Thursday, March 10, 2016

Options Don't Guarantee Twins Futures

This offseason, the Minnesota Twins had a couple of key areas the organization needed to focus on improving. After inking Korean slugger Byung Ho Park to a free agent contract, the bullpen was worked on through lower-risk, minor league offerings. Internal options seem plentiful to fill out the 25 man roster, and that means a group of players up against a wall will no doubt have to earn their spots.

Minnesota had a handful of guys that were out of minor league options as the 2015 season came to a close. Some of them were traded (Aaron Hicks, Chris Herrmann), and others were jettisoned onto greener pastures (Josmil Pinto). When the dust settled, there were four guys left that were worthy of keying in on. Oswaldo Arcia, Danny Santana, Michael Tonkin, and Tommy Milone are all without option years, and fighting for a spot on the 2016 roster.

Despite the possibility of losing one of the aformentioned players for nothing in trying to pass them through waivers, it's hardly fair to guarantee a few of them a lock. Without putting a percentage anywhere, each of the four has a different set of circumstances when it comes to making the current Twins club.

Oswaldo Arcia

Although he has never been cut of the same cloth as Byron Buxton or Miguel Sano, Arcia did appear on top 100 prospect lists prior to the 2013 season. He swatted 20 homers for the Twins in 2014, and despite being a relative liability defensively, his bat can play. There's little room to argue that Arcia wasn't disastrous a season ago, but it certainly would be plausible that 2015 could simply be a blip on the radar.

Coming into spring training with the Opening Day outfield all but set going Eddie Rosario, Buxton, and Sano from left to right, it was the bat of Arcia that needed to play. Having shown a heightened work ethic and desire to push his game, the process has been encouraging. Arcia is maybe the most locked in player of this group to make the roster. As a back up outfielder, and bench bat, he gives the Twins something that teams around the big leagues would no doubt covet.

To return to his 2014 status, Arcia will have to continue to work on his plate discipline and approach. Chasing less and walking more will need to be two areas the Venezuelan focuses on. That said, there's too much talent and momentum working in his favor for him not to head north with Minnesota.

Danny Santana

Not quite the same situation as Arcia, but no less guaranteed to go north for the Twins, Santana must carve himself out playing time by being flexible. Forced back into the outfield after posting a hideous -15 DRS number in just over 570 innings as the starting shortstop, Santana's role will no transition to utility. Being able to play all three outfield spots, while spelling a tired infielder is where his value can come from.

Easily the most projectable regression candidate entering the 2015 season, the offense took steps backwards as well. After enjoying a .405 BABIP in his rookie year, Santana came crashing back to earth slashing a paltry .215/.241/.291 for the 2015 Twins. He's never going to walk much but he absolutely has to improve upon his chasing pitches (41.3% career outside of zone swings), as well as his swing and miss tendencies (11.6% career).

For all of his flaws, Santana could find himself slotting into the Eduardo Nunez role going forward. Playing a reserve role, while giving just enough offense to matter, and being capable of defensive flexibility, he becomes an asset on Paul Molitor's bench. He's going to go north with Minnesota, but the room for error is probably not at the same level as that of Arcia, and considering the ceilings, justifiably so.

Michael Tonkin

Of the group, it's Tonkin who's in the most interesting situation. A season ago, Minnesota's bullpen was far from good, but it wasn't very creative either. Up until the point in which Terry Ryan dealt for Kevin Jepsen, the lone lock down reliever in the second half was converted starter, Trevor May. The unfortunate part for Tonkin, is that he was out of the mix far more often than he should have been.

Called up on five different occasions during 2015 (and twice for a single game), Tonkin was never able to settle in at the big league level. He owned a 1.10 ERA, 10.1 K/9, and 1.1 BB/9 at Triple-A Rochester. For the Twins though, he scattered 23.1 IP compiling a 3.47 ERA, 7.3 K/9, and 3.5 BB/9. The numbers aren't horrible, but what the didn't allow for was consistency. Now out of options, a spring that has seen Tonkin give up runs in two out of his three appearances has led him to be in a less than ideal situation.

There's little reason to believe Tonkin wouldn't be claimed on waivers should Minnesota not bring him north. He also may not be the best option for the pen come the regular season however. Molitor could have had a much clearer picture as to what Tonkin could provide with a better usage in 2015, or by Ryan not offering Fien arbitration for the season ahead. There's a really solid chance Minnesota puts Tonkin on the roster not wanting to lose him from the get go. There's also a decent possibility that he's not the most qualified arm for that role. If there's an option-less player that misses the 25 man, Tonkin could be it.

Tommy Milone

When rounding out the rotation, the 5th and final spot is Milone's to lose. Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, and Kyle Gibson are all inked in, with Tyler Duffey's role being written in pencil for now. If Ricky Nolasco is going to unseat someone, Milone would seem to be it. Fortunately for both the prospects of the Twins staff, and Milone himself, it doesn't appear likely to happen.

Forget about Nolasco's contract, it's a sunk cost and compounding the issue by having a pitcher not a part of their best five start, doesn't seem like a worthy cause. Milone was the return of arguably one of the best trades Terry Ryan has ever made, and he's pitched more than capably of late. His 3.92 ERA in 2015 was sufficient, and he earned his recall by being unhittable at Triple-A Rochester following a demotion. Having turned in two solid spring starts thus far (5.0 IP 5 H 2 ER 0 BB 6 K), he's positioned himself well.

Not having the velocity fastball of Nolasco, Milone doesn't project to be a realistic bullpen option. His stuff isn't going to play up significantly in relief, and that as well works in his favor. Whether Nolasco likes it or not, his role for the Twins appears to be in relief, and Milone continuing to throw well is only making the decision more solid.

Being out of options is, as has always been the case, far from a guarantee to make the 25 man roster. For the Twins group of four looking to add something to the big league club, each seems to have positioned themselves relatively. By product of circumstance, only Tonkin seems remotely possible to be skipped over, and even that doesn't seem all that likely. The good thing for Minnesota, is that each of the four players presents some realistic reason to believe they can contribute at the highest level in the year ahead.