Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Getting Familiar With Jason Castro

The Minnesota Twins officially announced Jason Castro as their newest free agent acquisition. He has been added to the 40 man roster, and the organization now has a full boat there. He'll wear number 21 for the home nine, and he started off his new adventure by allowing Twins fans to get to know him today.

I've already covered what the Castro signing means for this new era of the Twins, and why he makes sense as an ideal catcher for the organization here and here respectively. Minnesota gave Castro an opportunity to address the fan base on Twitter recently by answering questions with the hashtag #AskJason.

Here are some of the highlights:
Twins Territory is among the most passionate fanbases in the game of baseball. It will be fun to see Jason's contribution both on and off the field.

I'm guessing the California mountains don't have much on Minnesota winters, but you have to appreciate a willing mind.

As a pitch framer, Castro no doubt incorporates advanced analytics into his game.

A personal and team achievement each, Castro has a history of experience across multiple different levels of achievements.

C'mon Twins Territorians, send him some suggestions.

McCullers has one of the filthiest curveballs in the game, so it's not at all surprising that the former Astros teammate gets the nod here.

It sure didn't take long for Jason to meet Sid...

And this is where Jason's Midwest education starts!

Castro will look to help the Twins pitching staff improve upon some league worst numbers next season, and he should be expected to be quite the upgrade from veteran Kurt Suzuki. Inked for the next three years, here's to hoping Castro is a part of the next Minnesota turnaround. Give him a follow on Twitter at @J_Castro15

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Twins Reunion That Makes Sense

Of recent, the Minnesota Twins have made a history of reuniting with players on the field that don't make a ton of sense. Whether it was Jason Bartlett, Matt Guerrier, or Jason Kubel, veterans on the tail end of their careers aren't a great move for a bad team. In hiring Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins, and Michael Cuddyer as Special Assistants, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine seem to have picked a meaningful reunion.

While the trio will no doubt be asked to provide value, they are not in significant positions of power. Instead, as Special Assistants, they'll be called upon to provide their insight from both a player perspective as well as having significant ties to the organization and its inner workings as a whole. Sure, they could have been brought in as Spring Training figureheads, but there's no downside to this move either.

Then there's the bit of information I gleaned in reading over Mike Berardino's piece for the Pioneer Press. He noted that other Twins Special Assistants include Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Jack Morris, Kent Hrbek, and Tony Oliva. Of that group, there's a few thoughts that come to mind. I'd imagine both Carew and Oliva are more present in spirit than practice at this point given their age. The duo of Blyleven and Morris though are what jumped out at me in reading their names in Mike's piece.

When thinking about former players involved with current Twins happenings, there's few that come across as more aloof than Bert Blyleven. On the air, Bert rambles nonsensically about his Hall of Fame career while providing little to no game value. The Twins broadcast routinely grades out among the worst in all of baseball, and an astute listener can only put up with Blyleven for so long. While he's likely forgotten more about the game than I'll ever know, he's hardly someone I'd entrust with teaching today's game to up and coming stars.

Getting to Morris turns a different page entirely. While I think he brings significantly more to the air than most former players analyzing Twins action, he too represents a dated way of thinking. He's a big proponent of the pitcher win stat, and his chauvinistic comments from his playing days have really never left him. At the end of the day though, it's pretty clear that this new trio was necessary.

In looking at LaTroy, Michael, and Torii, the group combines a wide array of personalities. There's outspoken individuals as well as more reserved players. All have had the designation of clubhouse leader, and each has gone on to win elsewhere in recent memory and with adjusted perspective. While Torii is admittedly not a fan of saber metrics, and LaTroy doesn't mind mixing it up on Twitter, there's little reason to believe that a fresh and younger perspective to the game won't help the current club.

Admittedly I have no idea what the job of a Special Assistant entails, I'd be willing to guess the new grouping won't be simply telling stories of yesteryear to the young pups. This is far from a scholarship program that has played out on the field in the past, and it's a breath of fresh air to a group of Special Assistants that very clearly needed it.

While Minnesota needs to organizationally shift from a way of thinking that has allowed them to tread water for years, Falvey and Levine accomplish little by alienating those that could be in their corner. Hunter, Hawkins, and Cuddyer can now champion for the new regime while understanding the old, and there's some real benefit to that. We may rarely see what the actual results are from the dollars spent, but I'd bet that the net is a positive one.

Monday, November 28, 2016

2017 IBWAA Hall Of Fame Ballot

As is the case around this time of the year, Hall of Fame ballots are sent out. To Official Baseball Writers Association of America members, they are mailed and returned as such. Through the forward thinking Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, email is utilized to streamline the process. Once again, I have the privilege of completing a ballot.

Before getting into the selections themselves, I wanted to lay a few guidelines out. First and foremost, the IBWAA has already voted in the likes of Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, and Jeff Bagwell. Voters also have the opportunity to vote for anywhere between one and 15 players, but may not turn in a blank ballot. My stance on performance enhancing drugs has been discussed previously, and you can find it here.

For players I have voted previously, I will denote them as such with an asterisk. I will also be using the same explanation as the previous vote. Without further ado, let's get into it:

*Barry Bonds: 164.4 fWAR

It's a no brainer. The all-time home run king (762) is arguably the best player to ever step on the field. A seven-time MVP, eight-time Gold Glove winner, and 14-time All Star, Bonds did it all.

*Roger Clemens: 133.7 fWAR

The Rocket is one of the greatest pitchers to ever grace the mound. He's won seven Cy Young awards, claimed an MVP as a pitcher, and was invited to 11 All Star Games. His 4,672 strikeouts were buoyed by leading the big leagues five separate times.

*Trevor Hoffman: 26.1 fWAR

At one point the All-Time saves leader, Hoffman's 601 career saves still rank second, trailing only Mariano Rivera. His career 2.87 ERA was is dazzling, and the seven-time All Star has a place in the Hall.

*Fred McGriff: 56.9 fWAR

The Crime Dog spent many of his early season among MVP discussions. Despite never winning won, he finished fourth in 1993. He was elected to five All Star games and won three Silver Slugger awards. It's his 493 career home runs that get him over the top and into the Hall however.

*Mike Mussina: 82.2 fWAR

Pitching his entire career in the AL East, Mussina was a household name for Yankees and Orioles fans. Making five All Star games, and winning seven Gold Gloves, Mussina has his fair share of awards. Totaling 270 wins, and just over 2,800 strikeouts, Mussina comes up just short of the guaranteed numbers.

*Curt Schilling: 79.7 fWAR

Bloody sock nonsense aside, Schilling is a three time Cy Young runner-up, and six-time All Star. He struck out 3,116 batters in his career and owns a 3.46 ERA while totaling more than 200 wins. Three World Series rings, an MVP, and a 2.23 postseason ERA do him favors as well. Since voting for him last year, Schilling has made plenty of splashes in the media. He's not well liked off the field, but the character clause is among the most dated pieces of inclusion into the Hall of Fame. On baseball merit alone, he's worthy of the nod.

*Lee Smith: 26.6 fWAR

When it comes to closers, before there was Trevor Hoffman or Mariano Rivera, there was Lee Smith. His 478 saves still rank third among major league career numbers, and likely will stand there for quite some time. Smith was also a seven time All Star.

*Larry Walker: 68.7 fWAR

Although he played the field plenty, Walker also turned in a nice run spending time in both the infield and outfield. He was the 1997 NL MVP and made five All Star games. His glove netted him seven Gold Gloves and his bat produced three Silver Slugger awards. Walker finished his 17 seasons with 383 homers and drove in over 1,300 runs.

Vladimir Guerrero 54.3 fWAR

Guerrero was a nine-time All-Star and picked up an MVP award in 2004. Even with all of his accolades, it's two defining instances on the field highlight his memory most for me. Few players have ever been better bad ball hitters, and his arm from right field remains one of the best the game has ever seen. In his first year on the ballot, Vlad is a no brainer.

Ivan Rodriguez 68.9 fWAR

Another first timer on the ballot, Pudge gets the nod immediately as well. With 14 All-Star appearances, 13 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, and an MVP to his credit, Rodriguez is among the top three or four catchers to ever play the game. He did it on both sides of the plate and his 21 year career was a testament to his durability as well.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Twins Establish New Era In Free Agency

Recently, the Minnesota Twins made among the first big splashes in free agency this winter by signing catcher Jason Castro. He's not a bank-breaking starting pitcher, and he won't light the world on fire at the plate, but the acquisition sends all the right messages throughout Twins Territory.

First and foremost you must understand who Jason Castro is. Sure, a three-year, $24.5 million deal for a player with a .684 OPS might seem egregious in today's offensive era of baseball. Looking at the former Astros backstop through that lens would be shortsighted though. As it stands, Castro is an elite pitch framer, and has average caught stealing numbers, which makes him one of the best commodities in the game of baseball as it stands today.

In a previous piece about Castro, I said this in comparing him to the backstops Minnesota employed a season ago:
Per StatCorner, Jason Castro was the 5th best catcher in all of baseball in 2016 when it came to generating extra strikes for his pitchers. Conversely, only 19 catchers were worse than Suzuki, and the second worst catcher in all of baseball when it came to pitch framing, was his backup Juan Centeno.
Not only is this move indicative of the Twins helping out their pitching staff, and addressing pitching concerns in a more economical way, but the optics surrounding the move are promising as well. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are nearly combined what former Twins General Manager Terry Ryan was in age. They were supposed to embrace the new age of baseball, and welcome in an advanced way of thinking. Around the game, it was Castro behind the plate who embodied that, Minnesota who was often linked as making sense, and the duo comprising the new front office that got on board.

Far too often, Terry Ryan made his mark in free agency by throwing money at need positions. When Minnesota needed starting arms, he gave ill-advised millions to the likes of Kevin Correia and Ricky Nolasco. When he did make a solid move, Phil Hughes for example, he doubled down and processed an early extension to turn what was a positive into a negative. While it's just their first order of business, Falvey and Levine addressed a need in both catching and pitching, did so economically, and upgraded themselves from what Suzuki and Ceteno provided them a year prior.

In a vacuum, the Jason Castro deal makes a ton of sense for the Twins. He's a superior player to Kurt Suzuki even at his worst, and he checks off boxes across so many other facets of the organization as well. It's probably a bad bet to presume that Castro once again finds his former All Star self for Minnesota. Even if he doesn't though, a career .699 OPS with potential to enter back above the .700 plateau this season, combined with his defensive prowess, makes his presence a welcomed one.

I'd hope that the Twins aren't too terribly involved in free agency the rest of the way with so many similarly capable prospects that appear on the cusp of production in house. That being said, Falvey and Levine's first move should provide plenty of faith that the new men in charge have a firm grasp on what they are trying to accomplish, and a strong understanding of exactly how to get there.

Jason Castro is a great signing for the Twins. The thought process behind the execution of bringing him in is even better.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Twins 2016: Diamond Treasure

If you're not familiar with this award designation, that's more than understandable. After reading through Patrick Reusse's Turkey of the Year last fall, I found myself moved to create a designation for the Minnesota Twins. The Diamond Treasure award was designed to shed light upon an area of the organization that provides excitement for the future while displaying roots in the past.

A season ago, the Diamond Treasure was given to Miguel Sano. After being talked about as a prospect for so long, and then producing at the big league level, Sano exemplified everything the Diamond Treasure is supposed to be about. He has long been a part of the organization's future, and finally, it all came to fruition at the big league level. While 2016 was far from what will likely be his best major league campaign, he continued to flash the promise that has long made him a can't miss prospect.

Looking ahead to the 2016 Diamond Treasure, there's a handful of ways the award could go. Top prospects such as Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios have just started to scratch the surface of their future potential, and both have long been heralded as key pieces of the future. Joe Mauer saw another tough season at the plate, but provided a near Gold Glove worthy performance in the field and has long been a Twins figurehead. While the on-field results were less than ideal in 2016, there were a handful of strong on field performances.

For the 2016 Diamond Treasure though, I can't bring myself to look past the organizational shake up at the top. This year's award is being handed to two of the newest members of the organization. The 2016 Diamond Treasure is none other than Derek Falvey and Thad Levine.

Now, to be fair, the duo has very little claim in roots that run deep within the organization. However, the Twins have long been tied to internal resources and processes. In hiring Falvey and Levine, the organization has made a monumental shift that they no doubt hope will springboard them into the future. Falvey and Levine both have a tenure with the Twins that can be measured in a matter of days, but their baseball experience runs incredibly deep.

Beyond the prospects and on field talent, there's hard to find a bigger reason to be excited about the future than what the front office looks like. Between them, Falvey and Levine provide a culture of winning, and both have been integral pieces in constructing winners for other organizations. The Twins continue to look back at the early 2000's when AL Central titles were a forgone conclusion. If there's a reason to believe those feats are once again achievable, it's because of the new leadership.

Expecting the new Chief Baseball Officer and General Manager to make their presence felt immediately is a good bet. They both appear ready to dig in and entrench themselves among what is currently the Twins culture, and continue to make it their own. As the transformation gets underway, takes place, and continues into the future, it will be by their direction that things succeed.

At the granular on field level, Minnesota has plenty of reason for excitement in the not-so-distant future. From a top down view though, it's because of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine that the organization appears to be breathing with new life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Twins Avoiding Rule 5 Losses

The Minnesota Twins have kicked off their 2016 offseason by introducing new Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey, and General Manager Thad Levine. Outside of the front office and coaching staff changes, the club hasn't done much with the roster thus far. Before the snow flies, that makes sense, but come Friday they'll need to make decisions on their 40 man roster inclusions.

With the deadline to protect minor leaguers from the Rule 5 Draft quickly approaching, the Twins will have to do some shuffling. As things stand at this moment, Minnesota has 36 spots claimed on their 40 man roster. They could clear up two more by removing Buddy Boshers and Juan Centeno. Another could be had if Trevor Plouffe is non-tendered. A final possibility, although not likely, would be moving on from Danny Santana even before he's out of options to start 2017. For the sake of this exercise, let's assume the Twins have six open 40 man spots by Friday.

There's well over 20 possible additions. Remember, anyone selected in the Rule 5 Draft must spend the duration of the upcoming season on the drafting team's major league roster, or risk being offered back to their initial organization (a la Zack Jones for the Twins this past season).

Now, let's get into the six I'm keeping:

Fernando Romero- SP

Romero is a no-brainer. He was ranked the second best Twins prospect by Twins Daily's Seth Stohs, was Baseball America's 4th, and my 5th. After finally getting back to good health, he was great for both Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers this season. Romero has a chance to rise quickly, and could see time with the Twins in late 2017 if everything continues to go smoothly.

Mitch Garver- C

This one is another no-brainer. Garver earned his way on to the Twins by having a great minor leaguer season in 2016. He was probably worthy of the September call over John Ryan Murphy, and he could challenge for a 25 man spot to start the season this year. He's got better than average defensive skills, while being capable with the bat. Garver is a former 9th round pick that should make an impact in Minnesota.

Daniel Palka- OF

Another player worthy of a September call up a season ago, Palka's downfall was not already being on the 40 man. Adam Brett Walker's skillset is very similar, but Palka's plate approach is just a bit better. The return from Arizona for Chris Herrmann, Palka's power is real, and as a bench bat or extra outfielder, the Twins could find themselves calling his name sooner rather than later.

Felix Jorge- SP

I think the reason Minnesota protects Jorge is that they are pitching starved and he can provide a solution. I'm a believer that while Jorge isn't an exciting top-of-the-rotation option, he's very capable at filling one out. He's a strike thrower, and has handled his moves up the organizational ladder well. Sure, he hasn't pitched above Double-A, but given his ceiling, I think you'd find plenty of organizations ready to give him a big league shot.

Zack Granite- OF

When Minnesota finds themselves looking for that 25th man in 2017, it could very well come down to guys like Granite. Not only was he the organizations Minor League Hitter of the Year, but he also stole 50+ bases and played exceptional defense. His speed is real, and his threat on the basepaths is something the Twins should welcome. Rather than a veteran retread such as Shane Robinson or Robbie Grossman, it's a guy like Zack Granite that should be giving starters days off at Target Field.

Zack Jones- RP

Left unprotected a year ago, Jones was taken by the Milwaukee Brewers. He couldn't get healthy and rejoined the Twins organization. With a new regime in place, something that should absolutely work in his favor, Zack's velocity alone should have him in the big leagues. He's a hard thrower and can generate strikeouts out of the pen. Control has always been an issue, but it's hard not to get behind what the ceiling looks like. If Jones is added, I'd be far from surprised to see him beat either Jake Reed or Nick Burdi to the big leagues.

Update: Zack Jones had surgery in September to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. He'll almost certainly be left off the 40 man and won't be selected in the Rule 5 Draft as he won't be able to return to action until July at the earliest.

Engelb Vielma- SS

Vielma gets the nod here over Stuart Turner simply because I don't know what the Twins plan to do at shortstop. Jorge Polanco needs to play at the big league level, but he's a second basemen. If Brian Dozier stays with the organization, he'll be miscast at short, and Polanco's defense is a problem. Velma has never been known for his bat, and at Double-A last season, he owned just a .663 OPS. His calling card is his glove though, and it's incredibly good. If he can play on a rotational basis for the Twins and provide speed on the basepaths, he's got a chance to have major league value.

Outside of these six, there's plenty more deserving candidates, and it will in part be decided by what openings the Twins have. I think Jason Wheeler and D.J. Baxendale both could have contributed to the Twins a year ago, and it would have given the organization to see what they have. Engelb Vielma could be lost as a shortstop due to his glove, and Stuart Turner could be plucked because of his ability behind the plate.

Beyond that, you're looking at players that would take a significant gamble, or that most other organizations have duplicates of. Lewis Thorpe and Amuarys Minier may have some real gusto behind their talent, but injury and development says neither are ready immediately. Guys like Aaron Slegers, Niko Goodrum, Travis Harrison and others are probably well represented by counterparts throughout the big leagues.

The Rule 5 Draft is a few weeks away, and every year, you're not going to see someone like Odubel Herrera emerge. However, an organization's goal is to keep those they see as part of the future, and try to gamble on those they think can squeak through. Come week's end, we'll have a better idea of where the Minnesota Twins stand.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Getting Late Early For Perkins

Entering into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, the Minnesota Twins might be very close to having to write off a long term organization staple. Glen Perkins is currently working his way back from shoulder surgery, and if his labrum issues weren't concerning enough, the sum of all parts presents plenty of reason for pause.

After being name an All-Star for the third straight season in 2015, Perkins went on to post a 7.32 ERA across 19.2 innings the rest of the way. He recorded just four saves as the Twins closer while blowing three, and he allowed opposing hitters to compile a 1.068 OPS off of him. It didn't get any better in 2016, but a two inning sample size is hardly anything to note here.

What's become apparent is that Perkins hasn't been healthy for quite some time, and his output has been lackluster at best. Never an incredibly hard thrower, Perkins was installed as Minnesota's full time closer in 2013. His fastball registered at 95.2 mph that season and his slider had solid bite clocking in at 84.4 mph. Yearly decline has take place since, and over the very small body of work in 2016, both pitches had dipped to 91.4 and 80.4 mph respectively (down from 93.7 and 82.2 in 2015).

Not just a velocity issue, Perkins has also struggled to retain consistent effectiveness. In 2013, he was giving up contact 74.6% of the time. Fast forward to 2015 and that number was bordering 80% at 79.8%. He has also seen a consistent dip in swinging strike rate, falling from 13.1 % in 2013 down to just 11.0% in 2015. For a guy that got hitters out more on his acumen than just his stuff, Perkins has watched it all deteriorate rather exponentially.

Looking ahead to 2017, it all adds up to the Twins having some serious questions to answer. There's probably less than a 5% chance that Perkins is ready Opening Day, and his absence will more than likely be felt into the summer. In 2016, it was Brandon Kintzler he filled in as closer, but a 32 year-old veteran owning a 5.8 K/9 probably isn't a good bet to put up a repeat high-leverage performance.

The closer role is a fickle beast, and over the course of the Postseason, I noted that relief pitching is more about using your best arms when you need them most. For Minnesota though, the pen is going to be filled with a lot of youth, and some significant unknowns. Ryan Pressly could potentially fit the bill as a 9th inning guy, and J.T. Chargois has that background from his college and minor league days. Right now though, there's no slam dunk in house replacement for Perkins.

I think the bigger picture here isn't who takes over when the Twins are leading in the 9th, but rather that Minnesota is going to be closing the chapter on a key cog of their relief corps. No matter when he returns, Perkins effectiveness is something that can't be counted upon. Whatever positive performance you get from him should be looked upon as a massive victory. Having stretched his career after failing as a starter, the lack of plus velocity combined with health concerns is likely going to end his big league career prior to even his desires.

There's still a part of me that wonders what if the Twins had capitalized on Glen Perkins at his peak. When the San Diego Padres traded veteran closer Huston Street to the Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota had an opportunity. They passed on it, Perkins gave them two years of All-Star caliber play in lost seasons, and now may be ready for his exit.

Injuries stink, and career derailing ones are even worse. Perkins has been trending this direction for some time though, and 2017 could force the Twins to finally start to consider other alternatives.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Prospects On The Way For 2017

A year ago, the Minnesota Twins had one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. There was a ton of top tier talent, and the bulk of it was near major league ready. Miguel Sano had paved the way by making his debut in 2015, and there was plenty of youth on the way to the Twin Cities to join him. This season, the Twins won't have quite that level of prospect talent, but there's reinforcements on the way.

Prior to free agency getting underway, and the Twins shaping their 40 man roster for the 2017 season, I wanted to take a look at what internal options Paul Molitor should have. Of the eight players I named last season, four of them made their major league debuts. Here's to hoping I hit on a bit higher than 50% this time around.

Jake Reed- May

A repeat from last year, I expected Reed to debut in 2016. Unfortunately he had a slow start at Double-A and couldn't get things consistently going in his favor. The command issues persisted for him at Chattanooga while he walked 3.3 per nine. His strikeout rate jumped to 9.6 per nine, which was a nice boost. A strong finish to the season had him promoted to Triple-A for just over 10 innings, and he was worthy of a September call up. Of the Twins relief options heading into 2017, it should be Reed who's called upon to provide a boost first.

Nick Burdi- June

Another 2016 holdover, Burdi threw just three innings last season. Dealing with a spring training fluke injury, and then arm injuries throughout the year, it was essentially a lost campaign. Burdi brings the heat and can touch 100 mph when healthy. Minnesota will need to make sure his arm is in good shape early this spring, and you can bet that they'd like to have him in the big leagues sooner rather than later. Burdi's younger brother Zack was a first round pick last season by the White Sox and is already at Triple-A; you can bet there might be a little family rivalry to see who can get to The Show first.

Stephen Gonsalves- July

The next pitcher on the list of starting prospects the Twins need to pan out is none other than the 2016 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Pitching at both High-A Fort Myers and Double-A Chattanooga, Gonsalves dominated each level. His 10.0 K/9 was very strong, and while his 3.7 BB/9 number isn't ideal, it was inflated by some clunker outings. His stuff isn't as electric as that of Berrios, and he profiles as more of a middle-of-the-rotation starter, but after a brief time in Triple-A to start 2017, he should be at Target Field by the middle of the summer.

Trevor Hildenberger- July

Hildenberger is one of the more interesting names on this list. He's 25 and not a top 100 prospect, but he's one of the better relief arms in the Twins system. He doesn't throw quite as hard as Burdi and Reed, but working as the Double-A closer in 2016, he was about as sure of a thing as it gets. Throwing 38.2 IP in 2016 for Chattanooga, Hildenberger struck out 10.5 per 9 walking just 1.4 per nine. He was shut down with an injury to end the year, but could've made the jump from Double-A to the big leagues. Not currently on the 40 man roster, Hildenberger should be added soon and can provide some punch down the stretch.

Mason Melotakis- August

The Twins, are least the former regime, definitely see something in Melotakis. He was added to the 40 man roster in 2016, and was sent to pitch in the Arizona Fall League this year. After missing 2015 due to injury, Melotakis pitched all of 2016 at Double-A Chattanooga. In 33.1 IP he struck out 11.3 per nine. Minnesota needs more strikeout types out of the pen, and Melotakis looks like he could be just that. At 25, he's on the verge of getting up there in age, but if he can show well early in Triple-A, he should find himself in the big league clubhouse to end the year.

Tyler Jay- September

In regards to Jay, there's a couple different ways that 2017 could go, and a lot will depend on how Derek Falvey and Thad Levine view the former first round pick. He was exclusively a reliever in college, and his transition to a starter has been a process. Jay will almost certainly begin 2017 at Double-A and should finish the year at Triple-A. If starting doesn't work out or the Twins need him sooner, Jay could definitely be used out of the pen almost immediately.

Mitch Garver- September

Suggesting that Garver doesn't see the big leagues until September comes with a significant disclaimer; the assumption being that Minnesota signs or trades for a starting catcher prior to 2017. Garver should've seen his debut last September, and he had significantly more purpose being a big leaguer than Juan Centeno did a season ago, but he was skipped over. Should a new starting backstop come into the fold, Garver is likely going to have to overtake John Ryan Murphy for backup duties, and will likely spend the bulk of the year at Triple-A. He's solid defensively, has a good arm, and is coming off an .815 OPS in his first 22 Triple-A games. I'd like to see Garver get his chance sooner, but acquisitions could prevent that.

Zack Granite- First One Out

Maybe the most unknown commodity on this list, Granite is far from one to be overlooked. He was the Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year and put up a career best .729 OPS at Double-A Chattanooga. He's not flashy at the plate, but his speed and defense will play at any level. In 127 games. he swiped 56 games and ripped off eight triples as well. For a big league club that has employed the likes of Shane Robinson and Robbie Grossman as 4th outfielders the past few years, Minnesota would be hard-pressed to do worse than their own internal speedster.

As noted above, this list might not have the top 100 prospect types that the 2016 version showed off, but there's a lot of big league talent here that can make an impact in an organization looking for difference makes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Fixing Pitching With Catching

The hot stove season is just around the corner, and the GM Meetings have kicked off down in Arizona. As the offseason rolls on, we'll quickly get closer and closer to free agent signings taking place at a rapid pace. I don't believe there's too many names the Twins should be in on (see here), but Jason Castro is one I really like.

Now I can understand why a catcher with a less than exciting hit tool might have Minnesota Twins fans down, but there's plenty more to the puzzle here. It's true that Castro owns just a .660 OPS since 2014, and that he's averaged just 12 homers per year in that span. Since 2014 however, Kurt Suzuki has just a .680 OPS and has hit a total of 16 homers. Comparing the offensive production is really splitting hairs though, the play here is on the defensive side of the field.

When looking at both Suzuki and Castro, you couldn't possibly find two more polar opposites. Suzuki has averaged throwing out just 19.6% of would be base stealers. Over the past three years, the league average in that statistic is 29.3%. On the flip side, Castro has caught 27.3% of would be base stealers in that same span. It's not just the arm that separates Castro though. Actually, it's the glove the really puts weight behind what the Twins are looking to do here.

Per StatCorner, Jason Castro was the 5th best catcher in all of baseball in 2016 when it came to generating extra strikes for his pitchers. Conversely, only 19 catchers were worse than Suzuki, and the second worst catcher in all of baseball when it came to pitch framing, was his backup Juan Centeno.

When behind the plate for the Astros, Jason Castro grabbed strikes outside of the zone 8.3% of the time, while allowing pitches in the zone to be called balls just 11.8% of the time (6th best among qualified catchers). Suzuki generated strikes out of the zone just 7.1% of the time while allowing should be strikes to be called balls 14.6% of the time. Understandably so, Centeno was even worse at 4.1% and 17.0% respectively.

It was apparent at multiple points during the 2016 Major League Baseball season that Juan Centeno had no business being behind the plate in a major league game. While Kurt Suzuki was once a respectable veteran, his presence alone is now his value to the roster as his on field performance has deteriorated to below replacement levels.

So, Jason Castro is a defensive stalwart, why do the Twins want to bring him in? The long and short of it is that Minnesota needs to fix its pitching problem, and focusing on the mound is expensive.

Right now, the Twins have a handful of arms that can at least be counted on to start games in 2017. There's at least eight realistic starting options at Paul Molitor's disposal, and they all provide a different level of projected output. Getting more out of them, prior to moving on or looking elsewhere, can realistically be accomplished by stacking the deck in their favor. A catcher that will steal them strikes, as well as ensure they are properly called, all while controlling the running game, is something the Twins haven't had since Joe Mauer was behind the dish.

The marriage between the Twins and Castro seems to make a lot of sense at least from the Minnesota lens. With just John Ryan Murphy and Mitch Garver as big league options, a true starter is again a need. I'd prefer to see Garver get a shot to prove himself in a backup capacity over Murphy after how each of their 2016 seasons went, but neither are capable of being the guy out of the gate. Castro is just 29 years old, and would be able to shore up the position nicely on a three year deal.

At this point, talks seem preliminary, and Castro will likely have multiple suitors. It works in Minnesota's favor that the Orioles didn't extend Matt Wieters a qualifying offer, and that Wilson Ramos should be game ready by May. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine can look past those two names and try to tempt the former Houston backstop with a multi year offer somewhere between $20-25 million. If it works out, the Twins would be addressing their catcher issue, but it would be through the eyes of a pitching focus.

Rather than spending on pitching that isn't there, this is absolutely the way you'd hope the Twins franchise address one of their largest issues.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Making A Twins Free Agent Wish List

In general, I've tried to keep a consistent level of content in each blog post. However, when considering the moves that the Minnesota Twins may make on the free agent market, it's hard not to want this post to be considerably shorter. Minnesota isn't very good, and the free agent market is even worse. Paying for mediocre talent isn't going to get the Twins out of the cellar, and that's likely what they'd have to be doing in free agency.

On the flip side, the Twins do have some needs, and if they aren't going to be addressed in trades, they'll need to find answers elsewhere. Given what the Twins have internally, and what the market is currently providing, here are a few names I'd be happy about Derek Falvey and Thad Levine getting in on.

Jason Castro C

Castro was once trending towards being a big name behind the plate for the Astros. At 26, he made his first All Star Game and posted an .835 OPS. Since, he's totaled just a .660 OPS across 343 games dating back to 2014. Still just 29 years old, he has plenty of catching days ahead, and it's the Twins that find themselves among the neediest teams in the majors.

He's above average defensively, grades out favorably with pitch framing, and has been around league average when it comes to catching would be base stealers. From Kurt Suzuki in 2016, an average defensive catcher would seem like a whole new world in Minnesota. the Twins could go with more of a stop gap option in Dioner Navarro, Geovany Soto, or even Chris Iannetta. Right now though, the Twins two best internal options are John Ryan Murphy and Mitch Garver. Both will take their lumps, and I'm not quite sure either is ready for an every day type role.

Neftali Feliz RP

In general, I'm more in favor of the Twins not signing a reliever to anything but a minor league deal this offseason. That being said, Feliz presents somewhat of an intriguing case. Having just made $3.9m on a one year deal with the Pirates in 2016, the 28 year-old Dominican had his best year since 2014. He posted a 10.2 K/9 for the first time since his 20 game debut in 2009, and his 62 games pitched were the second most in a single-season during his career.

You can wonder whether or not the turnaround was due to getting to work with pitching guru Ray Searage, and there's reason to caution his health. If Minnesota could get in at the right price though, he's a name I'd listen on. The 4.53 FIP isn't ideal, and that's where I'd start my negative sell. His fastball sat at 96.0 again in 2016 though, and that's the highest velocity since 2011. A pen void of hard throwers could do worse.

Jordan Walden RP

A 12th round pick by the Angels back in 2006, Walden spent his age 27 season with the Cardinals last year. Pitching in just 12 games after dealing with a shoulder injury, St. Louis declined his $5.25m option. With arm injuries being more common place for pitchers, it's hard not to look at the prospects of what a healthy Walden may present.

He's struck out at least 10.0/9 in each of his six big league seasons, and owns a career 10.8 K/9 acorss 222.0 IP. Walden has posted a sub 3.00 FIP in all but one big league season and has generally danced around walks by not allowing home runs. His velocity dipped down to 94 last season, but he could trend back up towards 95-96 with a clean bill of health. Negotiating against his injury, even a guaranteed big league deal, isn't something I'd shy away from at the right price.

At the end of the day, Minnesota needs to make more internal decisions than they do external ones. Deciding who to keep, and what assets to deal in order to advance the system as a whole is a practice that the Twins will need to get underway sooner rather than later.

Monday, November 7, 2016

New Front Office Must Get Creative For Twins

Monday November 7, 2016 will mark a substantial date in the history of the Minnesota Twins. For the first time since 1995 when Terry Ryan assumed the General Manager role, the organization will have quite the shake up at the top. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are being formerly introduced and they'll have quite the challenge in front of them. It will be incredibly important for them to get creative.

Looking back at a World Series played between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, it became quite apparent that the internal processes for both teams were focused within. Neither team had made it to the pinnacle of the 2016 Major League Baseball season by targeting a multitude of free agents. Sure, the Cubs had Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist while the Indians took interest in Mike Napoli. At the heart of it all though, you could find good draft strategies and strong trades.

As both Falvey and Levine look to right the ship for the Twins, it's now more than ever that they'll need to revamp the system by using the same principles as baseball's best. Forget what you think about payroll or how money should be spent, there's just not really any good reasons to be spending it this winter. The free agent market is mediocre at best, and the Twins overextending themselves on lackluster pieces is something we've seen far too often.

Players like Corey Kluber, Jake Arrieta, Francisco Lindor, and Addison Russell come about because of front office executives willing to take chances. Both Falvey and Levine will need to get together and decide which pieces they have to hold onto, and where they can part with value in hopes of returning even more. Unchanged from 2016, the Twins could be a better team next season. Slightly better pitching and more consistent hitting would have them trending towards .500 quite realistically. The problem is that shouldn't be the goal.

It's hard to suggest a full on rebuild, but right now, the Twins have way too many parts that simply land somewhere in the middle. Ervin Santana probably isn't going to be around when this team is a winner, Kyle Gibson may not push the needle, and guys like Trevor Plouffe, Phil Hughes, and even Glen Perkins may find themselves tied much more to what once was. Some of them will have value, and others will have their value tied to the roster spot that could be better utilized elsewhere. The two new front office members will have to immediately begin to make those decisions.

For now, it's hard to suggest a flurry of moves for the Twins this winter. They have some pretty glaring weaknesses, and finding answers on the free agent market isn't the right way to go. Falvey and Levine are going to need to get to scouting internally in short order, while hoping they can find some partners to get creative with. If Minnesota has its way, making a handful of trades prior to the 2017 Major League Baseball season would be a pretty great plan of action.

At some point, internal development will need to be raised, and the prospects counted on throughout the system will need to spark the change. While that's pretty obvious, doubling down to bring in more wild cards and chances for success is something that the Twins can definitely afford to do. 

For far too long, the organization has been ok with being good enough, settling for mediocrity, and really treading water in the shallow end. It's long been time to get creative, take some chances, and in turn, hope to see some results that push the needle a bit. Getting that started sooner rather than later is something we should all be excited about.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Cubs Show Perfection In Waiting

By now, you've gotten sick of hearing about the 108 year drought. Whether you're a Chicago Cubs fan, lover of baseball, or innocent bystander, you know all about the Lovable Losers that have failed to capture the sports greatest achievement for so long. On November 2, 2016 (or third if we're counting the time in Cleveland), Joe Maddon and his 25 finally got their trophy, and they did it perfectly.

No, the Cubs weren't without flaws last night, in the World Series, or even in the Postseason. They gave up a game to the San Francisco Giants. They had to punch of the ropes against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They stared at a 3-1 deficit on the biggest stage against the Cleveland Indians and they delivered the knock out role. The Cubs were down plenty but they never allowed themselves to sit there.

For the first time in World Series history, no starting pitcher on either team through a single pitch in the 7th inning. In Game 5, it was Joe Maddon lifting Jon Lester after 6.0 IP. Then in Game 6, it was Jake Arrieta that got the hook after 5.2 IP. In Game 7, and maybe the most egregious of the bunch, it was a rolling Kyle Hendricks that was lifted after just 4.2 IP. It appeared, as Terry Francona before him, Maddon was prepared to live and die by his bullpen horses.

Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban Missile, the arm the was acquired from the Yankees when Chicago decided not to part with Kyle Schwarber in exchange for Andrew Miller, was needed again. Throwing 97 pitches over the course of three games, the "closer" was being asked to do the unthinkable. As Andrew Miller experienced earlier in Game 7, fatigue clearly had caught up to the Cubs fireballer. He was throwing a more human, 98 mph, and the three run shot to the Indians Rajai Davis nearly spelled doom.

In the end though, it was because of the work Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and even Maddon himself had done to prepare this club. They entered the year as the best team in baseball, and when the dust settled, they remained as such. This club of Cubs had depth, talent, and drive unparalleled in the game of baseball.

With the amount of coverage that Chicago has garnered this season, it's hard to come up with anything that hasn't already been said. Everything points back to this group being a team of destiny, and it's only just beginning. Maddon, his youngsters, and a handful of veterans are well positioned to be back in the World Series a year from now, This group has put together something special, and the reality is they're only just beginning.

Maybe next year, the Cubs can make sure the National League wins the All Star game so they can have home field advantage. Then again, Kyle Schwarber playing in over half of the games in the was no doubt a massive lift, so maybe the Cubs just prefer to beat you at your park.

The curse is dead, and maybe it never was, but this Cubs team is for real.