Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Solidifying The Twins Up The Middle

Over the past month, two Minnesota Twins hitters have been absolutely unconscious in relation to their teammates. Both Kurt Suzuki and Brian Dozier have been so red hot at the plate, they've completely turned around the storylines of their early seasons. While Suzuki is in the last year of his deal with Minnesota, and is likely on his way out, Dozier is not and finds himself in a different situation.

Coming into the season, there was some significant worry about what Brian Dozier's career may turn into. Fangraphs questioned whether his pull happy tendencies would have him looking like Dan Uggla sooner rather than later. Using that as a baseline, I too was worried that we may have seen the best of what Dozier has to offer.

Then there was the early season swoon for the Twins second basemen. He was determined to pull the ball regardless of what that meant for the team. His approach had become one of a sellout for power, and in turn, allowed him to maximize his career potential. The piece that became maybe hardest to be patient with was that there were numbers that suggested Dozier would turn things around, despite what we were watching was telling us. Now through the month of June, we have seen a guy that looks every bit the part of his 2015 All Star self come full circle.

Back in May, the numbers I noted included a 7.5% HR/FB ratio, a 17.2 K%, and an 81.2% contact rate. While Dozier was putting up better peripheral numbers than at most points in his career, the results simply weren't following suit for him. Fast forward to where we are now, and things have normalized significant. He's still making great contact, in fact he's bumped the number to an even 82%. His strikeout rate has continued to drop, and Dozier is heading back to the bench just 16% of the time (a very nice adjustment from his Twins record setting strikeout total a year ago). The biggest difference though comes by way of the longball.

I wrote that piece talking about numbers suggesting not to panic on Dozier on May 3. To that point, the second basemen had just three homers for the Twins. His 7.5% HR/FB ratio was nearly half of what it was a season ago. Now, Dozier has boosted his his HR/FB ratio to a whopping 12%. It's equated to nine more home runs for the 2015 All Star, and his game looks to be back in line with what we have come to expect from him.

Just over a year ago, Brian Dozier was climbing into elite territory among second basemen. From a position that doesn't boast an incredible amount of offensive stalwarts, he was right there behind the Jose Altuve's of the big leagues. With his resurgence and normalization, he's made good once again on his contract, and has the Twins having to wonder what to do with the middle of their infield.

Enter Jorge Polanco.

A top Twins prospect and just 22 years old, Polanco is going to force the Twins to make a decision on him sooner rather than later as he'll be out of options a season from now. Through 48 games at Triple-A Rochester this season, he's slashing .289/.344/.492 with 22 extra base hits. He's played nearly exclusively at second base (41 games with one at third base), and hasn't played considerable time at shortstop since 2015 at Double-A Chattanooga.

For Polanco, the thought was that he'd never be able to stick at short in the big leagues. With 339 games under his belt in the minors at short, he's made 99 errors in just shy of 3,000 innings. His .932 fielding percentage leaves plenty to be desired, and would likely be an area of concern at the highest level. What the Twins haven't done however is find out.

When Eduardo Escobar hit the disabled list early in 2016, I argued that Paul Molitor should have deployed Polanco at short on a nearly every day basis. Eduardo Nunez is a fun story, but not an every day player, and he's started to show that. Molitor failed to employ the idea however, and aPolanco was given little opportunity to provide and level of clarity for the Twins.

Now having returned and surged since being injured, Escobar once again looks like the Twins best option at short. What's worth exploring though is whether or not an ideal situation involves both Polanco and Escobar garnering starts at short for Minnesota. In this scenario, Minnesota would likely (and should) need to move Eduardo Nunez. It's a proposition I have been making for weeks, and while he likely isn't going to have a ton of trade value regardless of his out-of-nowhere 2016, shipping Nunez elsewhere opens a necessary roster spot for the Twins.

At this point, Minnesota appears committed to the idea that Nunez is an All Star. For marketing purposes, it makes sense as to why they'd want to hold onto him until after the mid-summer classic in San Diego. Shortly thereafter though, Terry Ryan needs to cut ties and turn shortstop over into a rotational situation between Escobar and Polanco.

Going forward, the Twins absolutely have to make a decision on who stays and who goes between Dozier and Polanco. If Jorge can't hack it at short and his lone position is second base, I'd look to send him packing. He's not going to bring the return that Dozier presumably would, but he also would have some serious production shoes to fill if Minnesota did move on from Dozier.

In an ideal situation the Twins enter 2017 with Eduardo Escobar and Jorge Polanco splitting time at shortstop with Brian Dozier holding down second base. If the return for Polanco can help you elsewhere, he's the piece I'm willing to move. Barring a club giving up a handful of prospects for an All Star caliber player in Dozier, I want to hold onto one of the most productive players on the Twins roster.

Going forward, third base is Miguel Sano's while first base is Joe Mauer's. What happens up the middle is up in the air for the time being, but the Twins could provide themselves more clarity over the next couple of months.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Terry Ryan Is Bad, And Worse Than You'd Think

There's not much hiding from the fact that the 2016 Minnesota Twins aren't good. Currently just 24-51 through their first 75 games, Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan have put a stinker on the field night after night. While there's plenty of blame to be handed to the players under-performing, there's a true scapegoat in all of this.

At the end of the day, the criticism for Terry Ryan hasn't been loud enough.

Sure, it's maybe not fair to pile on a 62 year old that's in well over his head. That being said, he's currently the General Manager of a Major League Baseball team, and his ineptitude suggests we probably haven't dissected just how bad it is, often enough. Forget the fact he asked his best young player to play out of position, or the reality that he's made countless of boneheaded roster moves in 2016 alone. Honestly, you can forget that fact that the debacle known as 2016 has even happened, none of it matters, and none of it absolves Ryan from what he's done.

What is it that he has done you ask? Now in his 20th season as the General Manager of the Minnesota Twins, Ryan has compiled losing records in 13 of those seasons (including 2016). He's orchestrated two separate four-year stretches of 90 plus losses, and his teams have won just 47% of the 3,083 games he's presided over.

After handpicking his replacement in Bill Smith following the 2017 season, he's come back to be even worse. Since his return in 2011, the Twins have won only 42% of their games, and have had just one winning season. Ryan has never sniffed anything close to a World Series berth, and the playoffs have been made just four times.

In short, no sane franchise gives any comparable run to a General Manager that has failed at the level Ryan has for the Twins.

Not only has Minnesota given Terry Ryan 20 years of employment, but they have also entrusted him with one of the most critical situations in recent Twins history. Following the second four-year 90 loss stretch under his watch, Ryan was tasked to rebuild. He had a talented farm system that was supposed to be the biggest piece of the puzzle, and in turn, make Minnesota relevant at the highest level.

Instead, Ryan has decided to put bandaids on a bullet wound, and turned his nose at a rebuild. He's committed significant money or years of employment to players like Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, and Kurt Suzuki, He moved his star third basemen to right field and got him injured. He's failed to make trades when they appeared obvious, and instead has sold at a player's lowest possible value, or cut bait all together (see Arcia, Oswaldo). Seemingly lacking understanding of player options, he's misused his young talent (see Tonkin, Michael or Polanco, Jorge), and he's committed to veteran retreads.

Ryan most recently can be pitted against franchise gurus such as Theo Epstein or Jeff Lunhow. With both the Cubs and Astros finding themselves in similar positions to the Twins during recent memory, both have turned their respective franchises around and are in significantly better places than that of the hapless Twins. While both Chicago and Houston were looking to turn things around and sustain a high level of play into the future, Ryan was worried about toeing the line of mediocrity for the here and now.

To summarize, nothing the Twins do in 2016 matters. Poor trades, poor roster management, poor decisions, all of it together doesn't matter. Sure, the more decisions that Terry Ryan has a hand in, the further the franchise will be set back for the long run. Really though, the only thing that matters is that the Twins realize and do something about their 20 year long mistake.

Terry Ryan is not a good General Manager, and he's never been a good General Manager. A brief period of relevance is a distant memory, and far from worthy to hang the franchise's hat on still today. It's not an enviable situation to make a change at the top, but until the Minnesota Twins rid themselves of the man who has brought them 20 seasons of losing, nothing matters.

In Trading Santana, Twins Can Start Over

As the Minnesota Twins continue their run through the 2016 Major League Baseball season, it's more than apparent to label them as sellers when the July 31st trade deadline rolls around. Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor will have to decide who sticks going forward, but no one not named Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton should be considered off limits on the 25 man roster. It sounds like the piece that may draw the most interest could be starting pitcher Ervin Santana.

Recently, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reported that an American League assistant GM told him that Santana is seen as "perhaps the most viable trade deadline pickup on the market." It's interesting that this information comes from Cafardo. Not because he's been unreliable in the past, but instead, Cafardo's assigned Red Sox could definitely use some starting help. With that reality in play, it's fair to assume he may be pretty clued in to the starting market.

So, if the Twins are actually going to grab some offers for Ervin Santana, what can we actually expect? Right now, Santana is in just the second year of a four-year deal paying him $55 million. At 33 years old, he's not merely a rental, and a contending team could do considerably worse. In his time with the Twins, Santana has started 31 games and posted a 4.27 ERA. It's almost identically in line with his 4.29 FIP and inflated due to a 1.357 WHIP. His 6.6 K/9 isn't going to light the world on fire, but his 2.9 BB/9 has been more than acceptable. A middle of the rotation starter, you'll get what you expect with Santana.

Having pitched in both the American and National (briefly) Leagues, Santana's stuff should play just fine no matter where he ends up. His fastball velocity has remained consistent the past two seasons with Minnesota, if not even slightly experiencing an increase. Looking back through his career at his contact and chase rates, he's been virtually the same pitcher for the duration of his 12 big league seasons.

In return for a pitcher like Santana, the Twins probably should do better than a throwaway prospect. Again, he's not a rental, and a veteran with his pedigree should truly be able to help a contending team down the stretch. He's not going to bring back a massive haul, but if he emerges as one of the better options on the market, Minnesota should have a few returns to choose from.

Arguably the best thing trading Santana allows the Twins to do is start over, and aim higher. Terry Ryan has made a habit (and it's a bad one) of going after middling options in free agency. It's time that someone new step in, and deviate from that strategy. In moving on from Santana, the Twins shed some significant salary requirements, and immediately open up a spot in the starting rotation.

Ideally, it's Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco that the Twins are able to move on from first, but that isn't a realistic possibility. The level of mediocrity achieved in inking them to free agent deals (and in extending Hughes) really hamstrung the Twins immediate future. While Santana is a middling option, he's still head and shoulders above the bet that was the two aforementioned names. Trading Santana though allows the process to start.

Once Santana is out of the picture, the Twins have an immediate opening in the starting rotation to be claimed by Jose Berrios. It allows him to settle in through 2016 and lay claim to a 2017 Opening Day spot. From there, you'd like to see Minnesota parlay Hughes and Nolasco into a one contract, top of the rotation starter. The caveat is that neither come off the books a season from now (Nolasco 2017, Hughes 2019). Looking at the landscape of what's available however, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The starting pitching market in 2017 was Stephen Strasburg and everyone else. Now inked to a long term deal by the Nationals, the Twins need to be saved from themselves by overspending and overreaching yet again. In keeping Hughes and Nolasco for another year, the 2017 club could have another hot name at deadline time. While there isn't a ton of ideal options in 2018 either, Minnesota could chose to commit the $100+ million they have tied up in Hughes and Nolasco to one top tier option.

What the Twins do in the future remains a pretty significant mystery. Half of the equation is whether or not Terry Ryan gets to orchestrate what happens going forward (and the hope would be that he doesn't). What they can't do though is continue to operated along the same lines as they did to get to the place they are now. Ryan has committed over $150 million to three pitchers who all are no more than a middle-rotation starter on a playoff club.

Santana's time appears to be done, and with it should go the mindset that brought him in.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Twins Need To Get Young Sooner, Not Later

The Minnesota Twins have now played 75 games in 2016, and they've won just 24 of them. Paul Molitor's club has the worst record in the major leagues, and Minnesota was the first team to reach the 50 loss plateau. After a season in which the Twins nearly made the playoffs, they're all but cooked by the end of June. It's time the organization makes a shift in its thought process.

Now in his second time around as general manager, Terry Ryan has made mediocrity a defining term in looking at his tenure. He's failed to ever fully commit to a rebuild, and an organization chock full of young prospects have yet to bear fruits at the highest level. While there's no doubt Ryan should be gone at season's end (and not given the good nature of doing so on his own accord), the problems shouldn't be further compounded this season; commit to the future.

A couple of weeks ago I touched on a handful of players the Twins need to trade. While there's a July 31st trade deadline approaching, Minnesota would be doing themselves a favor to make moves before then. Eduardo Nunez, Robbie Grossman, and Trevor Plouffe aren't going to raise whatever value they may currently have over the next month, and they're only holding the Twins back in the interim.

Right now, the best thing for a bad Twins club would be to open the floodgates and bring aboard the youth. Although waiting a month is far from a damaging situation, it's also wasted developmental time coming into the critical juncture that is 2017.

Eddie Rosario should be recall number one. Nobody was harder on him than I was, and the expectation that he would struggle in his sophomore big league season was very real. He swung far too freely and had an ugly plate approach. On top of all of that, he had an attitude that needed to be knocked down a notch. His leash was long, but eventually he found his way back to Triple-A. Since the demotion, he's proven he wants no business in staying there.

In his time with the Red Wings, Rosario has slashed .319/.342/.539 with 19 extra base hits (six of which have left the yard). He's struck out 23 times and has drawn six walks. His approach is never going to be one of patience, but he's made some minor tweaks, and the Twins have room.

How exactly do the Twins have room you ask? Well, the outfield is far from settled at this point. Waiver claim Robbie Grossman has really hit the skids of late. He's batting just .150 across his last 11 games, and despite an OBP north of .400, his average has dropped below .270. There's definitely reason to keep running him out there, but Minnesota's first goal should be to move him, and if not, he's more than adequate being a role player.

On the other hand, Byron Buxton, who's struggled still to hit big league pitching, may be worth of a few less starts per week. Rather than running Danny Santana out to center, Rosario could draw some of those starts, allowing Buxton to stay at the level he needs to figure out, without being given a full leash.

After Rosario, the next two biggest pieces wasting away on the farm come in the form of an infielder and a reliever. Jorge Polanco and J.T. Chargois absolutely belong up with the Twins. Polanco is coming up on a 2017 season in which he'll be out of options, and the Twins handling of Oswaldo Arcia doesn't spark any sense of trust for Polanco being dealt with in an ideal manner.

Polanco likely can't play short, and the Twins didn't exactly find out when presented with the opportunity that was Eduardo Escobar's DL stint. Brian Dozier is hitting like a mad man right now, so second remains out of the question. For Polanco, his playing time must come in the form of a trade involving either Plouffe and/or Nunez.

Neither Trevor Plouffe nor Eduardo Nunez will do anything but depreciate for the Twins. At this point in time, given the roster construction, moving one or both for the sake of opening up a roster spot remains of the highest value. Whatever return Minnesota is given will likely be low (even with Nunez's unexpected season), and shouldn't be a key piece in the decision making process.

For Chargois, he's been held down in favor of a guy like Buddy Boshers, or a DFA candidate in Kevin Jepsen. J.T. has dominated the AAA level, and despite an ugly MLB debut, should be inching his way towards the back end of the Twins bullpen. With Nick Burdi having spent virtually the whole year on the DL, and Glen Perkins facing an extremely up hill battle to resume his career (let alone close again), Chargois should be emerging as a 2017 closer.

Right now, Boshers has done about as well as the Twins could have asked. He's come out of indy ball and absolutely earned his opportunity. Expecting him to be a key piece in the Twins pen a year from now is foolhardy at best however. If you'd rather not send a bad message though, the smart move would be to DFA Jepsen, who has done nothing to earn his roster spot in 2016. A phantom injury could provide the Twins a look without moving on from the reliever acquired from the Rays a season ago, but Terry Ryan leaned too heavily on unrealistic expectations for Jepsen, and things finally broke.

Rounding out the necessary youth movement would be that of Jose Berrios. Since his demotion back to Triple-A, he's been anything but the dominating pitcher he was prior to his big league debut. His last outing was stellar however, and he's going to be a key component for the Twins going forward. It sounds like Minnesota may have takers on Ervin Santana, and they should continue to shop Ricky Nolasco (and really any starter that draws interest). When that spot opens up, it should be Berrios who hears his name called.

As things stand, the Twins are bad. They weren't expected to be in this position however, and have to find a way to make the most out of it. Giving run to guys that won't be key pieces of a team that needs to turn it around a year from now is not the way to do that. Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan need to create roster spots for cornerstones of the future, and that transition needs to happen sooner rather than later.

In free agency, Ryan has aimed for mediocrity. In his roster decisions, Ryan has aimed for mediocrity. In his rebuild, Ryan has aimed right down the middle, for mediocrity. It's time to realize that plan of action hasn't worked, and do something different.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Twins Having A Power Outage?

There was a time prior to the 2016 Major League Baseball season that it was wondered whether or not the Twins may set some records. Those records were along the lines of a power surge that an exciting and intriguing lineup seemed to set itself up for. Fast forward to now, and the Twins have been anywhere but at the top of the home run charts, and the only record they're looking to set is in the loss column.

The question is, just where do they sit as far as home runs are concerned?

Well, the Power Index has been keeping things up to date during the season, but it's probably time to take a look and break things down a bit further. As things stand, Byung Ho Park leads the Twins in homers, and Miguel Sano trails him by one. Those two are the only players that have eclipsed double digits for Minnesota, and the team as a whole has totaled 76 long balls.

As things stand currently, Park is on pace for 28 homers, Sano is trending towards 25 long balls, and the Twins as a whole are on pace to club 176 taters. Respectable numbers to be sure, but far off from what was imagined prior to the season. With numbers resting where they are, the Twins currently have the 18th most home runs in the big leagues, and the 13th best total in the American League.

When diving in a bit deeper, the Twins aren't hitting balls out of the yard at anything that looks like an efficient clip either. Having developer some standards in the Power Index, it was determined that .16 home runs per strikeout was a solid baseline for power hitters. Among Twins batters, only Byung Ho Park (.17) and Brian Dozier (.18) are above the low water mark. With power hitters come strikeouts, but unfortunately the Twins are doing the latter far too often.

Four teams currently have 100 or more homers this season. A season ago, the baseline for team efficiency when it came to homers was .11 per strikeout. The big time home run hitting teams such as the Blue Jays and Orioles were at or above .16 HR/K. This season, all four of the teams at or above 100 homers are hitting them at a .16 HR/K clip or better. In fact, three of the four are launching homers at a .18 HR/K rate or higher.

I'm not necessarily sure that the Twins set out to hit a bunch of home runs, likely they didn't. What they did do however, was to employ a lineup that was slanted heavily towards a power output. Sure, Miguel Sano and Byung Ho Park are probably the only two true power hitters, but Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe, and a handful of others are more than capable of sending baseballs out of the park. Unfortunately, Minnesota didn't project the level of futility when not hitting homers to reach the levels it has.

To be fair, the Twins have slowed from their record strikeout pace they began the season on. Of the teams striking out more though, nearly all of them also have more homers on the season. It's probably not fair to question whether or not the Twins have a power outage, that's really never been their style in the first place. What was a lineup that looked to be full of boomsticks has been anything but though, and that's been a problem.

It took Minnesota 70 games to score double-digit runs for the first time in 2016, and it'll take them a handful more to reach the 100 home run plateau. Baseball has shifted to a game where teams can choose to live and die by the longball, and this season, it's done more harm than good for Paul Molitor and his crew.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Twins Begin Weighing Possibilities With Plouffe

Coming into the 2016 Major League Baseball season, there was plenty of reason to believe that the Minnesota Twins should have moved Trevor Plouffe. Playing third base while pushing teammate Miguel Sano to the outfield, it was over the offseason that Plouffe's value was likely at its peak. Fast forward to where we are now however, and the narrative couldn't be any more different.

Starting with Sano, I had plenty of belief that he could be a capable right fielder. To say he has been far off from that is probably somewhat controversial. Looking at the power hitting corner guys such as J.D. Martinez and Jose Bautista however, he's holding his own just fine. The argument for Sano in right was always that if the power played, the rest wouldn't matter. That has held relatively true for the most part. Right up until the point in which he got hurt.

Now with a balky hamstring that's going to be more susceptible to injury the rest of the way, Minnesota is absolutely faced with a decision. That involves figuring out a way to get Sano back into the infield, and have him focus more on his bat and glove, rather than running down fly balls.

This is where Trevor Plouffe enters the equation.

In 2016, Plouffe was worth 2.5 fWAR, the second highest mark of his career. His 22 longballs were his highest total since launching 24 back in 2012. With a 3.6 fWAR season in 2014, and continuing improvement defensively, it appeared as if Plouffe was a late bloomer and his best seasons may be ahead of him. Minnesota probably could have (and maybe should have) dealt Plouffe before the 2016 season started, but the market for third basemen was lukewarm at best, and the club decided to hold on.

Now 50 games into his 2016 season, Plouffe is slashing .239/.264/.362 with just five homers and eight doubles to his credit. Normally an extra base hit machine, he's looked anything but the player Twins fans have come to know him as. Posting a -0.6 fWAR thus far, it's been as much a struggle for Plouffe as it has the hapless Twins this season.

As things stand currently, Minnesota has reached a point in which a crossroads must be addressed. To be completely fair, the situation probably should have been cleared up prior to this point. Miguel Sano is likely going to go out on a rehab assignment in the coming week or so. When he returns, he's going to need a place in the lineup, and it's not going to be in the outfield. Paul Molitor could do some shuffling with Byung Ho Park, but really, this one is on Terry Ryan.

It's time, trade Trevor Plouffe.

Without being connected to the front office, it's hard to imagine what phone calls the Twins have made or received. However, there are some teams out there that absolutely have some needs. Kelly Johnson isn't going to be the lone answer for the Mets, and it would stand to reason that Minnesota should start there. When linked to the Angels during the offseason, Plouffe's return was speculated as equivalent to that of a relief prospect. Right now, that caution can almost be thrown to the wind.

Making $7.2 million with a final year of arbitration eligibility in front of him, Plouffe's value to the Twins is becoming addition by subtraction. Right now, whatever return Ryan could finagle for Plouffe should turn into an afterthought. Opening up third base, allowing Sano, Mauer, and Park to all coexist harmoniously, that should be the goal.

Over the past seven years, Trevor Plouffe has done a lot for the Twins. He's grown up in Minnesota, matured as a pro, and become a relevant big leaguer. Cut the ties, allow him to go to a winner, and start to make the kids a priority in the Twins lineup.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Alex Kirilloff Ready To Shine For Twins

For the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft, the Minnesota Twins were coming off of a winning season that awarded them just the 15th overall pick. Not selecting in the top 10 for the first time in a while, Minnesota had a few options that would be presented to them. When the dust settled, they ended up going with the power hitting outfielder Alex Kirilloff. The Pennsylvania native has plenty of intrigue, and he's ready to unleash it for the Twins.

Kirilloff's prep career came to an end one win short of a Pennsylvania State Championship. Losing in the title game, you can bet his hunger to get back on the field and compete in the Twins organization remains high. He's likely going to head to Elizabethton to start his professional career, and his bat should be the thing that carries him early on.

Recently, I was able to catch up with the Twins top pick. We talked about his game, the Twins, and a few things in between. Here's what he had to say:

Off The Baggy: Tell me a little bit about your game. Most of the national outlets have described you as a solid all around athlete with a great hit tool and solid arm strength. Likely starting your professional career in the outfield, how would you describe your game as a whole?

Alex Kirilloff: I pride myself on being as well rounded of a player as I can be. I work very hard on all parts of my game. I feel that my biggest asset is my bat.

OTB: I believe you really burst onto the power scene with a recent Home Run Derby performance. Was that your first home run contest and what was the experience like?

AK: I was 11 years old in my first home run derby. I had just started using a leg lift with my swing, which helped me hit the ball further immediately. I beat a 12 year old who was the favorite to win the whole thing. So the only two home run derby's I have ever been in I won. 

OTB: Being from Pennsylvania, I'd assume your a Pirates fan. I saw that longtime Pittsburgh fan favorite Neil Walker congratulated you on Twitter. Who is a big leaguer that you have modeled your game after?

AK: Neil Walker is first class and I now have even more respect for him than I already had before. I like watching Andrew McCutchen, he is a pretty well rounded player himself so I am inspired by him. 

OTB: When looking at the Twins, what do you know about the organization, its players, and the state of Minnesota as a whole?

AK: I know Minnesota is cold...but it's okay, I am used to it coming from Pittsburgh! With three world series titles, Hall of fame players throughout the decades, and great traditions built, I am excited to be a part of the culture, history, and richness of the organization.

OTB: Tell me about your draft day experience. I believe you got to watch it unfold with teammates and friends as you were still wrapping up your season. What was the call like, and did you have any indications it was going to come from the Twins?

AK: It was a great experience being able to share it with my teammates, coaches, family, girlfriend, and friends. The call was a dream come true.

OTB: There's been some talk already that Minnesota may have you skip the Gulf Coast League and head straight to Elizabethton for your professional debut. What are your goals in your first professional season?

AK: My goals are to train, develop, learn, adapt, and play to the best of my ability while embracing the lifestyle of professional baseball. Let the rest take care of itself.

OTB: Let's end it with this, when Twins fans look ate Alex Kirilloff the baseball player, what do you hope they notice most?

AK: I hope they notice the baseball player and person that they want representing their fanbase, city, and baseball team. 

With a great head on his shoulders, it seems Kirilloff already is going to start off on a great foot for the Twins. He is headed to Minnesota this week and then will begin his professional career in the organization. He's going to be fun to watch, and should be another high ceiling prospect Minnesota can add to the farm system. Recently, he was included in the Off The Baggy Top 15 update.

Where Did Minnesota Get Off Chicago's Road?

As things stand for the 2016 Minnesota Twins, Paul Molitor's club is a Major League Baseball worst 21-48. Things are bad, that's pretty obvious, but the question is where things went wrong. I'm not here to tell you that I have all of the answers, but I'm pretty firm in the belief that Terry Ryan and his cronies certainly do not either.

Let's set the stage here; the parallels came full circle once again on Sunday night as I watched Cubs rookie catcher Willson Contreras launch a home run. The Pirates pitcher hung a changeup on the first big league pitch Contreras saw, and he deposited it into the Wrigley Field seats. Eddie Rosario had a similar moment in his debut for the Twins, but for Minnesota, that's where the happiness ends. These two clubs couldn't be less comparable, Chicago sits at a near opposite of the Twins, 47-20. What's sad is you can only look at Minnesota and think what could have been.

2010 represented that last season of true relevance for the Twins. That year, the Cubs didn't have the same fortune, but were far from a dumpster fire. Minnesota owned a 94-68 record while claiming first in the AL Central. The Northsiders finished 75-87, a mark that put them at the bottom of the NL Central. The draft picks is where this narrative gains more steam. From 2011 through 2015, here's where Minnesota and Chicago made picks:
  • 2011: Twins 30 Cubs 9
  • 2012: Twins 2 Cubs 6
  • 2013: Twins 4 Cubs 2
  • 2014: Twins 5 Cubs 4
  • 2015: Twins 6 Cubs 9
Now, to be sure, there's plenty of talent taken at those spots by both clubs. In fact, here's the names of those selected, and where they currently are at in the organization:
  • 2011: Levi Michael (AA) Javier Baez (MLB)
  • 2012: Byron Buxton (MLB) Albert Almora (MLB)
  • 2013: Kohl Stewart (AA) Kris Bryant (MLB)
  • 2014: Nick Gordon (A) Kyle Schwarber (MLB)
  • 2015: Tyler Jay (A) Ian Happ (A)
Alright, so where does that put us? Well, in short, things are virtually a direct reflection of the big league records. The Cubs have done an excellent job developing their drafted talent, and doing so quickly, while in turn righting the ship at the highest level. On the flip side, well, the Twins have not. Byron Buxton is the lone first pick since 2011 to reach the big leagues and he's scuffled there mightily. Of the other picks, there's plenty of intrigue in regards to Stewart, Gordon, and Jay, but they still have plenty to prove. At this point, Michael seems all but a lost cause.

So, why aren't the Twins the Cubs? It's a reasonable expectation that based upon the rebuilding arcs and developmental process, that they should be closely compared. I think probably the best answer as to why the Twins are lagging behind is because they have yet to commit to moving forward. Chicago knew they were approaching a crossroads, and they turned the keys over to people capable of putting them back into a sustained version of relevance. 

Theo Epstein was brought in, Jed Hoyer came with, and together they represent some very elite baseball minds. As the organization was rebuilt with talent, the duo knew they needed someone in place capable of harnessing it, enter Joe Maddon. A farm system chock full of some of baseball's best prospects, the club now had arguably the best manager in the business to deploy them at the highest level. 

On the flip side, Minnesota stayed with what has worked, or maybe better put, what they have known. Terry Ryan has been a symbol of mediocrity for quite some time. He handpicked Bill Smith who failed miserably in his absence. For the years of relevancy he's been a part of, Ryan has also orchestrated plenty of losing. Known as a guy who's far too committed to his dear friends within the front office, there's a real problem with a lack of innovation anywhere withing the organizational structure. That couldn't be more visible as the Twins struggle with many of the same issues this season that they always have.

In trying to come full circle from a rebuild, you also must realize that it's as much about developing from within as it is about making the right moves to supplement your club. The Cubs have clearly done a better job with player development than the Twins, but then they also have been much more adapt at bringing in talent than Ryan's clubs as well.

It's hard to overstate how shrewd of a move flipping Jeff Samardzija for Addison Russell was. That was a big needle mover, and something that probably doesn't happen all to often. However, a trade like that is made possible because the Cubs don't sit in the middle ground during free agency. As the talent has came up through the system, Epstein has brought in players like Jon Lester, Jason Heyward, and Ben Zobrist, He realizes that baseball is a sport in which it takes a full 25 man to compete, and that requires talent that is near guaranteed to produce.

Even if Minnesota was developing players at an adequate rate (which you can argue they aren't), Ryan is doing himself next to no favors by the players he's supplementing with, Bringing in Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, and Ricky Nolasco on bloated starting pitcher contracts allows little room for error. Minnesota has long shed it's mid-market definition, but spending smartly has never been something Ryan has been criticized of.

Take a minute to imagine a Twins team with some of the draft talent developed and producing at the big league level. Then, instead of a host of mediocrity in the rotation, a top tier pitcher or two that takes some of the heat off of the lineup and the rest of the staff. It's far from a surefire turnaround, but the results would likely be considerably more productive than where the Twins find themselves or see themselves going.

At the end of the day, Minnesota's biggest problem is themselves. They've become incredibly too committed to Terry Ryan, and in turn, he's far too committed to those who consistently fail to move the needle across the board. Right now, the Cubs are playing baseball like one of the best teams in history. Asking the Twins to replicate that is a giant reach for the a group currently losing at a historical pace. However, expecting a few key changes to result in a situation that is much more similar is not hard to imagine, and one that makes you think what could have been.

The Twins aren't the Cubs by any means, but right now, they aren't anywhere near what they should have been at this point either.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Oswaldo Arcia Era Ends For Twins

Following their 46th loss of the season, Paul Molitor informed reported that the Minnesota Twins would be welcoming Danny Santana back after a rehab assignment. That move was also met with the announcement that Minnesota would designate Oswaldo Arcia for assignment, his time with the Twins has come to an end. It might be a mercy rule for both sides however, as both parties deserved better.

For the Twins, Arcia was signed as an amateur free agent back in 2007. He landed on prospect lists prior to the 2013 season, and saw his highest ranking at 41st on Baseball America's list. A hulking slugger, he was never expected to play the field well, but the belief was that his back would make up for his defensive deficiencies. In part that happened for the Twins, but not significantly enough for a guy who has been worth -31 DRS across nearly 2,000 major league innings.

Over the course of his Twins career, Arcia has been worth a combined -0.5 fWAR. He hit 40 homers and ripped 37 doubles. His career .240/.303/.429 slash line was reflective of a guy that faded from 34 homers across his first two seasons. Summarizing his time with the Twins, Minnesota would be hard pressed to put a word other than underwhelming on it.

For Arcia, the story is similar, his time having to interact with the Twins has to feel underwhelming as well. After putting up 14 and 20 home runs in his first two seasons respectively, the Twins began their bungling of Arcia's development a season ago. After just 19 games, and 58 at bats, Minnesota determined that it had seen enough. Despite a career his .276 average, Arcia's .718 OPS was a career low. He had hit just two homers, and those longballs represented his lone extra base hits. From a power threat, Minnesota expected more.

Upon being relegated to Triple-A, the notion was that Arcia had to prove it or risk spending the rest of the year in Rochester. He went on a torrid home run stretch for a brief period, but unfortunately his final slash line rested at .199/.257/.372 across 79 Triple-A contests. He hit just 12 homers on the season, and was never a realistic option for the Twins during a postseason push.

To start 2016, Arcia found himself on the 25 man, in part because Minnesota wasn't yet at a point ready to cut ties. The notion that he was in DFA purgatory played out through the season's first third. In 66 games, he was given just 27 starts, and found action in a whopping 32. His 103 at bats produced a lackluster .214/.289/.369 slash line and his defense remained poor. The results were underwhelming, but so were the opportunities.

At this point, both sides deserve something better than what they have given each other. Arcia has been one of the most under-developed and poorly used Twins in the past two seasons. When given opportunities however few and far between though, he's done little to mark that reality more of a focus. Right now, the best thing is for a separation of the two.

That scenario should be expected to play out. Still just 25 years old, Arcia is the kind of guy that plenty of big league teams will line up to take a flier on. In fact, a fit could come within the Twins division. With the Detroit Tigers recently losing J.D. Martinez, a poor fielder and good slugger in his own right, Arcia fits the profile on a much lesser scale. In fact, the Tigers might be able to see a former prospect of their own in the failed Twin.

Back in 2013, Avisail Garcia found himself on Baseball America's top 100 list, at number 74, behind Arcia. Once nicknamed "Minny Miggy," Garcia has never really been more than just a guy. Now playing with the White Sox, his career .695 OPS lags behind the .732 of Arcia's. Garcia has never matched Oswaldo's home run numbers, and Detroit was willing to give their former failed prospect 53 games worth of work from 2012-13. The Tigers could do a lot worse than a quick flier on someone they have seen plenty of over the past four years.

Regardless of where Oswaldo Arcia winds up, he shouldn't be expected to be David Ortiz 2.0 for the Twins. Although he won't spurn them to that level, Minnesota shouldn't find themselves off the hook either. They operated with a poor plan in regards to the Venezuelan, and what could have been will likely remain a question for a while.

If there's one good thing that comes out of this for the Twins, it's that the commitment to the kids seems to have taken a hold. Both Max Kepler and Byron Buxton remain on the big league roster. Rather than being sent back to Triple-A, the organization realizes it's time for them to sink or swim, and allowing them to figure it out against the highest level of competition is a must.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Rortvedt Steps Behind Plate For Twins

The Minnesota Twins owned the 15th overall pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball draft. There were questions as to how they would use the selection, and whether or not a major league deficiency at catcher warranted a backstop being picked. Terry Ryan and his club didn't go that way out of the gate, but they didn't wait long.

With their second round selection, the Twins took a high school catcher from Verona High School in Wisconsin. Ben Rortvedt became the second highest drafted catcher since Minnesota grabbed Joe Mauer 1st overall in the 2001 Major League Baseball draft. Signing recently for just below the slot value, a nice $900k bonus check coming his way, Rortvedt is ready to get his professional career started.

I was able to catch up with Rortvedt recently and ask him a couple of questions in regards to his draft experience, playing career, and what's next with the Twins. Here's what he had to say:

Off The Baggy: What was the draft experience like for you? Did you have any indication of when and where you were going? Did you watch the action live?

Ben Rortvedt: The draft experience was much like the college recruitment process for me. People coming out to see you play and the communication was all similar. I had a rough idea where I might go and where I wanted to go from talking to teams and hearing things, but anything could have happened so I tried to keep my head on straight. I watched the draft live at home with some of my family. 

OTB: Being from the Midwest, I'm guessing you're plenty familiar with the Twins. What do you know about the organization and team as a whole at this point?

BR: Being close to Minnesota I know the Twins have an incredible fan base. One of my high school coaches is a avid Twins fan, and many of my classmates are as well. It is great having that kind of support behind you. 

OTB: As a catcher, you become the highest player drafted by the Twins at the position since Joe Mauer went first overall. What sets you apart behind the plate? What are your strengths?

BR: My strength as a catcher, I believe, is that I am well rounded. I like to believe that I can impact the game behind the plate and at it as well. 

OTB: Entering the Twins system, what is the area of your game you're most looking forward to improving in your first year at the professional level?

BR: Defensively I am looking forward to learning from the coaches and players that have a lot more years under their belt than I do; exchange thoughts on catching and improve my ability behind the plate. 

OTB: At the big league level, catchers can sometimes get lumped into an offensive or defensive only role. You profile as a more complete player at the position. What is your hitting approach like?

BR: My hitting approach is pretty simple. I try to take what pitchers give me. I don't try to do too much at the plate. Always thinking away and up the middle at the plate.  

OTB: Behind the dish, there's a handful of professionals that have made a name for themselves among the game's best ever. Is there a current or former major leaguer you model your game after and if so, why?

BR: Being from Wisconsin I like Jonathon Lucroy. He's a great defensive catcher and very fundamentally sound. I also like Tucker Barnhart from the Reds. He is very smooth behind the plate. 

OTB: Finally, if there's one thing you take pride in how you play the game above everything else, what is it?

BR: The one thing I take pride in is hustle and effort. Always giving your all on the field. 

Rortvedt ended things on a great note, with hustle and effort being things you can always control when it comes to the game of baseball. He'll likely be assigned to the short season Gulf Coast League for the Twins. Obviously being a high schooler, there will be some developmental time that needs to take place, but Rortvedt could quickly become the best catching prospect in the Twins system.

Keep tuned into Off The Baggy and @tlschwerz for updates on Ben Rortvedt's first season at the professional level. Good luck Ben!

Twins Have An Oswaldo Arcia Sized Problem

Coming into the 2016 Major League Baseball season, Oswaldo Arcia was already on the outs with the Minnesota Twins. He was out of options and Minnesota seemed to be squeezing him out of their plans. With Miguel Sano heading to the outfield and Byung Ho Park taking over designated hitter at bats, playing time would be hard to come by. That narrative couldn't be more true over one-third of the way through the season.

Through June 15, Oswaldo Arcia has gotten into just 32 games for the Twins. He's totaled 103 at bats, and he's drawn just 27 starts. The 25 year-old Venezuelan owns a .214/.289/.369 slash line, and his .658 OPS is the lowest total of his four-year major league career. What's worth wondering however, is what to make of it all?

Sure, Arcia's numbers at the plate leave something to be desired. However, he's started back to back games just 11 times in 64 games for Minnesota. Since May 15, he's made just seven starts through 27 games despite the struggles of teammate Byung Ho Park. To summarize the situation, his opportunities, when they've been present, have been few and far between. At the end of the day though, that's kind of how a guy operating without options experiences the big leagues.

So, what do the Twins do with Arcia? He's posted a positive fWAR just once over the past four seasons, and that was a 0.9 mark in 2014. He's been worth -0.5 fWAR thus far in 2016, and his defensive ability (or lack thereof) is always going to be a detriment. In 2016, Arcia has posted a -4 DRS thus far. In his two most complete MLB seasons (2013/14), Arcia owned -16 and -9 DRS marks respectively. An offensive asset more in thought than reality, and a defensive liability, the Twins decision making time is looming.

That reality is only being compounded as Eddie Rosario is currently tearing up Triple-A. Sure, Rosario still isn't walking hardly at all, and his plate approach leaves an incredible amount to be desired at the big league level. Looking at what they've both put forth for the Twins however, it's a tough argument to suggest Rosario doesn't bring more to the table. Complicating things however, is that Rosario shouldn't come up to overtake Arcia's role.

As things stand, only Byron Buxton and Max Kepler should be considered realistic cogs of the Twins future outfield. Both have tremendous upside and need to be given the duration of the 2016 season to get acclimated to the level Minnesota needs them to compete at. Despite both of their struggles, neither has anything left to learn at Triple-A. Swapping either player with Rosario would be a tremendous gaffe of the Twins end, and one that should remain out of the equation.

Whether Minnesota is open to switching out Arcia for Rosario or not remains to be seen. The latter could rotate playing time with Kepler and would almost assuredly find himself in the field more often than Arcia has. A summer trade of breakout minor league signee Robbie Grossman could open up a spot as well. Regardless of what shuffle takes place, it appears Arcia should likely be the one to go.

There's less than a zero percent chance that a major league team would put a waiver claim in on Oswaldo Arcia. He's a 25 year old power hitter that some organization is going to view as a prospect they can unlock. It may very well happen, and it would be unfortunate for the Twins to see it take place. However, much like Grossman, sometimes those situations just need to play out.

Whether it's ideal or not, sometimes players just find themselves when presented a different set of circumstances. Minnesota seems to have hit the proverbial jackpot with Robbie Grossman, and Oswaldo Arcia affording another organization that opportunity isn't a death sentence. If time is up for Arcia in Minnesota, I think it's ok to come to grips with that being the reality.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

2016 Midseason Top 15 Prospects Update

Here at Off The Baggy, covering the Minnesota Twins means checking in on everything from the big league club on down to the farm. With the major league team in the midst of an unfortunate season, it's hard to not get caught up already looking ahead to 2017. With the Twins graduating a handful of their top prospects, looking at who's next is plenty exciting.

Despite big names like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano no longer being considered prospects, the Twins have some serious firepower left on the farm. Shifting more towards pitchers at this point, the organization should have plenty of players to rely upon in the coming seasons. Before taking a look at where the rankings fall currently, you can find the 2016 Top 15 Prospects HERE, and the midseason 2015 Top 15 Prospects HERE.

With all of that out of the way, let's get into it. Your top 15 Minnesota Twins Prospects at the halfway point of 2016:

15. Jake Reed RP

Unfortunately, Reed struggled out of the gate. In his first 27.1 IP, he owned a 5.27 ERA. While his 29 strikeouts were a welcomed statistic, command was once again an issue. He gave up 16 earned runs while walking 12 batter. However, he's seemingly turned a corner of late. Over his last nine innings, he owns a 1.00 ERA and has allowed opposing hitters to bat just .040/.194/.040 off of him. If he can continue to limit walks, he still should have a chance to reach Rochester by season's end.

14. Lewis Thorpe SP

It's hard to move Thorpe much as he's yet to pitch in 2016. He's recovering from Tommy John surgery and has had a couple of hiccups during the process. I believe at one point he came down with mono, and that obviously slowed the process. He's still got youth on his side, and should he make a return in 2016, his ceiling remains as high as ever.

13. Felix Jorge SP

The first new name in the midseason top 15, Jorge has absolutely earned his spot. At 22 years old, he's making his debut at High-A Fort Myers this season. He's made 10 starts thus far and owns a 1.64 ERA. His strikeout numbers sit at 7.5 K/9, and have remained virtually consistent since rookie ball. He's not going to be a frontline starter, but if Jorge can continue to replicate similar results, he'll be a solid rotation contributor in the middle to back end as he rises through the Twins system.

12. Nick Burdi RP

Burdi falls out of the top 10 after a less than ideal begin to 2016. He injured himself during spring training and then has dealt with arm injuries for most of the regular season. He's made just three appearances, and remains on the Double-A disabled list. His stuff is absolutely electric when on the mound, but he's really struggled to get there this season. After some control issues a season ago, he really needed to use this season as a springboard and that just hasn't happened.

11. Daniel Palka OF

Taking over the spot previously occupied by Adam Brett Walker, Palka has been more than a nice return to the Twins for Chris Herrmann. He currently leads the Southern League in home runs, and his power is plenty legit. He has strikeout tendencies very similar to Walker, but his on-base numbers tell a different tale, and his ratios are a bit better than the free swinger at Triple-A. I compared both Palka and Walker here, and if I'm taking a flier on one to hit, it's Palka.

10. Fernando Romero SP

Romero makes the biggest jump thus far on the prospect list. After being outside of my top 15 to start the season, he's been absolutely unhittable since returning to Cedar Rapids following Tommy John surgery. Romero didn't pitch in 2014, but it doesn't appear that he's missed a beat at all. Four starts in, he owns a 1.17 ERA along with an 8.2 K/9 and a 1.6 BB/9. Romero put up solid numbers as a 19 year old at Cedar Rapids in 2014, so him dominating the level isn't completely unexpected. Regardless, should he continue to progress like this from Tommy John, he's going to force himself into the Twins plans.

9. Alex Kirilloff RF/1B

The 15th overall draft pick by the Minnesota Twins in the 2016 Major League draft, Kirilloff may immediately take over the title of top power prospect. He's probably going to skip the Gulf Coast League and head right to Elizabethton. A high schooler, he'll have a significant learning curve at the pro level. He's already got tremendous pop in his bat and it should translate to wood just fine. He's likely destined for a corner spot at the big league level, but that hit tool is going to carry him on its own for a while.

8. Kohl Stewart SP

Moving up one spot, Stewart has now made the jump to Double-A Chattanooga. Of the Twins pitching prospects, he's been the one considered to be a frontline starter most often. His strikeout numbers improved this season as he started out at Fort Myers. He earned a promotion though after a few rocky starts and then turned in a clunker in his Double-A debut. He settled in during start number two and should spend the rest of the season with Chattanooga. I want to believe in Stewart, but the strikeouts need to come, and the level of dominance needs to rise if he's going to fulfill that frontline potential for Minnesota.

7. J.T. Chargois RP

Chargois made his MLB debut in June and it went hardly as planned. However, he should be back up with the big club sooner rather than later, and the expectation should be that he's capable of helping the Twins. At Triple-A Rochester in 2016, Chargois has struck out everyone to the tune of a 14.6 K/9. He's controlled walks and he's worked out of the closer role. With Glen Perkins looking like a serious shutdown candidate for the year, I'd be far from shocked to see the Twins using Chargois to save games in September.

6. Jorge Polanco 2B

The only reason Polanco is this low on the list is because of the talent ahead of him. He's gone from being a guy that plenty of organizations have, to one that should be playing every day in the big leagues. Polanco has been jerked around by the Twins but is slashing .315/.380/.500 at Triple-A Rochester. He's capable with the bat at the big league level right now, and needing to play second base, a fit with the Twins is a tough ask. If Minnesota moves Eduardo Nunez (they should), it needs to be Polanco that picks up the extra playing time.

5. Stephen Gonsalves SP

Right now, Gonsalves has no business being at High-A Fortt Myers. He's made 11 starts this seasons totaling a 2.33 ERA and has complimented that with a 9.0 K/9. He dominated the level a season ago and is ready for a challenge at Double-A. He was selected to represent the Miracle at the Florida State League All Star Game (that the Miracle are hosting), so he's not going anywhere before then. From what I've been told by a source, his promotion should come almost immediately after the All Star game. That would put him on pace to be an option for Triple-A (or the Twins) in late 2017.

4. Nick Gordon SS

Standing pat at number four, Gordon has had a nice 2016. It could look a lot better however had his last few weeks not been so rough. From April 7 through May 19, Gordon owned a .331/.370/.472 slash line for the Miracle. Since however, he's hit just .189/.268/.243 with 3 extra base hits, 18 strikesouts, and just five walks. His glove was always expected to be ahead of his bat, but he's totaled 13 errors in 46 games already after putting up 18 in 118 games at Cedar Rapids a year ago. I'm not worried about Gordon, but he's probably not as ready for Double-A as he once appeared early in the season.

3. Tyler Jay SP

If there's a reason Jay doesn't move up, it's solely because of the talent ahead of him. Give me a thre headed monster from the top three Twins prospects and I'm ok. After working solely as a reliever in college, Jay has looked the part of a dominant starter in 2016. At High-A Fort Myers, he owns a 2.18 ERA and a 9.2 K/9. Since May 4, he's made 6 starts and owns a 0.70 ERA, .205/.266/.227 slash line against, and a 9.9 K/9. He too should see a promotion to Double-A in short order, and I'd still bet on Jay making it to the big leagues ahead of both Stewart and Gonsalves.

2. Max Kepler OF

Debuting in 2015, Kepler wasn't going to become a regular until this season at the earliest. With Miguel Sano on the disabled list, he's been afforded that opportunity. It's fair to expect him to take his lumps, and he definitely has. Now with a handful of starts under his belt, Kepler owns a paltry .189/.271/.321 line at the big league level. His on-base skills will always help him though, and he's taking solid at bats. He'll continue to get his feet wet and be just fine. I'd be pretty disappointed if the Twins sent him back to Triple-A at any point during this lost season.

1. Jose Berrios SP

Easily the most anticipated big league debut after Sano and Buxton, Berrios got his shot early with the Twins. In four big league starts, he's compiled a 10.20 ERA backed by an ugly 7.2 BB/9. The strikeouts have been there, to the tune of a 12.0 K/9, but he's gotten himself in danger far too often. The problem is that has continued since his demotion back to Triple-A. He owns a 4.99 ERA since returning to Rochester, and has nibbled at the strike zone far more than you'd like. He's been more susceptible to the home run this season and the command issues haven't helped that. The ceiling is still incredibly high, but his two biggest detractors have reared their ugly head.

There you have it, the Off The Baggy Top 15 prospects at the midway point of the 2016 season. The next update will come at some point over the offseason. With the Twins looking to right the ship at the highest level, they'll again need to hope that a handful of their developed talent pays off for them.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Palka Powering The Farm

Over the winter, the Minnesota Twins didn't make a ton of moves. They had a bad bullpen that they looked at more fliers than sure things. Minnesota won a surprising bid for KBO slugger Byung Ho Park. Then there was a move that was somewhat surprising in that it was able to happen at all; the Twins dealt Chris Herrmann to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a prospect named Daniel Palka.

In coming to the Twins, Palka was a heralded power prospect who'd yet to play above High-A in the Arizona organization. He was dealt to Minnesota during the Arizona Fall League, and he ended up finishing that schedule with the Salt River Rafters (who were affiliated with Twins prospects just a year earlier).

During the fall season, Palka had a nice showing. Despite not jumping off the stat sheet, he put up a .278/.330/.444 slash line with three homers. He's always been a high strikeout guy, but his power has made that more of a footnote. It wasn't until he joined the Twins organization to start the season that things really took off for the Georgia Tech alum.

After a season in which the Chattanooga Lookouts were blessed with top Twins prospects like Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano, the team has been gifted Palka in 2016. Through his first 59 games at the Double-A level this season, he owns a .277/.355/.563 slash line. His 16 homers lead the Southern League, and his .918 OPS is the best mark of his four year professional career. He's still striking out at a healthy clip (76/28 K/BB), but Palka has become something Twins fans have hoped another prospect may be.

To find a safe comparison for Palka, you have to look back only one year at the 20155 Lookouts roster. On it, you'll find Adam Brett Walker, a player cut of virtually the same cloth. It was Walker who used the home run to power his game a season ago, and has long been clamored for among prospects lists throughout Twins Territory. The unfortunate thing for Walker is that his numbers don't look remotely sustainable, and if anything Palka is providing the blueprint for what he should be.

At Double-A last season, Adam Brett Walker had a 0.06 HR/AB with a 0.39 K/AB. Palka owns a 0.07 HR/AB and a 0.34 K/AB rate this season for the Twins double a club. The difference in minimal, but when considering the approach, it's drastic enough to make a difference. In heading to Triple-A this season, things have only gotten worse for Walker. In Rochester, Walker owns a 0.07 HR/AB but a 0.5 K/AB. In striking out in 50% of his plate appearances, he's on pace to blow by his previous career worst 195 K set a season ago.

Sure, there's plenty to suggest Palka will see a similar uptick in strikeouts when heading to the next level. Much like Walker, his approach is always going to lend itself to swinging and missing. Palka actually struck out more often than Walker at the High-A level, but is on pace to come in right around 20 strikeouts lower at the Double-A level.

During June, Palka has ripped the cover off of the baseball. He owns a .341/.415/1.068 slash line with two triples, nine homers, and 19 RBI. His strikeouts have been present to the tune of a 17/7 K/BB ratio, but it's hard to find fault with his current results. Looking further back though, his past 162 games have been nothing to scoff at either. The last 162 comes out to total a gaudy .281/.356/.561 line with 35 doubles, six triples, 43 home runs, and 125 runs batted in. Pretty safe to say those numbers would equate to a top tier prospect at nearly any level.

Considering where he's at, Palka is going to have to continue to substantiate his production. The Twins may keep him at Double-A all season, but regardless, his Triple-A production will have to follow suit. He'll need to avoid a serious uptick in strikeouts, unlike Walker has done, and continue the power production. For now though, there's no doubt Palka needs to be taken seriously.

Among Twins outlets, I've probably been the most skeptical on Walker. He may get a cup of coffee this season due to being on the 40 man roster. However, I'd suggest anyone ranking Walker ahead of Palka in their prospect lists to strongly reconsider. Although very similar styles, Palka is currently doing it better, and it's time he gets his due for doing so.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Minnesota Welcomes Four To Twins Territory

On Thursday night, Major League Baseball began making dreams come true for prospects all around the nation. With the first round of the 2016 Major League Baseball draft taking place, years of hard work would begin to pay off for a handful of deserving athletes. With four picks in the first two rounds, the Twins were determined to bolster their already impressive farm system.

Coming off of an 83 win season, the 2016 draft was not like the past few years for the Twins. Their first pick wasn't until 15th overall, and this draft was one of very few sure things. National writers had Minnesota pegged all over the place with arms and bats being considered, as well as both prep and collegiate prospects. When the dust settle, Minnesota went with four high school kids in the first two rounds, and all of them will hope to contribute offensively.

Here's a brief breakdown on each of the Twins first four picks:

Alex Kirilloff- High School Outfielder (PA)
Kirilloff went 15th overall to the Twins, and was pegged as their pick by's Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo. The prospect from Pennsylvania is a home schooler that has had ample time to spend honoring in on his talents on the diamond. He's currently finishing up his senior season which could end in a state title. Capable of playing all three outfielder spots as well as first base, he projects to play on the corners in the big leagues. Destined likely for right field or first base, it'll be his bat that carries him to the big leagues.

When considering his bat, it's already advanced for his age. Twins scouting director Deron Johnson told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, "Kirilloff could start at Elizabethton rather than the GCL. His bat is that advanced." On the year, Kirilloff is crushing the ball to the tune of a .545/.645/1.000 slash line. He's drawn comps to a slower Christian Yelich, and Max Kepler with a little more power. Minnesota went bat first in the draft, and it appears they may have gotten a good one.

Ben Rortvedt- High School Catcher (WI)
In general, drafting for need is something the Major League Baseball draft doesn't present itself for. When trying to project a young athlete to how they factor into big league plans three of four (at least) years down the road is a tricky ask. Looking at the Twins farm system though, catching depth is next to non-existent. Minnesota addressed that by grabbing Rortvedt with the 56th overall pick.

The Wisconsin native should stick behind the plate. Johnson told Berardino, "Rortvedt can throw, hit, really good makeup. He is a catcher. Kid born to catch." A left-handed hitter, Rortvedt is more than just a defensive asset. While he will throw runners out, and has above average receiving skills, he should be looked at as a potential complete player behind the dish. He's going to take time to rise through the system, but the Twins have a catcher that they can begin to cling to if things break right.

Jose Miranda- High School Shortstop (PR)

The Twins have now taken shortstops within the first three rounds of the draft three times since 2010. Miranda joins the group of Nick Gordon and Levi Michael. As things stand, the Twins have a handful of shortstop options all at High-A or below when considering Gordon, Wander Javier, Engelb Vielma, and now Miranda. Of the group, it's probably Miranda that projects most likely to move off of the position. He may be destined for third base in the not so distant future.

When looking at Miranda, Johnson told Berardino he's "not the greatest athlete." However, he does have an above average arm, and his bat should provide plenty of pop. Time will tell how long he sticks at short, but if the power plays and the arm strength continues to be the greatest defensive asset, he should stick at the hot corner. Like most high school prospects, Miranda is going to have a significant developmental curve, but with some patience, the Twins could turn him into a regular.

Akil Baddoo- High School Outfielder (GA)
The second outfielder of the Twins draft, Baddoo immediately jumps to the top of the board with one of the coolest names in the draft. He's got plenty of speed and has a realistic shot to stick in centerfield. His hit tool should be considered a strength, and he has hands that get to and through the hitting zone. Easily the most glowing endorsement of the Baddoo pick was a comp from Dan O'Dowd calling him a "young Carl Crawford."

Another left-handed bat, Baddoo could display more power in time. Right now, despite the quick hands, he does have a lot of movement in his swing. Minnesota will likely try and calm some of that down while prepping him to drive the ball more consistently. A great all around athlete, Baddoo should have plenty of things working in his favor over the course of his development.

As the Twins continue on to make picks throughout all 40 rounds of the Major League Baseball draft, the organization will see an influx of talent. Looking to continue to stockpile youth that can lead back to sustained major league success, Terry Ryan and company will be searching for at least a few more diamonds in the rough. Stay tuned over on Twitter @tlschwerz for pick updates and some immediate thoughts.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Mauer Reinventing The Wheel

After the first month of the 2016 Major League Baseball season, you'd have been hard pressed not to find articles throughout Twins Territory calling Joe Mauer back. He was coming off a great April, and now even further separated from his concussion, it appeared he had turned a corner. Then May happened and he cooled off. What's worth noting though, based on where things stand currently, Joe Mauer may be reinventing the wheel.

Unfortunately, due to his concussion, Joe Mauer was forced to remake his big league career. No longer a catcher, he was going to have to make the move to first base. In doing so, his defensive prowess was being somewhat sapped, and his production almost assuredly would not stand up to the boppers who play the corner spot throughout the big leagues. It has taken a while to get to this point, but we may finally be getting somewhere.

Back in April, I wrote one of those glowing pieces on Joe Mauer's production at the plate. His average was above the .300 mark, and he was once again an on-base machine. Some of that has changed, a lot of it hasn't, but the situation has been fluid in regards to Mauer all season long. What has remained consistent is that he's been one of the Twins lone bright spots.

What's worth diving into is exactly how he's done it.

Coming into the 2016 season, projection systems over at Fangraphs (ZiPS and Steamer) had Mauer being worth 1.3 fWAR at seasons end. Now, through just 58 games, Mauer has already been worth 1.4 fWAR for Minnesota. Sure, he could definitely take a nose dive and pull away production from that number, but expecting him to finish below a 1.3 fWAR mark seems like a bad bet. In fact, Mauer is on pace to be worth right around 4.0 fWAR at season's end, which would be his best total since 2013 (5.2 fWAR).

In trying to understand what Mauer has done to reinvent himself, we have to take a look at the approach through all facets of the game. At the plate, my initial piece back in April did a lot of the leg work. Good things for Joe include a 37.1% hard hit rate, which is his highest output since the 2013 season, and nearly a 10% improvement over the past two years. He's hitting line drives nearly one-third of the time, which is easily a new career high (never has he hit above 30% previously). When he's hitting fly balls, which is something Mauer has done just over 20% of the time, they are leaving the yard 18.9% of the time, his highest mark since 2009 in which he hit 28 homers at the Metrodome.

At the plate, Mauer is making great contact, and he's seeing solid results because of it. He's always been a patient hitter, but getting his swinging strike rate down to 5.1% has been huge. He ranks 11th in MLB among qualified hitters, and there's only nine players with rates lower than 5%. Mauer has also chased pitches out of the zone just 20.9% of the time, his best output since 2009 (20.3%). To summarize, not only is he seeing positive production, but it's backed by an approach that suggests its his own doing.

Then there's the other side of things, that's truly been part of the revolution. Joe Mauer is actually a very good first basemen. On the season, of which he's started 40 games at first base, Mauer has been wroth 4 defensive runs saved while posting a 3.6 ultimate zone rating. His career high DRS at first base came in 2014, and was a total of 4. It took him 99 starts to reach that number. When looking at UZR, he never has been better than the 3,5 number he posted in his 2011 debut at the spot. On pace for 11 DRS in 2016, Mauer is having his most productive defensive season ever, including his time behind the dish.

When looking at how he's played the game as a whole for the Twins in 2016, it's been pretty easy to see Mauer is an absolute asset. Things get taken up to the next notch when you look at the landscape of his competition. Only Miguel Cabrera owns a better fWAR thus far among American League first basemen (1.5 fWAR). Cabrera is the prototypical slugger. He's got 12 homers to his credit, he's hitting above .300, he has been what he has been his entire career.

Joe Mauer is not Miguel Cabrera, and that's ok. Despite the belief that playing first base makes him need to be something like that, he's found his niche and been just fine doing it. Mauer is one pace to hit 20 home runs. He probably won't do that, but he'll be above 10. He's shown a strong approach at the plate, and he's playing a very good first base for Minnesota. Despite what many once believed Joe needed to be at his new position, he's now showing us what he is, and it's something that the Twins are more than welcoming to.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What If We Lacked Objectivity With Twins?

Leaving an early morning meeting this morning, I had the opportunity to catch a bit of Judd Zulgad and Phil Mackey on their daily radio show. The 1500 ESPN co-hosts were discussing the UFC reporter that was banned for life because he broke a story prior to the organization deeming it was ready to share the news. In having the discussion, and important topic came up, and it's one that directly effects the Minnesota Twins.

As both Mackey and Zulgad broke it down, the pair dissected how unfortunate it would be should news only be filtered from first party outlets. If the UFC, or in our case, Major League Baseball (and it's teams) were the only ones presenting us with content, the landscape would look vastly different.

Considering the landscape the Twins currently call home in Twins Territory right now, fans have options. There's at least two major sports stations, there's the Twins website itself, there's a handful of blogs (like this one that I appreciate you reading), and there's any number of personalities on Twitter (like this one that I'd hope you'll follow). In understanding that however, the realization should be in how information is presented.

On the Twins website, you'd be hard pressed to ever find a story pointing a public finger at an individual or situation (16-40 record notwithstanding). On Twitter or on this blog, you'll find someone willing to equally praise and come down upon the club when needed. Heck, on some of the local sites, you'll find writers that lean one way, while others do little but to regurgitate the same team-centric attitude. As a whole, none of it is wrong, but if mandated, it all would be.

Take a look at the state of the Twins currently. Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor have constructed and ran out a team that has won 16 games in 56 opportunities. Fellow major league competition, the Chicago Cubs, have equaled as many victories in the same amount of time as the Twins have earned losses. There has been no shortages of blame to go around, or problem areas to take a look at. Over the course of the season's first two months, outlets have had the opportunity to cover both situations.

We saw a reporter fairly question Phil Hughes pitching despite not having the ability to do so in the capacity he should've been expected. I've been critical or both Ryan and Molitor in this space, and there's been plenty made of the Total System Failure quote in the Twittersphere. On the flip side, Joe Mauer's resurgence has been praised, Byron Buxton's new approach has been heralded, and the good has been found. The allowance of both sets of narratives is what creates a level of content designed to benefit the consumer.

At its core, sports are a form of entertainment. During their program, Mackey noted that media access was generated in its truest form to create a level of accountability and transparency between teams and their fans. He's not wrong at all, and that line being blurred wouldn't be a positive scenario for anyone involved. Leagues and their organizations becoming a monopolized form of access would provide fodder with little meat to it, while just barely scratching the surface of what truly envelops a fan's interest.

Thanks to the avenues out there, you're currently able to consume sports, and the Minnesota Twins in the way in which you choose. If you want nothing but what the team deems appropriate, is for you. Looking for something in the form of analysis, with happy go lucky sprinkled in, there's a local site for that. Want someone to be as passionate when things are good, as they are when things are bad, well I think I've got you covered there. Regardless what your choice is, you're currently allowed to make it.

Right now, the Minnesota Twins, Terry Ryan, Paul Molitor, and everyone at 1 Twins Way is falling flat. They should be held accountable for those actions, and it's the responsibility of those sharing their thoughts on the situation to do so. Despite baseball not having yet taken the drastic measures that UFC showed us over the weekend, it should probably provide a reminder as to how good the current situation is, and what the expectation to come out of it should be.

Consume your fandom to the level in which you please, but also be aware enough to know that it's worth protecting.