense if it's of the top tier variety.

In the bullpen, that isn't the case at all. With relief pitching being a problem area throughout 2015, the Twins absolutely have to add some quality arms. Another year of Kevin Jepsen will help, and graduating some of the Nick Burdi, Zack Jones, and Jake Reed group will also, but Minnesota will need more. Bringing in at least one more reliever is going to be a must.

On the offensive side of things, the Twins have more logjams than anything. Trevor Plouffe hamstrung by a top prospect and a deteriorating first basemen. Oswaldo Arcia is out of options, and Torii Hunter may end up undeservedly stealing a roster spot. There's little arguing against that the Twins have more bodies than they have positions to fill.

That brings us to the crux of the offseason, the splash the Twins should be looking at making. After competing ahead of schedule, and before getting contributions from some top notch prospects, Minnesota is probably closer than many would have imagined. Banking in on that and running with the success would be a well placed plan for Molitor's squad.

A splash should come in the form of a very active offseason. Whether by way of trade or free agency acquisitions, the Twins need to push for quality, while taking hits in the quantity department. MLB Trade Rumors looked at Jose Reyes as a trade target at short (I don't love that), Jordan Zimmerman in the rotation (that would be a fit), and maybe a Matt Wieters, Austin Hedges, Mike Zunino, or A.J. Pierzynski addition behind the plate (I could get behind that). All of those moves would get the ball rolling for heightened expectations in the year ahead.

There's no denying the Twins have one of the best farm systems in baseball. With that, they have a handful of prospects that may be best served in getting the big league club where it needs to be. Nick Gordon, Jorge Polanco, Kohl Stewart, and maybe even a Stephen Gonsalves type are all players that could be best utilized by Minnesota in upgrading their current roster. While the talent for those players would be missed, waiting on them to contribute at the highest level may not be the best strategy.

As I noted prior to the end of the season, Terry Ryan has proved adept in the trade market over the past two seasons, and that bodes will for this winter. There's no denying that the Twins can't afford to stand pat though, and making bold moves should be something that the organization explores.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Twins Gaining In Arizona Fall League

The Major League Baseball Arizona Fall League kicks off and with it, a handful of Twins prospects continue their development. Now playing in games against some of the most talented prospects in minor league baseball, they will be given another measuring stick opportunity. Competition regarded as higher than most of what is faced in a typical minor league game, the "All Star" rosters of sorts go at it.

For the Twins this season, seven players have been asked to compete for the Scottsdale Scorpions. After being affiliated with the Salt River Rafters a season ago, the Twins filled Scorpions will face off against Salt River in game one. The seven players on the squad include: Adam Brett Walker, Stuart Turner, Mitch Garver, Nick Burdi, Taylor Rogers, Jake Reed, and Trevor Hildenberger.

As much about competing and continued development, the Arizona Fall League is about working through some of the issues that may have plagued a player during the season. Each of those seven guys has something to work on. Here's what should be the biggest focus.

Adam Brett Walker

Brett Walker pulverizes baseballs, there's no two ways about it. His 31 homers at Double-A Chattanooga in 2015 were a career high, and he doesn't seem to be losing the power stroke any time soon. The biggest issue however, is that he swings and misses far too often. With 195 strikeouts in just 133 games, Brett Walker had a 238 strikeout pace per 162 games at the Double-A level. that's only going to get worse against better talent. He needs to show more discipline in Arizona, and hopefully carry that approach over into his 2016 season.

Stuart Turner

Turner was drafted to help refuel the Twins catching depth. As a defense first prospect, the hope was that the former Mississippi catcher would eventually hit. With a career worst .223/.322/.306 line for Double-A Chattanooga in 2015, that notion took a significant hit. He picked things up towards the end of the season, but seeing Turner bring the lumber in Arizona would be a very welcomed development by the Twins.

Mitch Garver

Another catcher, Garver was a 9th round pick in 2013 by the Twins. Having played at one level per year, Garver spent 127 games in the Fort Myers lineup this past season. After breaking out to a .298/.399/.481 line with Cedar Rapids in 2014, he slashed just .245/.356/.333 at High-A this season. He followed up his 16 HR performance with just four, and he struck out a career high 82 times (which still isn't a bad number). Like Turner, Garver needs to hit to move up the ranks. The Twins have catching deficiencies and it isn't going to be filled with a Drew Butera type.

Nick Burdi 

Burdi was a reliever that looked the part of a fast mover, and was someone I expected to be with the Twins in 2015. He stumbled out of the gate, and a few times throughout the year. He was demoted back to Fort Myers at one point, and his final ERA for Double-A Chattanooga was 4.53. Looking at his WHIP (1.649), the biggest problem is more than apparent. Burdi throws gas, but his command was non-existent in 2015. Owning a 6.6 BB/9 mark, pounding the zone will be a major focus in the Arizona Fall League.

Taylor Rogers

Continuing the Twins Kentucky pipeline is their 11th round pick in 2012. Rogers had a relatively strong 2015 season. He finished with a 3.98 ERA that was inflated with a few poor starts to end the year, but his peripherals were generally strong. Not a big strikeout guy (6.5 K/9), he also doesn't walk many (2.3 BB/9). Rogers is repeating the Fall League after making two starts a year ago. He's a good bet to push for time on the Twins roster in 2016, and I think his eventual resting place will be as a long man out of the pen.

Jake Reed

It's hard to mention Burdi without having reed to far behind. Taken in the same draft (Reed in the 5th round), the former Oregon Duck is very similar to the Louisville standout. While he doesn't throw as often in the triple digits, Reed has a power arm of his own. Another guy that was expected to surface for the Twins in 2015, Reed had a very up and down season. He too was demoted to Fort Myers, and after dominating the level again, finished with a 6.32 ERA at Chattanooga. Reed saw his strikeout rate drop (7.0 K/9 in 2015 as opposed to 11.3 in 2014), and his walk rate balloon (3.3 BB/9 in 2015, 0.9 in 2014). Like Rogers, Reed is repeating the Fall League this season. In 2014, Reed owned a 0.71 ERA in 12.2 IP for the Salt River Rafters. Another strong performance, with improved command, should have his arrow pointing right back up.

Trevor Hildenberger

Unlike some of his teammates, Hildenberger enters the Arizona Fall League for some different reasons. He was actually promoted in 2015 (from Cedar Rapids to Fort Myers), and compiled a 1.55 ERA, 11.2 K/9, and a 1.0 BB/9. At Fort Myers, his ERA rose to 3.32 but he still struck out batters at a 9.9 K/9 clip while walking less than 1.0 per nine. The Fall League is an opportunity for Hildenberger to launch himself on a quicker path to the big leagues. He's 24, and will need to show he can compete against better talent. If he proves himself, a shortened stop at Double-A Chattanooga may be in the cards.

Make sure to tune into the Major League Baseball Arizona Fall League over the course of the next month. For these seven Twins prospects, the action could position them nicely for a different 2016 season.

Twins Prospects On The Move

The Minnesota Twins have one of the best farm systems in all of Major League Baseball. Watching players like Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Tyler Duffey make significant contributions at the big league level this season gave Twins fans a taste of that. What's important to remember though is there's plenty of talent left on the farm. With a few players coming to the surface, it's time for some other names to step up.

Sano, and Byron Buxton have been two of the most talked about Twins prospects for years. With their talent and tools, it's not at all surprising to see the excitement surrounding them. It's players like Duffey though that develop and help to supplement the expected top tier talent. Paul Molitor and the Twins brass will be looking for more of those types in 2016, and the system has a few opportunities to produce some.

Forget top prospects like Buxton, Jose Berrios, or Tyler Jay for a moment, here's some of the 2016 risers Twins Territorians should be focusing in on.

Stephen Gonsalves LHP

Gonsalves is only 20 years old, but he rose through two levels this past season (as he has done in each of his three professional years). His time at Fort Myers saw his strikeouts dip and his walk rate rise, but his 2.61 ERA across 15 starts was still plenty respectable. With a career 9.5 K/9 across 46 professional games, that will be a number Gonsalves will need to get back to in 2016.

I'd expect Gonsalves to start in Fort Myers again in 2016, but he should be given plenty of chances to make it a short stay. With pitchers graduating the system above him, there will be plenty of opportunities to move up. He'll pitch for Double-A Chattanooga for the majority of the season, and I wouldn't be shocked to see him end at Triple-A Rochester. Just 21 next season, the Twins could have another very strong pitching prospect on their hands. Tommy Milone being the lone lefty in the Twins rotation, Gonsalves soaring through the system should be fun to watch.

J.T. Chargois RHP

Chargois finally enjoyed a clean bill of health in 2015, and the 24-year-old turned in an impressive season. Despite a brief tough stretch, he pitched to the tune of a 2.73 ERA at Double-A Chattanooga and owned a 9.3 K/9 mark. A hard thrower with strikeout stuff, it's players like Chargois that will be relied upon to turn the Twins bullpen around.

I was of the belief that Chargois was deserving of a September call up in 2015. He's an older prospect, and despite his first healthy season in a while, he appears near major league ready. The Twins should (and likely will) send him to Triple-A Rochester out of spring training, and I'd expect him to be in the big leagues at some point in 2016. Chargois would give the Twins a power arm in the pen they have been missing for quite some time. Worth following along with Chargois, both Nick Burdi and Zack Jones should have similar routes in the year ahead.

Lewis Thorpe LHP

Unlike the previous pitchers, Thorpe makes this list for another reason. After missing all of the 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery, the Aussie will make his return to the mound in 2016. After pitching to a 3.52 ERA in 16 starts for Cedar Rapids a year ago, there was plenty of excitement about the 18 year old. Owning an 11.2 K/9 and being a lefty, it's hard not to dream about what Thorpe could be.

There's no doubt Thorpe will be eased back into things, but seeing how he responds and rebounds from surgery will be a big story. Tommy John surgeries are more common now, but still not a perfected science when it comes to regaining past effectiveness. Look for the Twins to bring him along slowly, but if Thorpe can flash his 2014 self again, he will immediately be back on the radar as a Top 100 prospect nationally.

Travis Blankenhorn 3B

For whatever reason, Blankenhorn is the lone hitter I have on this list, and he happens to be a 2015 draft pick. Taken in the 3rd round out of high school, Blankenhorn played in both the Appy League and the Gulf Coast League in 2015. While his average wasn't great, the power flashed at the higher level. In the Appalachian League, Blankenhorn blasted three homers and added three doubles. He contributed 20 RBI in 39 games and owned a .306 OBP.

At 18 when the season starts in April, there's no reason to rush the Pennsylvania native. However, his production may deem otherwise. I wouldn't be surprised to see him have some solid success with Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League, and put himself on the national radar.

As the 2016 season unfolds, there will be a handful of prospects that elevate their game to the next level. Watching the prospect pool overflow has been something the Twins can enjoy as fruits of their drafting labor.

Challenges Await Gardenhire Out West

Following the 2014 Major League Baseball season, Ron Gardenhire was removed from his duties as manager of the Minnesota Twins. Following a fourth straight 90 loss campaign, management decided a change was necessary. Paul Molitor was brought in, Gardy was given a humidor, and that was that. Over the course of this season though, it's became apparent Gardenhire has the itch again, and he may be back in the dugout as soon as 2016.

During the season, and while reports flooded from Detroit suggesting Brad Ausmus would be done at the end of the year, Gardenhire was named the likely candidate. Those rumors fizzled as quickly as they began, but the dream is not dead for the longtime Twins skipper. Yesterday, reports surfaced suggesting that Gardenhire would indeed interview with the San Diego Padres.

After spending a boatload of money this offseason, and multiple big splashes over the winter, the Padres faded hard. Owning just a 74-88 record while finishing fourth in the National League West, expectations were not met. The Padres were 18 games behind the division winning Dodgers, and their prized acquisitions generally fell flat.

Looking to revive a roster highlighted by the Upton brothers, Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, and Craig Kimbrel, A.J. Preller wants someone else in charge. At this point, Gardenhire is simply a candidate in the mix, but should things come to fruition, there's plenty to suggest he may be in over his head.

With the Twins, Gardenhire compiled a 1068-1039 record. He grabbed six American League Central division titles, and he pushed teams to win over 90 games five times in his 13 year career. It's what Gardenhire didn't do that has him looking suspect as a National League manager however.

It's easy to point at the 6-21 postseason record and the fact a Gardenhire team only advanced out of the first round once, but the problem runs deeper. Looking at the structure of the National League, the coaching ability of the former Twins manager may come under scrutiny. Never heralded as a great game manager, the intricacies of the double switch, bunt situations, bullpen management, and analytical understanding are all things Gardenhire will face as uphill battles.

With his track record, it's hard to suggest that Gardenhire wouldn't be a great managerial candidate for a team to seek out. What is easy to suggest though is that the team looking for Gardenhire's wisdom should come within the realm of the designated hitter, and the American League, where Gardenhire has already made his stamp.

Preller is no doubt wanting to turn his 2015 mess around, and while Ron Gardenhire is a great guy and a good manager, he's probably not the best fit in San Diego. Gardy should get back in the dugout, but unless he wants another stain on his career numbers to match his postseason record, steering clear of the National League is a must.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Utley And The Slide Heard Round The World

On Saturday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers were trailing by a run to the New York Mets. On the verge of going down two games to none in the National League Division series, the Dodgers needed a rally. With Howie Kendrick at the plate, a ground ball was sent up the middle and a double play was almost certain. Until it wasn't.

While this is no doubt a Twins blog first and foremost, it's also important to reflect on the happenings around baseball as a whole. I shared my opinions on Bryce Harper, and now it's time to clear the air on the slide and it's fallout.

As Utley went into second base, his intentions were to break up a double play and get the tying run from third to count. Whether Kendrick was going to beat out the throw or not, Utley's goal was the same as many baserunners before him. The problem was, his execution landed in the grayest of areas.

Sliding into the bag extremely late (arguably even with the base), he went in legs up (and in terrible form to be honest) clipping Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in the shins. The fallout was a broken right fibula for the Mets starter, but the issue was so much deeper than that. While a legal play by baseball's understood standards, Utley's decision teetered somewhere in between dirty and hard nosed, with interpretation being left to our own discretion.

A day after the event took place, Major League Baseball swiftly stepped in. Despite doing nothing for Pirates shortstop Jung Ho-Kang, the Commissioner's office had taken a different stance. With the elevated situation of playoff baseball, the decision should and will now come under more scrutiny.

It can be argued that Kang's injury was caused by a lack of attempting to get out of the way. However, like Utley's slide, Kang was targeted well out of the "normal" area for a slide. In both instances, a baserunner attempted (at all costs) to break up a play. With the rule as is however, the action left a defender in a position to be seriously injured.

Rather than looking into a suspension, baseball and Rob Manfred should be going down a different route. After deciding that an injury to Buster Posey needed to bring forth new ways to attack home plate, a similar situation has now presented itself. It would seem to reason that if you can't plow into a catcher who has full gear on, sliding full force into an unprotected fielder would be counterproductive as well.

Whether Utley's suspension holds or not (it shouldn't, and I would hope the right thing is done through the appeals process), this needs to be an area of concern in the offseason. Right now, baseball can't force the Dodgers without a key player in the playoffs because of a knee-jerk reaction. What they can do is make sure that slides have a purpose over the winter. Establish a true base path and area that a runner must get down, let the contact happen, but control the outcome to remain on the side of health and common sense.

Both the injuries to Kang and Tejada have been a by product of unfortunate events on the base paths, but it's something baseball can and must take a look at.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Rise And Fall: The Twins Youth

The 2015 Minnesota Twins were an exceptional story and breathed life back into baseball fans throughout Twins Territory. From veteran contributions, to rookie additions, Paul Molitor's club had it all. In the year of the rookie, the Twins did their part promoting a handful of youngsters. It's going to be that core, that carries the Twins will into the future.

While Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario were the young names that highlighted the Twins 25 man roster, it's been noted for a while that the farm system has plenty of top tier talent. Excluding those two as well as the Byron Buxton, Trevor May, and Tyler Duffey types, taking a closer look at what's coming for the Twins is a fun exercise. It wasn't all pretty this season however.

For every Sano-type story, there's a Joe Benson type flop. Now, with all the games in the rear view mirror, it's time to take a look at a handful of risers and fallers among the Twins prospect ranks.

3 Up

Max Kepler (#6 on MLB Pipeline Twins Top 20)

What isn't there to say about the 22 year old German? Kepler slashed .322/.416/.531 in 112 games for Double-A Chattanooga. He added 13 triples and smashed nine home runs with 71 runs batted in. His 32 doubles were a career high, and he actually walked (67) more than he struck out (63). On the prospect radar since being signed as a teenager, it was quite the coming out party.

At this point, it's pretty hard to argue Kepler being any lower in the Twins organization than right behind Buxton and Jose Berrios. He's going to get a shot for an extended stay with Minnesota next season, and if he can use his 2015 as a launching point, he'll be off to a good start.

Stephen Gonsalves (#9 on MLB Pipeline Twins Top 20)

Following the same progression he's enjoyed each year as a professional, Gonsalves advanced through two levels in 2015. After nine games with Low-A Cedar Rapids, he made 15 starts for High-A Fort Myers. On the season, the 20 year-old owned a 2.01 ERA across 24 starts. He struck out batters at an 8.8 K/9 clip and walked 3.6 per nine. Allowing just four homers and 34 runs in 134.1 innings, Gonsalves enjoyed an exceptional campaign.

Adding to the Twins already impressive minor league pitching depth, Gonsalves put together his best season as a pro. Still just 20 at the beginning of next season, his meteoric rise could have him in the big leagues in record time. He needs to work on command issues that showed in Fort Myers, but there's no doubt this kid looks special.

J.T. Chargois (#11 on MLB Pipeline Twins Top 20)

Chargois has been with the Twins organization since 2012, but was pitching in just his second season after suffering injuries. At Double-A Chattanooga, he was generally regarded as behind relievers like Nick Burdi and Jake Reed, but put together an impressive season of his own. Despite a few hiccups along the way, he compiled a 2.62 ERA and a 9.9 K/9 in 48 innings. He gave up only 38 hits, and just one home run all season, and looked the part of the dominating pitcher the Twins drafted out of Rice University.

Regardless of where he starts the season in 2016, Chargois should find himself with a ticket to the big leagues in short order. His stuff will no doubt be an asset for the Twins bullpen, and he's got arguably higher upside than almost anyone at Triple-A Rochester. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Chargois is the first pitcher that surfaces with the Twins next season.

3 Down

Jorge Polanco (#4 on MLB Pipeline Twins Top 20)

Polanco was sent up and down and all around during the 2015 season, and he actually put together a solid year. He moves down though because of what showed up as some concerns. Following his trip back to Double-A Chattanooga after a brief stint with the Twins, Polanco slashed just .261/.344/.357 in his final 28 games. He had just six extra base hits in that time period, and struck out nearly once a game (26). For a guy known for his bat, that's not ideal. Then there's his glove. Polanco made 28 errors in 2015, and eight of them came in just 19 games a Triple-A Rochester.

The reality is that Polanco isn't a shortstop. His arm is questionable there, and he's a second basemen without a doubt. The Twins already have one of those, and that makes him somewhat expendable. If Minnesota is going to look at some bigger trades this offseason, Polanco's name is one I would dangle. He's going to hit for someone, and probably well, but I don't think it will be the Twins.

Kohl Stewart (#7 on MLB Pipeline Twins Top 20)

After the way his 2014 ended (with an injury), Stewart no doubt wanted to take a big step forward in 2015. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. The 2013 first round draft pick compiled a 3.20 ERA across 22 starts. He owned a 1.384 WHIP and a 3.1 BB/9 rate, while his strikeouts plummeted to a paltry 4.9 K/9 mark with High-A Fort Myers. To say the 20 year old took a step backwards would probably be an understatement.

Right now, Stewart is still young, and has that on his side. The issue though, is that regression has set in significantly already, and he has yet to hit Double-A. For Stewart to get back to the top of the rotation starter projection he was once billed as, an immense turnaround is going to need to be coming. He's another name prospect the Twins could use as a trade chip, but there's probably no time his value will be less. The Twins have to want more from Kohl, as no doubt he does from himself as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see him fall off top 100 lists, but hopefully that is motivation for the year ahead.

Travis Harrison (#19 on MLB Pipeline Twins Top 20)

Back in 2011, the Twins made Harrison the 50th overall selection in the draft. Out of high school, Harrison was going to have plenty to prove prior to getting to the big leagues. Now 22, Harrison played in 115 games at Double-A Chattanooga this season. He slashed a career worst .240/.363/.356 hitting just 23 doubles, five homers, and driving in 54. It was his fourth year in the organization, and the 4th level he's been at. After a career best season at Fort Myers in 2014, expectations were much higher this time around.

Moved exclusively to the outfield this season (he played one game at first), Harrison needed to continue being the doubles hitter he became a season ago (33). Instead, his average dropped, while the power remained the same. As a first round selection, the growth and development should be ahead of where it is now. Harrison still has some time on his side, but he's on the verge of becoming more depth than anything else.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

For Twins, Future May Mirror Cubs

The Twins Way, it's a moniker that has been thrown around Twins Territory for years. Often synonymous with feelings of angst, disgust, or displeasure, the Twins Way is more mocked than it is celebrated. Whether it exists or not, the Twins Way may be more in line with the current trajectory of another franchise than it is given credit for. That other franchise won 97 games in 2015, and plays in the National League Wild Card game this season.

That other franchise, the Chicago Cubs.

Back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the Chicago Cubs ended a seven year drought with their impressive 2015. The last time Chicago had a winning season, their record was 83-78. A lot has changed within the organization since then. Theo Epstein, one of the greatest minds in the sport, is in the front office, and Joe Maddon is now leading from the dugout. Looking drastically different as well, is the personnel on the field.

Having strung together losing seasons, the Cubs have constructed one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. Players like Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell have graduated from it. They're at the big league level now pacing a very talented team. Also, additions of players like Jon Lester have helped to bolster a rotation that touts a deserving Cy Young candidate in Jake Arrieta.

A far cry from the losing seasons of recent memory, Epstein has put together a top tier club through trades, drafts, and signings. In doing so, he's traveled through a rebuild process that now have the Cubs in position to compete for years to come. That journey begins with the NL Wild Card.

For the Twins, the blueprint is laid, and many of the boxes have already been checked off. Strong drafts, healthy farm system, key international signings, they've all been accomplished. What the Twins have yet to do is make those key trades. While dealing like crazy shouldn't be in the cards, getting the one or two pieces to put them over the top could be the next step.

Minnesota is in a very strong position heading into 2016. The AL Central has turned over, with the Royals, Twins, and Indians being the cream of the crop. Paul Molitor has proven to be a great hire, and his club is blossoming in the best way possible. With a few more big name prospects expected to contribute at a high level as soon as 2016, the Wild Card should be within reach.

Should Terry Ryan be in a position to go get a frontline starter, or upgrade a position of need like catcher, the Twins could be picking up some of the final pieces to the puzzle. Well on their way to following in the footsteps of what has been one of the coolest stories in the National League this season, the Twins can continue to follow the Cubs.

The similarities and parallels between the trajectory and action of the two clubs is somewhat astonishing. From the organizations themselves all the way down to their top prospects in Bryant and Buxton, it's hard to be disappointed with the potential route for the Twins.

Right now, the Twins are enjoying an early offseason after finishing 83-79. Tonight as they tune into the one game playoff in Pittsburgh though, they could be watching themselves a year from now.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Passing The Grade: The Twins Breakdown

In 2015, the Minnesota Twins exceeding expectations by an immense amount. Expected by man to once again finish at the bottom of the AL Central and hope to stave off 90 losses, first year manager Paul Molitor had his club doing anything but. While ultimately the club came up just shorty of the playoffs, it was a season of much more good than bad.

Going into 2016, the year in which the Twins should begin to be a serious contender once again, understanding who contributed most is important. Taking a look at the roster, it's time for you 2015 grades to be handed out. Sticking mostly to 25 man roster guys (with a few exceptions), here we go:


Kurt Suzuki (C-)

Suzuki headed into 2015 fresh off of a stellar 2014 season. An All Star and recipient of a shiny contract extension, the bar needed to be reached was set incredibly high. Unfortunately, Suzuki reverted back to what he's been in the big leagues, a run of the mill veteran catcher. Owning a -0.1 fWAR on the season, Suzuki was a defensive liability (throwing out an MLB worst 15% of base stealers), and he did little at the plate. He'll be back in 2016, but he has some serious improvement to work on.

Chris Herrmann (D)

It's hard to fault a guy like Herrmann for being on a big league roster. He doesn't belong there, and it's indicative of the Twins catching issue. He isn't anything special behind the plate, and his .146/.214/.272 slash line across 45 games was pathetic. Crazy enough, he produced a higher fWAR (0.1) than Kurt Suzuki in 2015.

First Base

Joe Mauer (C)

If you've yet to gather it yet, a C is being used as the middle ground, and that's exactly where Joe Mauer was in 2015. Owning a 0.3 fWAR, he was just above replacement level for the 2015 Twins. The power numbers were up, but everything else was down, and he's here to stay. Forget the contract (it doesn't matter at this point), Minnesota needs Mauer to replicate his success with RISP across a few more situations in 2016. His .309 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was the lowest of his career, but his 29.2 hard hit percentage is probably a large part of the culprit there.

Second Base

Brian Dozier (B+)

While we've reached into the B tier for the first time, this grade should have been even higher. Dozier looked like a legitimate MVP candidate on the way to his first All Star game, and then the second half came. For the second year in a row, he's collapsed down the stretch, and it was a massive detriment to the Twins playoff hopes. In total though, Dozier owned a 3.4 fWAR and his 28 homers were a new career high. 2016 needs to be a more consistent and full season from Dozier if the Twins are going to make October noise.


Eduardo Escobar (B)

The Twins had faith in Danny Santana despite him being primed for regression. When everything hit the fan in the field, Escobar was there to pick things up. He carried the club offensively in September, and made any notion of a Troy Tulowitzki trade seem silly. Earning the spot for the foreseeable future, Escobar compiled a 1.5 fWAR in just 127 games. No longer just a utility man, the Twins continue to cash in on Francisco Liriano's return.

Eduardno Nunez (C+)

A guy that could have been a DFA candidate prior to the season, Nunez actually came up big for the Twins. Providing positional flexibility, he also brought the lumber more often than not. In limited at bats, he hit .282/.327/.431 with four homers. His 1.1 fWAR was among the Twins leaders, and his inexpensive contract made it all the more enticing.

Third Base

Trevor Plouffe (B)

For the second season in a row, Plouffe has improved as a whole. Likely a late-peaking player, Plouffe should be in line for a new contract this offseason. Whether or not the sides can come to a deal would seem another story. Plouffe followed up his 3.6 fWAR 2014 with a 2.5 fWAR this season. He set career highs in games, runs, RBI, and hits. Another solid season for a player the Twins once viewed as reaching the end of his rope.

Miguel Sano (A-)

Somewhat out of whack by playing only a portion of the year, it's hard to overvalue the production that the slugger gave the Twins. 2.0 fWAR, 18 homers, and 52 RBI in just 80 games, a full season would have been unreal. The strikeout numbers are likely going to set a Twins record (possibly as soon as next season), but his hard hit rate (43.2%) makes him incredibly dangerous each time he steps in the box. Whether he DH's for the next couple of years or not, Sano is already an incredible asset in Minnesota.


Aaron Hicks (B-)

Making a monumental leap forward (as I'd suggested he would), Hicks became a regular for the Twins this season. Figuring things out at the plate, and continuing to be a defensive stud, he produced a 1.5 fWAR. Hicks will likely move to right field when Byron Buxton is ready to take over full time, but his outlook for the future has shifted. Once seeming like a lost cause, it would now appear he could be a legitimate 20-20 guy.

Eddie Rosario (B+)

With the other big names making debuts for the Twins in 2015, Rosario tends to get lost in the crowd. However, he put together a season worthy of ROY consideration on his own. His 2.3 fWAR was earned through his ridiculous defensive ability in left (both assists and DRS ranking among MLB's best), and his free swinging tendency. On base issues are still there, and he's going to need to strike out less in the future, but it was a great start for the Puerto Rican.

Torii Hunter (C+)

Hunter's grade is somewhat difficult to quantify for the Twins. He provided an immeasurable asset in the clubhouse, but was relatively mediocre on the diamond. His power played at times, but his dismal August was unfortunate. He picked things up in September, but there's no denying he was a defensive liability throughout the season. Hunter will be welcomed back by the Twins in 2016 if he wants in; I'm not sure he should be.

Byron Buxton (C-)

In his first 46 games at the big league level, Buxton was actually worht -0.5 fWAR. Coming almost entirely from his struggles at the plate, this season was more about growth than anything for Buxton. Now with an offseason to prepare for what he saw, expect 2016 to showcase more of the elite tools we've heard about. Showing off plus defense, and a better approach to conclude the season, Buxton's future remains bright.

Shane Robinson (C)

Brought in as a fourth outfielder prior to some of the farm graduations taking place, Robinson absolutely did his job this season. He provided the Twins with outfield depth, and even hit for the first few months. He played above replacement level (0.2 fWAR) and was exactly what Minnesota expected of him.


Phil Hughes (C+)

After an impressive first season with the Twins, Hughes was bound to take steps backwards this season. He continued to walk no one, but he also struck out batters at a much slower clip. Allowing what was trending towards (if not for DL time) a career high in home runs given up, Hughes has plenty to work on in the year ahead.

Ervin Santana (A-)

The suspension shot Santana's season down before it began, but once he was back on track, the Twins big payday looked great. Spare a couple rocky starts early, it was Santana down the stretch that looked every bit the part of an ace. Striking out batters at an impressive clip, while owning a sub 3.00 ERA across his final handful of starts, the Twins have to be excited about the top of their rotation in 2016.

Tyler Duffey (A)

After being tagged by the best offense in baseball, Duffey looked like a major league vet. He was striking batters out, he wasn't allowing runs, and his curveball was confusing major league hitters. Forcing himself into the rotation discussion for 2016, Duffey's debut was much more impressive than could have been expected.

Tommy Milone (B)

As somewhat of a swingman, Milone's role became more defined as the season went on. Becoming more of a reliable starter and more entrenched in the starting five, Milone was able to settle in late. He put up his fair share of clunkers, but he should be looking at an arbitration pay day from the Twins.

Kyle Gibson (A-)

It's hard to suggest that Kyle Gibson did anything but take a massive step forward in 2015. He was one of the Twins most consistent pitchers, and he was able to come up big when needed most. he set career highs across the board, and when the dust settled, ended up being the Twins starter called upon most by Paul Molitor. He may be trade bait going forward, but if not, he's going to help solidify what is a much improved rotation.

Mike Pelfrey (B-)

More often than not the subject of Twins pitching vitriol, Pelfrey was an integral part of this team. While he put up his fair share of clunkers, and he wasn't good on the road, it was often Pelfrey in big spots that kept the Twins afloat. Finally producing a season worthy of the money Minnesota had paid him, Pelfrey can enter free agency owning an ERA in the top third of the American League in 2015.

Ricky Nolasco (D+)

It's hard to grade a guy that can't stay on the field, but hopefully the Twins take care of that problem this offseason. Nolasco put together a nice stretch of starts prior to his ankle injury, but then missed the majority of the season. He returned in the final week and looked the part of a bad pitcher he has been for the vast majority of his Twins tenure.


Blaine Boyer (B+)

The season is over, so we can now take a breath on Boyer. His ERA was significantly better than his FIP (fielding independent pitching) suggested it should have been, at this point it doesn't matter however. A lottery ticket out of spring training, Boyer was a low cost option that gave the Twins way more than they could have bargained for.

Neal Cotts (C)

Acquired for next to nothing from the Brewers, the Twins can't be too disappointed with the production. His numbers with Molitor's club were less than impressive, and I'm not sure he should be in the fold heading into 2016. Either way though, Cotts was markedly average in every way.

Brian Duensing (D)

Once again, the Twins offered Duensing arbitration over the offseason. Once again, Duensing proved to be the pitcher that doesn't miss enough bats, and provides very little out of the pen. His ERA was ugly, and his peripherals did little to help an already bad Twins bullpen. It would seem to be an egregious mistake if Duensing is asked to come back in 2016.

Casey Fien (C-)

Fien has been bumped from his setup role by the Twins, but still remains one of the better arms in their pen. That's indicative of the state in which the bullpen was in, as well as Fien's own struggles. He had an ok year as a whole, but he blew up big too often, and generally was hard to trust down the stretch. He'll be back in 2016, but needs to be a part of a better core.

J.R. Graham (D+)

Hidden and then over-exposed, Graham followed the tumultuous path of a Rule 5 draft pick. In a bad bullpen Molitor and Neil Allen had little choice but to deploy Graham at times. He held his own for the most part, but looked the part of a guy that had never pitched above Double-A. He'll head to Triple-A in 2016, and his next big league experience should be a different story. More beneficial to him than the Twins, Graham's experience this season should help his development long term.

Kevin Jepsen (A)

You probably can't overstate just how valuable Jepsen was the Minnesota. He came in at a critical time and gave the Twins everything they could have hoped for and then some. Saving games, pitching in high leverage, and being next to a sure thing in the 9th, Jepsen was a massive asset down the stretch. Under team control in 2016, Jepsen's acquisition was one of the best moves Terry Ryan has made in a while.

Trevor May (A-)

Converted from a starter to help a bullpen in desperate need, May was even better in relief. He ended up owning the 8th inning and operating as the Twins setup man. Giving the bullpen a strikeout punch with heightened velocity, May looked the part of a lock down reliever. He's going to be brought into spring training as a starter, but there's no guarantee that's the role in which he leaves it.

Ryan O'Rourke (C-)

Initially called upon to be a LOOGY (lefty one out guy), O'Rourke was quickly asked to do more. In a bad bullpen, having specialized arms is farm from an awarded luxury. While having to pitch in less than advantageous situations, he was exposed and looked the part of a minor leaguer out of place.

Glen Perkins (B)

Much like Dozier above, this is a grade that should be so much higher for the Twins opening day closer. Perkins was lights out prior to the All Star Break, and earned another trip to the game. Following that point though, he was nothing short of horrendous. Blown saves, DL stints, and ineffective pitching, Perkins hurt the Twins by continuing to trot out to the mound. Had the bullpen been in a better place, Minnesota would have been better off telling Perkins to head into the offseason about a month early.

Michael Tonkin (C)

Tonkin was jerked around by the Twins more than any other minor leaguer this season. Called up and down multiple times, eventually pitching in 26 games, he has the ability to stay. Ending with a 3.47 ERA, he should be given a shot out of the gate in 2016, and likely provides a higher ceiling than some of the options that Molitor had at his disposal this season.