Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Twins Two Bagger: Sano and Duke

While you were opening presents, spending time with your family, and scarfing down cookies on Christmas, the Minnesota Twins went shopping in the free agent pool. Zach Duke becomes the latest member of Paul Molitor's bullpen, and that has some different narratives we need to discuss. Then this morning, Darren Wolfson dropped a Miguel Sano sized bomb that needs some more dissecting as well.

Duke, who will pitch the 2018 season at the age of 35, is just over a year removed from Tommy John surgery. After undergoing the procedure in September of 2016, he returned for 27 appearances and 18.1 IP for the Cardinals a year ago. In that time, he posted a 3.93 ERA along with a 5.9 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. What makes Duke intriguing however, is what his numbers look like immediately prior to his injury.

Having pitched as a starter for the entirety of his time with the Pirates (2005-10), Duke didn't become a true full-time reliever until 2014. In his three years of relief work, he posted a 2.74 ERA across 180.1 IP for the Brewers, White Sox, and Cardinals. That number also came with a glowing 10.4 K/9 and a 3.9 BB/9. Out of the pen, Duke really didn't see much of a velocity boost, still hovering around the 89 mph range.

In 2017, Duke returned with his fastball averaging 88.1 mph (so slightly down from pre-surgery). He utilizes a sinker, slider, changeup, and curveball making him a valuable four-pitch pitcher in relief. As a lefty, Minnesota can now look at Buddy Boshers as expendable, and would then have an avenue to get the 40 man roster back to 39 players.

Per Darren Wolfson, Duke's deal is a one-year contract worth something like $1.5-2 million. This follows along the same lines as what I believe the Twins told us with Fernando Rodney. They looked for relief help that could be had on one-year deals with significant upside. Both Duke and Rodney are bolster a pen that needed help in 2017, and neither are true roadblocks to the emergence of players such as Tyler Jay, Alan Busenitz, J.T. Chargois, or Jake Reed. Rather than building an expensive pen, Minnesota is getting creative and making what seem to be smart decisions.

On another front, it appears that the Twins are exploring all avenues when it comes to bettering the roster as a whole. Talking on 1500 ESPN, Wolfson noted that Miguel Sano has been a name floated by Minnesota in trade talks. This hardly comes as a surprise, and I firmly believe Sano is the best piece of the young core to move if you are going to do so.

Making an offer to another team with Sano as the headliner right now could be a bit tricky. Although his .859 OPS a year ago represented a great season (and a career high 28 HRs), he's coming off a season ending surgery that resulted in a rod being inserted in his leg. Going forward, the Twins have suggested they don't see any limitations, but at this point, that's hardly a sure thing. When considering the landscape of Twins talent however, Sano's skillset jumps out as the most replaceable asset.

Going into any given year, you can expect a handful of things from Miguel Sano. He's probably going to play over an ideal weight, he'll hit a significant amount of home runs, he'll draw a decent amount of walks, the strikeouts will be there, and at times you'll need to utilize first base or the designated hitter spot to get him off of third. There's a lot of good in those realities, but there's a few very real detractors as well. Those detractors are no doubt the highlights of the conversations Minnesota's front office must have when considering moving their All Star third basemen.

Even with the injury uncertainty, Minnesota isn't simply going to have to give Sano away. While it may deflate his value a bit, I'd bet that there's plenty of teams looking at him as a future cornerstone. Should a match be made in which Sano can return front line pitching, I'd suggest that as something the Twins should explore. If Yu Darvish can't be had on the open market, a swap of Chris Archer for Miguel Sano (and another piece or two) could be something that would benefit the Twins in the long run.

Getting a controllable pitcher, with ace potential, in return for a power hitting corner infielder seems to be a decent tradeoff. Third base isn't a position with a ton of options, but both Todd Frazier and Mike Moustakas remain available for a team to jump at. Eduardo Escobar could also assume the starting role, with a bigger bopper but lesser fielder left on the bench to rotate in. At any rate, the tradeoff seems one worth exploring.

As things stand now, I'd imagine Minnesota would prefer to sign Darvish as opposed to trading Sano. Keeping physical assets while spending cash should always be the preferred mode of acquisition with all things being equal. However, as the scenarios work themselves out, it certainly appears like Thad Levine and Derek Falvey have a backup plan or two in place. The Hot Stove may be cool for the moment, but I don't think we'll continue to see it stay that way for the rest of the winter.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

2018 Twins Prospect Handbook Is Ready For You!

On March 10, 2015 I found myself looking for a new writing home and decided to bet on myself. Looking for a place solely to share Twins opinion, and hope to foster more in depth baseball discussions, Off The Baggy was born. Through this hobby, I've met some amazing people. Chief among those is Seth Stohs of Twins Daily. At this time of year each offseason, it's a privilege to be able to brag about his yearly Twins Prospect Handbook.

Seth is not only a great writer, savant when discussing Twins prospects, and exceptional baseball mind, but he's also a great person. During the offseason following the 2015 season, Seth invited me to contribute to the Twins Prospect Handbook for the first time. That offering was his 8th, and he'd been consistently helped out by co-authors Jeremy Nygaard and Cody Christie. This year, I've completed my third submission to the Handbook, and marvel in the quality that Seth and co-authors (now including Tom Froemming) have pumped out for a full decade.

Whether a casual Twins fan, or someone looking to know the ins and outs of the entire system, you won't find a more comprehensive avenue anywhere on the open market. This compilation of the Minnesota Twins farm system is truly a labor of love, and highlights so many athletes fortunate enough to call baseball their job. Although top prospects may get more of the national attention, no stone is left unturned when pointing out the abilities and hard work that each of these players has put in to get to the point they find themselves in today.

In going to Fort Myers each of the past few years for Spring Training, it's truly a joy seeing the Twins Prospect Handbook in the hands of so many fans around Twins Territory South. Whether seeking autographs, or trying to find out a little bit more about the pitcher or batter performing on the back fields, it's awesome seeing the book come to life.

At this point, I can't give any more flowing of a recommendation as to why you need each iteration of the Twins Prospect Handbook in your life. Both the eBook (PDF) and Paperback can be purchased here. They make great gifts and conversations pieces as well. For a more in depth look on the Handbook itself, head over to Twins Daily where Seth has a great run down.

Whether you end up buying the book or not, take a moment to congratulate Seth and thank him for such an amazing offering for the team you love!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Darvish Or Bust? Kinda...

At the Minnesota Twins embarked upon the offseason, one area of necessary improvement was in finding a top of the rotation starting pitcher. While ace types don't grow on trees, the free agent landscape had a few answers. Now, as the crop of available arms has thinned, it begs wondering whether it's Yu Darvish or bust for the hometown team.

While it's true that the Twins need to address starting pitching, it's also a fact that they need to focus on it at the top. Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios are currently the top two options for the club. As things stand, Santana is a nice 2 or 3 type, while Berrios fits in there with a potential to climb higher. Behind them though, there's a large group of guys that represent back end rotation options. Everyone from Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes to Trevor May, Aaron Slegers, Dietrich Enns, Adalberto Mejia, and Felix Jorge would be among this bunch. That's a lot of arms that have very similar projections.

For Minnesota to best position themselves coming off a Wild Card season, they'll need to put their best foot forward on the 2018 Opening Day roster. Both the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels have gotten significantly better, and Minnesota's best opportunity may be in taking sights at a weak AL Central. Expecting just five starters to make appearances all year is a pipe dream (heck, in 2017 the Twins used 16), so having the depth arms helps. What a glut of back end options doesn't do however, is raise the overall water level.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, it's getting to the point that Darvish may be the only option that moves the needle. Both Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb still remain on the open market. Returning from Tommy John surgery, Lynn posted a 7.4 K/9 along with a 3.43 ERA in 2017. Those marks are down from his career norms, and while he could see an uptick the further he gets from Tommy John, there's no guarantees at 31 years old. Cobb had a healthy 2017, and while it wasn't the 2.82 ERA and 8.2 K/9 he posted in 2013/14, his 6.4 K/9 and 3.66 ERA would be more than serviceable for the Twins. Both of those guys however, check in right at the level of Santana and Berrios.

Of the remaining options (and ruling out Jake Arrieta based upon projected value and asking price), Darvish is clearly a step above the rest. His 3.86 ERA in 2017 isn't glowing, but the 10.1 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 numbers were nothing short of ace-like. He fared significantly better once out of the hitters park that is the Ballpark in Arlington, and Target Field would be more than a welcoming home. He'll also be further removed from Tommy John surgery, and while he too will be 31, the velocity (94.7mph in 2017) was actually above his pre-surgery years.

Should Minnesota end up landing on either Cobb or Lynn, they'll likely pay something north of an average annual value of $12 million to get them. Yes, it's fair to assume that Darvish is going to command double that, but it comes down to what kind of staff Derek Falvey and Thad Levine want to build. Adding Lynn or Cobb would give the Twins a three headed top half that resembles a good level of quality without a top end expectation of performance. Thrusting Darvish into the top of the group would allow the Twins an arm they could lean on winning games by its own merits every fifth day.

There's a lot to unpack, and deciding to drop that amount of cash into one player is undoubtedly a tough ask. For Minnesota though, this seems like the perfect storm to splurge a bit, and neither Lynn or Cobb fall within those parameters. The Twins are hardly the only team vying for his services, but it'll be a tough pill to swallow if Yu ends up elsewhere in 2018.

Friday, December 15, 2017

What's The Big Deal About Big Money?

On May 10, 2017 I opined on Twitter that Yu Darvish would look really good in a Minnesota Twins uniform. He was an impending free agent, had ties to half of the new front office, and would be an ace for a team desperately in need of one. From that point on, it was mentioned that was a pipe dream. Now, it may still be, but the reality is many more specifics are being discussed. When it comes to a free agent contract though, how much sense do the dollars actually make?

I have no idea what Darvish or any of the other type free agent starting pitchers will command on an average annual value basis. I'd imagine that each of them is targeting something upwards of $20m per year however. On a six-year deal, you're looking at a sum of at least $120 million at that point. While none of us are billionaires spending our own payroll on this, reality says that in the right situation, those actually doling out the cash shouldn't be afraid either.

When it comes to free agent contracts, and long term deals in general, there's one hard truth to how value is handed down. The reality is that payment is being made for past performance, and it's being granted on a future basis in hopes of projected performance. That's to say, you pay a hefty price for a top tier player's previous accolades, and you do so in length hoping it continues for your organization. The unfortunate other side of the coin is that nothing is guaranteed.

For Twins fast, this reality couldn't be any more prevalent than with Joe Mauer. At the time of his new deal, he was a soon to be 28 year-old with three batting titles, four All Star appearances, three Gold Gloves, and an MVP award under his belt. To be frank, he was on a trajectory to go down as the greatest catcher to ever play the game of baseball. Add in that a mid-market team had the marketability of him being a hometown guy and former number one overall pick to create your perfect storm. That was what the past performance looked like.

Unfortunately for Mauer and the Twins, the projected performance was dealt a huge blow thanks in part to a career altering brain injury. Despite two more All Star appearances, Mauer has been since forced out from behind the plate, and has had to recreate himself as a ballplayer in other ways. It's something neither party could have predicted nor hoped at the time the deal was struck. Bringing things full circle, we arrive yet again at the free agent landscape.

In 2015, Zack Greinke signed a six-year $206m deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. At 32 years old in 2016, he was mediocre at best and the Diamondbacks finished 4th in the NL West. A season ago, he bounced back nicely and helped to lead Arizona to a NLDS berth. Paired with the talent Arizona had, and the Dodgers seen as their main competition, the Diamondbacks went for it knowing they may get bit in the end. With four years left on his deal, Greinke probably has another season or two of high level production, and then it becomes time to pick up the pieces from there.

Another recent long term deal stays in the NL with the Washington Nationals. Max Scherzer is being paid $210 million over seven years, but the Nets deferred half the money, opting instead to pay him $15 million a year for 14 years. While it's great that Scherzer has been a three-time All Star and two-time Cy Young while with the Nationals, that deal was consummated to maximize a World Series opportunity with the likes of Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon. The window closes as Bryce likely leaves town prior to 2019, and Washington will then have to decide what's next.

Looking across the landscape of baseball, you can find any number of long term deals failing at the end. The unfortunate side effect of grabbing a proven vet for their last pay day, is that at some point, they'll get old. What should go into the thought process is how that aging and effectiveness bell curve lines up with what an organization currently sees as its future.

Back to the Twins, and really Darvish if we're being hopeful here. Does a six year deal upwards of $125 million strike some fear in the payroll breakdown? Maybe a little, but the factors suggest that it probably shouldn't. Forget about what money Minnesota has coming off the books, and look solely at what a Darvish type would do for the current state of the organization. Only the Cleveland Indians are in a position to be competitive among AL Central foes in the near future, and the Twins have gotten both young and good at the right time. Even if a long term/big money deal flops in the final year or two, maximizing the next four seasons should be something the Twins set out to do.

Four years from now guys like Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton will be nearly 30 years old. They'll be eyeing free agency on their own. Brian Dozier will probably be long gone, and the talk may be of how Royce Lewis fits into the next wave. If adding a gaudy contract best positions Paul Molitor to get a World Series out of his current core, the focus should be on how beneficial that could be in the here and now, as opposed to when it falls apart some years down the road.

Not all free agents are created equal, and rarely do they enter the market young (hence why Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will need a Brinks truck next offseason). Shying away from proven talent in fear of a blowup deal can keep you safe, but rarely is it going to hand you the piece you may need most.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Twins First Deal Gets Creative

This morning, the Twins started off the Wednesday of the Winter Meetings with an agreement. Former New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda, was announced as signing a two-year deal with the club. Before diving into any specifics, Minnesota adding starting pitching is a good thing. Opening up the hood however, that's where this move gets juicy.

Thad Levine and Derek Falvey targeted an injured player with their first major league free agent signing of the offseason. Pineda made 17 starts for the Yankees in 2017 prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery. A best case scenario would put him on track to return late in 2018, but the more likely reality is that he misses all of the upcoming season. Knowing this, the front office got him on a team friendly two-year, $10 million deal. Paying him $2 million in the first year while he rehabs, the Twins will then bump his salary to $8 million in 2019.

Over the past three seasons for the Yankees, Pineda has thrown 432.2 IP and compiled a 4.56 ERA. His 3.82 FIP is a much nicer number, and his 9.5 K/9 would be easily the best mark on the Twins starting staff. He also pounds the zone well, issuing free passes at just a 2.0 BB/9 clip.

For the Twins, building a rotation more capable of missing bats and sitting down hitters, Pineda fits the mold. His fastball sits mid-90s and he pairs it with an upper 80s changeup and a mid 80s slider. Over the course of his career, he's owned a 12.5% swinging strike rate, which checks in around the same level as guys like Yu Darvish. In 2016 with the Yankees, Pineda spiked that number all the way up to 14.1%. He also generates a solid chase rate, getting batters to swing at pitches outside of the zone over one-third of the time.

Although Tommy John still presents a handful of hurdles to overcome, it's a much more routine procedure than it was even five years ago. Expecting some dip across the board is probably fair, but many pitchers return to the same level, if not better, after having the surgery. Paying $2 million in 2018 to have a hands on approach with a pitcher that will be just 30 years old in 2019 is a very good bet.

At the end of the day, a healthy Pineda probably gets something along the lines of Tyler Chatwood's three-year, $38 million deal. Instead of an average annual value north of $12.5 million, the Twins will get a healthy Pineda in 2019 at a modest $8 million mark. This is a creative way to take a gamble with significant upside, and it's the way teams with lower budgets should look to find competitive advantages.

Spending on Pineda does little to the Twins other plans, and it should only enhance Twins fans expectations of what lies ahead. This front office puts its best foot forward once again, and the more times it happens, it never seems to get old.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Feeling Out The Twins Tradeable Assets

As the Winter Meetings are underway, tons of scenario begin to be tossed around. Both free agents and trade candidates have names floated all over the place, and big league clubs are trying to best position themselves for the upcoming season. With the Minnesota Twins, exploring the trade route is an intriguing option, and one that Darren Wolfson has continued to suggest as likely for the hometown team. If that's the plan of action, what assets are worth keying in on?

Recently, a Pittsburgh Pirates based Twitter account tweeted out that a source confirmed the Twins were asked for Nick Gordon, Tyler Jay, and Zack Granite in exchange for Gerrit Cole. That tweet sent the Minnesota fanbase into somewhat of a frenzy as the pitching starved Twins would seem to come out well in making that exchange. Regardless of the validity surrounding those names or that tweet, there's one player that I see the Twins using as the key chip in any and all discussions.

Enter Nick Gordon.

The 5th overall pick in 2014, son of Flash, and brother of Dee, Nick has progressed to the Double-A level with Minnesota. In 2017, he slashed .270/.341/.408 and put up a career best .749 OPS. At 21 years old, he's still filling into his frame, and stands to develop even a bit further at the plate. When drafted, he was seen as a strong defender with the possibility to have an elite glove. Unfortunately, he's already begun to slide towards 2B, and errors have been an issue each of his four professional seasons.

Going forward, I'd argue that Gordon projects to have a ceiling of a sporadic All Star, with a more realistic landing spot as an average to slightly above-average regular. Despite not having the top end speed of his brother Dee, there are good wheels here. He'll need to continue to develop on the basepaths, especially in the run game, as he's got an ugly 65% success rate across 105 stolen base attempts. The bat will have to carry him further, especially if the landing spot ends up being second base. If power is going to be in relative short supply (9 homers at Double-A in 2017 was a career high), a push towards a .360 OBP would be more than a welcomed development.

Across baseball, Gordon has been ranked favorably on prospect lists each of the past three seasons. With numbers all over the place in 2015 and 2016, Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and Baseball Prospectus all have him right around 50 prior to 2017. Going into the 2018 season, I wouldn't be surprised to see either a slight decrease considering the influx or draft talent and the relative status quo that was his season with the Lookouts.

When making a move, part of the equation is what the belief the prospect you're giving up is going to become. In dealing prospects, you're getting a known commodity in return. A Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer, or another established pitcher has a relatively safe future when it comes to projections. The future of prospects comes down to internal scouting and belief as to what lies ahead. A player like Gordon could be enticing to both part with and acquire given what the future should hold. There's a pretty safe floor, and the ceiling hardly appears to be one of those that could haunt an organization.

At the end of the day, if I'm Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, Nick Gordon is the ideal player to have teams calling on and asking for. He's not close to the Royce Lewis realm, and for the other organization, doesn't have the volatility that may come with a Wander Javier type. At this time of year, it's always incredibly difficult to figure out what rumors are true, but a phone call on Gordon should be welcomed with opened arms.

Minnesota needs to add in a few key areas given that their window of competitiveness is now open. I looked at the path of using prospects as capital recently, and if that's the desired plan of action, let's hope the organization picks the right ones.

Monday, December 11, 2017

All In Or Too Far For Twins

As the Winter Meetings kick off, largely the two biggest bombshells of the offseason have already been dropped. With Shohei Ohtani signing with the Los Angeles Angels, and Giancarlo Stanton being traded (see: given) to the New York Yankees, it'll be hard for agent free agent moves to live up to that billing. For the Minnesota Twins however, a line in the sand has been drawn, and now it's on Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to figure out how they'll toe it.

In 2017, the New York Yankees matched up with the Twins in a winner take all Wild Card matchup. Tied with three other teams for the next spot (and first one out in the American League) was the Los Angeles Angels. Those two clubs have drastically improved themselves virtually overnight, and it doesn't appear that either is done making waves yet. Coming off an 85 win season, it has to be apparent to Minnesota that a similar total isn't going to get it done a year from now.

So, where does that leave the hometown nine? It's an interesting spot to say the least. With a core of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, and Max Kepler all on the 25 man roster, the bulk of the organization's top prospects that rose together have made it. At this point, that would suggest the window for competitiveness has begun to open, and it's on the Twins to supplement that group, and maximize their opportunity. With the AL Central being in a down state (save the Indians), the path to the postseason could come first and foremost through the division.

The Hot Stove season started slow, but that lukewarm feeling has now began to ramp up into an intense burn. For the Twins, it seems to make sense that they should get involved. Being reactionary to what other clubs have does is hardly a good plan of action, but using it as motivation to execute on a plan that could've already been put in place seems like a good ask. With that in mind, the Twins can either choose to spend on the open market, or leverage long term assets in favor of immediate impact.

On the open market, there's only a handful of true needle movers available. Names like Yu Darvish, Wade Davis, Greg Holland, and Carlos Santana all look like clear upgrades in areas that Minnesota could definitely use. Each of them is going to command a significant chunk of change, and with all free agent contracts, there's a decent bet that the final years of any deal fall short of expectations. However, they'd each pair nicely with a strong core group in the now, and could help to push the water level up to where it needs to be.

Looking at the flip side of the coin, the Twins could look to prey on teams needing to move pieces. The Blue Jays and Rays seem out in the cold when it comes to the AL East, making names like Marcus Stroman and Chris Archer intriguing. The Pirates may be inclined to move Gerrit Cole, and even the Mets may be tempted to make guys like Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard available. None of those assets are going to cost a significant amount of money, but prospect collateral isn't going to come cheaply. While the Twins farm system isn't what it was when the MLB core was among it, there's plenty of names that could be packaged to create an enticing offer.

Unlike other sports, Major League Baseball not only takes a strong active roster, but also a blossoming farm system to remain competitive. It's hardly a good idea to completely fleece your reinforcements in favor of winning immediately. However, if you can find a way to leverage all of your assets to maximize on opportunity for the longest time possible, that would seem to be the most ideal scenario.

As things stand, I'm hardly jumping at one side of the argument or the other. Right now, I hope that both Derek Falvey and Thad Levine get together and find the best course of action to grab what stands in front of them. I'd be all on board with Minnesota spending on Darvish, and I'd be equally supportive of doling out prospects for an Archer type. Whatever path the Twins take, the one that leads to reinforcements, and an enhanced "go get it" message for both the division and a deep postseason run in 2018 and beyond is the one that makes the most sense.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Minnesota Makes Much Of Nothing

When Derek Falvey and Thad Levine consummated trades with both the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels, they made much of absolutely nothing. Sending $1 million worth of International Bonus Pool space to both teams, the Twins got two legitimate prospects in return. Knowing that Bonus Pool is really not cash at all, makes the move even more shrewd.

Going into the offseason, the Twins had the third largest International Bonus pool to offer Shohei Ohtani or any other international free agent they wanted to grab. Once Ohtani let them know they weren't going to make his final cut, the club has significantly more clarity as to what they should use that flexibility for. International Bonus Pools really aren't money in terms of actual cash, but instead a threshold of what you can offer to players. With no one making the Twins jump, Falvey and Levine preyed on two teams still in the running for the assumed Japanese superstar.

Obviously there is only one Ohtani, so both the Mariners and Angels aren't going to end up with him. Each felt the additional spending flexibility would increase their chances however, and they parted with legitimate pieces to obtain that. The Angels gave up 2017 3rd round pick Jacob Pearson, while the Mariners parted with 5th round pick David Banuelos. For the Twins, two legitimate prospects looks a lot better than inanimate money destined for nowhere.

While the Angels farm system is notably weak, Pearson was their 5th overall prospect. MLB Pipeline slots him in at 22 for Minnesota, and I'd suggested he'd be 15th on my list. Banuelos would be outside the top 15, but I suggested I'd have him 18th behind LaMonte Wade and Akil Baddoo. Both players also fill a significant need on the farm, with Pearson able to play CF and Banuelos being an legitimate catcher.

Going forward, both players are going to take time to develop. Pearson is a high schooler from Louisiana that was headed to play on the same LSU team as (now teammate) Blayne Enlow. Banuelos is just 21 and also has less than a year of pro ball under his belt. The expectation from Pearson is that there should be some speed and a little pop in his bat, while Banuelos is seen as a strong receiver with very good pop times. Many of the Twins prospect outfield types are on the corners, and behind the dish, it's really just Ben Rortvedt.

We won't know how the narrative of these two players works out for at least the next couple of years, but right now, the process was executed flawlessly. Minnesota tried their hand at landing Ohtani, and when they couldn't, they preyed on those teams still in the running, They now have eight players taken in the first five rounds of the 2017 MLB draft, and adding talent to an organization is always a good practice.

The organization should have something like $1.2 million left in International Bonus spending space, and that should be enough to lure former signee Jelfry Marte if the club is still interested (per Darren Wolfson). There's no telling what Minnesota does with the rest of their allotment, and they may choose to do nothing at all. Right now though, we know that the move they made was an exceptional one.

Oh, and too bad to Seattle or Los Angeles, whichever one of of you doesn't land Ohtani and dealt on false hope.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

2018 Minnesota Twins Top 15 Prospects

As the Major League Baseball offseason trudges on, and the Winter Meetings soon commence, it's time to take a look at what the Minnesota Twins have on the farm. Over the past few years, the Twins have drafted higher in the draft, allowing them to stockpile talent replacing those who have graduated. Although the current class isn't headlined by a Byron Buxton, it's overall level is impressive.

Here at Off The Baggy, this will now be my third annual Top 15 Twins Prospect list. You can find 2016 here, and 2017 here. Many of those names are now on the big league club, and a few have moved on to other organizations. Prepping us for the season ahead, here's how I see the next wave of future Twins greats.

15. LaMonte Wade OF

A 9th round selection in the 2015 MLB Draft, Wade has continued to impress at each stop for the Twins. He ripped off an .805 OPS across 117 games at Double-A Chattanooga this year, and the seven home runs continue to suggest there's a bit of pop in his bat. Wade makes a ton of contact, and has walked more than he's struck out at each level. He may not have an All-Star ceiling, but being a nice rotational outfielder seems like a good bet.

14. Zack Littell SP

Brought into the organization through the Jaime Garcia deal with the Yankees, Littell provides an immediate boost to a club looking for pitching. He was lights out in the Eastern League, and continued to roll with Chattanooga. His strikeouts and walks both went in suboptimal directions following the trade, but it was a small seven game sample size. He has real strikeout ability, and should be a capable middle-of-the-rotation starter for Minnesota as early as 2018.

13. Brusdar Graterol SP

If there's an arm on the farm capable of challenging Fernando Romero's velocity, it's probably Greterol's. Just 19, he fared well in both the GCL and Appy League's this past season. With a big velocity fastball, and some solid secondary offerings, he's had no problem mowing down hitters at the lower level. He'll need to hone in command as he works on promotions, but the electric stuff makes him among the most intriguing Twins prospects in the system.

12. Lewis Thorpe SP

Returning to the mound following Tommy John surgery, Thorpe had a long road to recover. However, he made 16 starts in 2017, and was nothing short of impressive. With Fort Myers, he posted a 2.69 ERA and struck out 9.8 batters per nine. Walks have been a concern both in Cedar Rapids, and in the Florida State League, but an acclimation period is to be expected. If he can settle in to start 2018, he may be less than two years away, and should be a dependable lefty on the bump.

11. Blayne Enlow SP

Enlow was taken in the 3rd round of the 2017 MLB Draft, yet has true first round talent. Pitching at 18 right out of high school, he owned a 1.33 ERA across 20.1 IP in the GCL. His advanced command was nice to see, and there wasn't a time that he took the mound where it wasn't can't miss baseball. Although high school pitchers have a rough track record to go against, Enlow has all the makings of a special talent.

10. Travis Blankenhorn

After getting to Cedar Rapids a year ago, Blankenhorn spent the entirety of the 2017 season there. His average dropped off some, but the on-base percentage held strong. His .784 OPS was still more than respectable, and following up the 10 homers in 2016 with 13 in 2017 was nice to see. I'm not sure if he'll end up sticking more at second or third going forward, but he's a kid that's continued to come into his own.

9. Tyler Jay

Taken 6th overall in the 2015 draft, the road through the minors has been anything but smooth for Jay. Dealing with injuries, and shifting roles, he finally looks on track for the 2018 season. He recorded just 11.2 IP a year ago, but was able to get in 9.2 IP of work during the Arizona Fall League. The new front office hasn't yet ruled out using him as a starter, but I think he's best suited in the pen. He could slot into a future closer role, and the strikeout stuff is definitely there. If he's healthy, I'd imagine Minnesota may be able to call on him midway through 2018.

8 Alex Kirilloff

Thanks to Tommy John surgery, Kirilloff sat out the entirety of the 2017 season. Obviously for a position player, the surgery is much less of an issue. He put up a solid .794 OPS in his debut season with Elizabethton, and should be expected to pick up where he left off. It remains to be seen if Kirilloff can stay in the outfield, but if the bat plays, the Twins will no doubt find a place for it.

7. Felix Jorge SP

The good thing was that Jorge got a test of the big leagues in 2017. The bad thing was how those 7.2 IP went (10.57 ERA). Not to worry, I don't think that's indicative of the young starter's future. Still with just three starts at Triple-A under his belt, Jorge has time for growth. He should start 2018 with Rochester, and as he finds his command there, should make his way back to the Twins rotation. He's more of a pitch-to-contact type, but he keeps the ball in the yard and profiles as a nice back-end starting option.

6. Brent Rooker OF

Looking at how they've started out, I'm not sure it's possible for me to like the top of the 2017 Twins draft class any more than I already do. Rooker is the lone bat of the group, and he's an incredibly good one. After destroying the SEC in his final year, he made both the Appalachian and Florida State Leagues look easy. Minnesota could be aggressive and start him at Double-A in 2018, which I would hope for, and we may even see him in Twins Territory by season's end.

5. Wander Javier SS

The first of three top five shortstop prospects for the Twins, Javier just continues to gain steam. I walked away from watching him live during spring training in awe, and think he has a chance to be special. Playing his first season stateside, Javier owned an .855 OPS with Elizabethton. As he continues to fill out, there will be more power to come, but he's a true gap hitter with what seems like a decent chance to stick at short.

4. Nick Gordon SS

Creeping towards top-50 prospect status in all of baseball, Gordon had somewhat of a disappointing season. The .749 OPS was a career high, but there's questions as to whether or not he can stick at shortstop. The hope is that either the bat or the glove will pick up significantly and start to point towards what type of big leaguer he may be. At just 22, the Twins still have some time but it would be great to see Gordon have a breakout 2018.

3. Fernando Romero SP

Having arguably the best chance at turning into a potential ace among all Twins pitching prospects, Romero had another solid season in 2017. Making his Double-A debut, he started 23 games and pitched a career high 125.0 innings. His walk rate did spike a bit, but the strikeout numbers held strong. He has upper 90's velocity, and has shown strong pitchability thus far throughout the minors. There's probably an outside chance we see him with the Twins, at least briefly, at some point in 2018.

2. Stephen Gonsalves SP

Cracking Top 100 prospect lists for the first time prior to last season, Gonsalves is finally starting to get some of the national recognition he deserves. The lefty isn't flashy, but he's ridiculously consistent, and he's very good. His 2.68 ERA and 9.9 K/9 followed up a strong 2016 showing, and he made his Triple-A debut this past year. Aside from one start, he excelled at the highest minor league level (3 starts), and his overall command was sharpened a year ago. Expect him to slot in for the Twins at some point in the upcoming campaign.

1. Royce Lewis SS

Selected as the first overall pick in the 2017 draft, Lewis has been exceptional in his brief time as a pro. Making quick work of the GCL, he was promoted to Cedar Rapids for their playoff run. Despite being just 18 years old, he owned a .757 OPS and batted .296 in a league he was over three years younger than the average. He should easily be a top 50 prospect in all of baseball heading into 2018, and there's a case to be made that he is ranked within the top 25-30. We're still a few years away from seeing him with Minnesota, but early indications suggest Lewis is worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Emptying Out The Hot Stove Mailbag

With free agency already underway (despite the lack of movement), it seemed a good time to field some questions regarding the Twins offseason and upcoming year. After a Wild Card appearance a season ago, Thad Levine and Derek Falvey have a team with the arrow pointed straight up. How they handle this winter, and set themselves up for 2018 will be intriguing, and there's plenty more question to explore.

After sourcing questions from followers on Twitter at @tlschwerz, I received a handful of good submissions. Now, let's get into looking at some answers.
From the get go, I don't think we'll see any prospects in the rotation. Adalberto Mejia, who's no longer a rookie, will have a shot at rounding out the group however. I'd tab Stephen Gonsalves as the first prospect up, with Fernando Romero following him. We could also see Zack Littell later in the year.
Ohtani is so young, and he did strike out plenty in Japan, but I think that league is better than Korea by quite a bit. I'd expect his bat skills to lag behind his pitching, but think they could end up being above average. The arm is going to play, and I expect him to be an impact starter from day one.
This is somewhat of a trick question, because my ideal answer would be no one. To me, the more back-end relief options you build you bullpen with, the stronger it is as a whole. If a guy is a middle reliever, the ceiling is just lower in my opinion. That said, relievers I'd be interested in are Bryan Shaw, Addison Reed, and Tony Watson. I liked Mike Minor, but the Rangers just grabbed him and are allowing him to start.
Right now, I can't imagine Gibson having any real trade value. Halfway through the season, he was a non-tender candidate for Minnesota this offseason. You have to hope his second half was real, but no other team is giving up anything for him. Santana is dicey going forward as he creeps up in age. That said, even as he regresses, he should remain serviceable. The Twins window is opening right now, and supplementing the rotation with a better number one than Ervin is a must.
I'm more of the thought process that believes closers can be developed (see; Kintzler, Brandon or Belisle, Matt). Colome is a nice 9th inning option, and he's not a free agent until 2021; that's not going to be cheap. Sign a free agent to plug into that role instead.
I'll say 49%. All offseason, Darren Wolfon has been suggesting he keeps hearing the Twins may be most likely to move on the trade front. It makes some sense as there's better options available currently in organizations. I'm all for moving Nick Gordon, but don't know they he'll command a significant return. Pairing him with a big leaguer or another prospect could get Minnesota something usable however.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

2018 IBWAA Hall Of Fame Ballot

Officially sent out on December 1st, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America has began accepting 2018 Hall of Fame Ballots. This is now my third year voting, and I'm proud of the privilege to induct players alongside fellow bloggers and other smaller outlets. Linked here, you can find my 2017 ballot as well.

Before diving into the selections, I'd like to lay out a few notations. Both Vladimir Guerrero and Edgar Ramirez have previously been honored, which is why the remain off the current ballot. Despite the ability to vote for up to 15 candidates, I have previously elected to vote just 10. This year, I felt the need to expand that number a bit. Finally, here is my stance on steroids and performance enhancing drugs as they relate to the Hall of Fame.

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. With that out of the way, 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.

*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.

Andruw Jones 67.1 fWAR

Jones's 17 year career is often going to be questioned as he held on for five uninspiring seasons to closer out his time as a big leaguer. That aside, the 10 year stretch from 199-2007 was one for the ages. With 10 Gold Glove's and five All Star appearances, he was easily among the greatest in the game for a decade.

Chipper Jones 84.6 fWAR

An eight-time All Star, MVP and World Series winner, and a batting title to boot, Larry Wayne Jones was among the greatest third basemen to ever field the position. While he falls short of the 500 HR club, and the 3,000 hit club, it's a no-brainer that he deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Scott Rolen 70.1 fWAR

Vastly under appreciated, Rolen started as a Rookie of the Year winner, and went on to tally eight Gold Glove awards. He was a seven time All Star and among the best to ever field the Hot Corner. With an .855 career OPS, his bat more than does enough to supplement what was an exceptional defensive career.

Johan Santana 45.3 fWAR

After suffering injuries and setbacks, it was apparent that Santana's career carried on much after his time had come. That being said, there's an argument to be made that there was no more dominant pitcher for a seven year stretch than what Santana brought to the table. In that time, he owned a 2.88 ERA, racked up 111 wins, and tallied 1,500 strikeouts. Two Cy Young awards were supplemented with four All Star games, three ERA titles, and a Triple Crown. While it wasn't lengthy, calling it anything but astounding would be selling him short.

Jim Thome 69.0 fWAR

A five-time All Star and a Silver Slugger Award recipient, Thome's accomplishments are more apparent in the numbers. His 612 career home runs rank 8th all time, and his .956 OPS across 22 seasons is remarkable. A giant for the Phillies and Indians, Home even posted a 1.000+ OPS at the age of 39 with the Minnesota Twins. The slugger should have no problem finding his plaque in Cooperstown.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

One Abbreviation Highlights The Need For Another

This time of year, especially with the free agent market moving as slow as it is, puts the Hall of Fame in the spotlight. Although the Hall tends to do more bad than good in the press (yes Joe Morgan, you're at fault here), the ballot does get us to some intriguing talking points. I've written plenty about my stance on voting and who should get in, and I'll share my IBWAA ballot in the coming weeks. In 2017 though, the HOF highlights the need for the universal DH.

A quick look at the timeline of Sporting News' Ryan Spaeder will hint that he's on a crusade he shouldn't need to be embarking upon. As with Tim Raines a year ago, Edgar Martinez has been the cross taken up with Spaeder and some other writers around the baseball community. On the ballot in his 9th year (of 10 eligible), Martinez is drawing eerily close to missing his opportunity to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

In 2017, Martinez received 259 votes (58.6%). He needs to jump just over 15% in his final two ballots to reach enshrinement, and that it looks like an uphill battle remains a sad development. While the BBWAA has voted previously to expand the possible votes from 10 to 12, the Hall of Fame shot the motion down, and a stacked ballot continues to haunt players that are simply left out. While the IBWAA did the right thing and inducted Martinez in 2016 alongside former teammate Ken Griffey Jr., the BBWAA has yet to follow suit.

Over the course of his 18 year career, Martinez was a seven-time All Star, five-time Silver Slugger, and racked up two batting titles. He owns a career .312/.318/.515 slash line, and he's one of very few players that can claim more walks (1,283) than strikeouts (1,202) to their credit. The one detractor everyone seems to point at when considering Martinez comes down to two different numbers. First, the amount of games he played in the big leagues (2,055). There's nothing wrong with that number, but it's the 560 games started in the field that apparently holds him back. The simplest way to address that argument is to flat out call it wrong.

Even if Edgar Martinez was the worst defensive first or third basemen in the majors for those 18 seasons, he would've been among the greatest hitters to ever play the game. At 65.5 career fWAR, there's just five third basemen with a higher mark in their career. One of them is retired, and based upon his merits in the game should be in the Hall when eligible (Alex Rodriguez). Two of them are still currently playing, and should be Hall of Fame locks (Adrian Beltre and Miguel Cabrera). Another is on the ballot and isn't given enough credit, despite much of his value coming on defense (Scott Rolen). The final name is Graig Nettles.

Looking at the landscape we just explored, Martinez has compiled an fWAR number on par with every Hall of Fame third basemen already enshrined, and did so solely by the production of his bat. Again we reach the crossroads of the designated hitter becoming disrespected. It's at this point, and upon the induction of Martinez, that the game needs to change.

In the National League, on a nightly basis, pitchers embarrass themselves at the plate. Failing to get down a bunt, flailing away, or having to stand in for the first time since high school is not something that should take place in a big league game. While Madison Bumgarner is hitting his one or two longballs a year, he's still a terrible hitter that has no business ever batting over a big league offensive player (yes, that was silly Bruce Bochy).

The game of baseball has changed in 2017, and even earlier than that to be fair. Managers use closers in high leverage situations as opposed to just the 9th inning, platoons give offenses a tactical advantage, and shifts seek to steal away would be base hits. Specialty play is something that game has embraced for the better, except when it comes for the players to be recognized after they are done.

It's not the fault of Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, or Lee Smith that they pitched one inning a night. The were the by-product of the save, and in turn, were exceptional at the task they were called upon to complete. Martinez may have been able to hack it in the field longer than he did, but wielding just a bat, he was among the best in the game. It's time those things are remembered when the votes are cast.

Looking ahead to the class reveal on January 24th, I fear Martinez will be staring his final year of eligibility in the eye. It's a situation I can't imagine the beloved David Ortiz will find himself in (steroid accusations or otherwise), and it's disgusting that the Mariners star has to shy away from what he was as well. Edgar Martinez was, on a nightly basis, designated to hit and that's exactly what he did. We're long past due on enshrining him for that greatness, and in turn, allowing baseball to embrace the specialty across both leagues.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Shooting High Bodes Well For Minnesota

As the offseason continues, the Minnesota Twins will eventually make a free agent acquisition. While all of baseball appears at a standstill right now, dominoes will eventually begin to fall. Recently, Twins GM Thad Levine told MLB Network that the club is focused on both Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish. Although neither may happen, that suggests the club is in a good place.

In 2017, the Twins turned heads making the postseason as an Wild Card team. While the turnaround wasn't unexpected, winning as often as they did probably was a bit much to ask. The reality however, is that Minnesota did accumulate those wins, and the ship was righted as the youth continued to blossom. Arguably the greatest problem for the franchise in recent history has been pitching, and that didn't necessarily leap forward.

Coming in 19th across MLB in team ERA (and 19th among starters), pitching still left a lot to be desired. By FIP measures, Minnesota checked in at 25th, and that really highlights how pitching was addressed prior to 2017. The reality is that not much changed going into last year, but an improved defense and a much better defensive catcher made a significant impact. With the defense and catcher returning, it's now time to raise the water level on the mound as well.

The current free agent class leaves plenty to be desired in terms of pitching, and there will never be a time that quality arms come cheap. That being said, Levine's comments suggest Minnesota is putting their best foot forward. There's no denying that both Ohtani and Darvish are the two best available pitchers on the open market. Rather than aiming at the middle ground the Twins have targeted the cream of the crop. For Darvish, money will factor in significantly more than it will for the capped out Ohtani. Regardless, knowing that Minnesota can't possibly aim any higher than they already are is a good thing.

Regarding Ohtani first, Minnesota isn't going to have to shell out an extraordinary amount of dough. The spending is capped through the posting system, and for a guy turning down literal hundreds of millions a year from now to compete early, the fit in an organization seems to be much more enticing. Minnesota can offer him a young team on the rise, and a place that he could truly find himself as a superstar.

Coming to Darvish, cash is absolutely going to be king. While he may not choose the most lucrative offer, getting the former Rangers ace for anything less than $100 million simply isn't going to happen. His stumble in the World Series doesn't deflate his market, and the fact that he's bounced back from Tommy John surgery so nicely calms most of the injury concerns. Darvish is a true ace, with strikeout ability, and that's something the Twins have needed since the years of Johan Santana. Levine having a leg up here, working with him in Texas, definitely can't hurt the situation.

At the end of the day, the Twins may wind up being without either Darvish or Ohtani. Starting there though suggests a few things. First and foremost, they realize that starting pitching has to be a priority. The club has more than a few options to round out the rotation, but the reality is they are barren at the top. Ervin Santana isn't an ace, and is likely only going to decline. Jose Berrios could push for more, but that still leaves the club with just one shut down starter. Bringing in another arm one way or another is a good plan.

Also, the Twins aren't shying away from the top of the market. Now it could be all talk. but there's no uncertainty when it comes to the payday Darvish is going to land. If Minnesota wasn't interested in playing at that level, having discussions at all would seem to be a waste of time. The fact that there's been engagement suggests that there's a level of commitment financially to tighten things up on the mound.

Finally, starting at the top makes a level of settling a bit more manageable. If Minnesota can't land either Ohtani or Darvish, a step down to Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb is hardly a throwaway. While neither of those two guys are going to be an ace, they could slot in at Santana's level or higher, which helps the Twins as a whole. If the club started their search at the middle ground, adding a back end option as a fallback does little to actually fix anything.

Right now, teams and players seem to be playing a game of chicken. There's likely big numbers being thrown around, and it's going to be interesting to see who bites first. Once moves are made however, the expectation should be that they come in relative bunches. Commend the Twins for doing more than their due diligence, and being aware of the focus they should have. Although Ohtani and Darvish may not end up in Twins Territory, it's hardly a bad thing that they're being heavily discussed at this point in time.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Twins Hinting At A Busy Offseason

Recently, the Twins (and all of Major League Baseball) had to finalize their 40 man roster in regards to Rule 5 Draft protection. While the Rule 5 Draft isn't until the conclusion of the Winter Meetings, any eligible players left unprotected on the 40 man are now eligible to be taken by other clubs. With Minnesota having around six guys they could've added, the expectation was that more than a few would be chosen. After the dust settled though, we may have gotten our first teaser into what will be a busy offseason.

Prior to the deadline for 40 man additions, the Twins added three pitchers to their 40 man roster. Top starting prospect Stephen Gonsalves was joined by Zack Littell, and Lewis Thorpe. Littell was acquired from the Yankees when Minnesota ate Jaime Garcia's salary, and Thorpe has rebounded well from Tommy John surgery. Those three were essential locks, but the exclusion of three names may turn some heads. I'd argue the assumed expectation was that each of Jake Reed, Kohl Stewart, and Lewin Diaz would be added as well.

After the moves were made, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had four spots left to work with on the 40 man. Sitting at 36 of 40, each of the three aforementioned players could've been included, but there's most definitely a reason they were left off. First and foremost, it may be best to take a look at their individual contributions.

Reed was a 5th round pick in 2014, seen as a fast mover through the system, and a way to garner relief help at the major league level. Outside of a tough 2015, he's been very good for the Minnesota organization. Despite missing time to start 2017 following a spring training injury on the final day, he posted a 2.13 ERA across Double and Triple-A. While Reed has a relatively safe floor, the ceiling may have decreased some in recent years. As the strikeouts have sagged, the walks have risen. Had things broke differently in 2017, he probably would've been a no-brainer for a September call up.

The highest pick of the three, Kohl Stewart, may be the most intriguing. Taken 4th overall in the 2013 draft, the former Texas A&M quarterback recruit has never flashed top of the rotation stuff. Velocity is middle-of-the-road, while his game has been generating ground balls. He owns just a 5.9 career K/9 and posted a 6.1 K/9 to go with a 5.3 BB/9 mark at Double-A in 2017. The former regime showed patience through injuries and development stemming from a kid just beginning to play baseball full time. Now at 23, the flame out worries are genuine, and it seems the new regime has more questions than answers.

Rounding out the trio is Lewin Diaz. Diaz was signed out of the Dominican Republic and has long been a prospect darling as a power bat. After putting up a .928 OPS in the App League during 2016 as a 19 year old, 2017 became an important year for the lefty masher. Diaz posted just a .773 OPS at Single-A Cedar Rapids, but did hit for average (.292) and added 12 home runs. I'd imagine the thought process here is that if a major league team wants to gamble on bringing a 21 year-old yet to play above Single-A to the big leagues for a full season, that's a risk Minnesota is willing to let them take.

Looking at the three main omissions as a whole, Diaz seems to be the most understandable. I'd wager there's about a 35% chance he's lost in the Rule 5 Draft, and for a power hitting, bat first type, that's something you can probably replace. Both Reed and Stewart are different stories, and I'd put them at 100% and 90% gone respectively. Reed is big league ready right now, even if he's not yet a polished prospect. The walks are an issue, but there's strikeout stuff there even if it's only in the mid-90's. Stewart probably can't start on a regular basis in the big leagues, but being stashed in long relief for a pitching-needy team seems to be a smart bet.

With Falvey and Levine willing to lose two decent pitching commodities for an organization who could use more, the assumption is that more must be in play. Reed could've been added to the 40 man, and helped to fill out a Twins pen needing improvement. In being passed over, and with spots open, it's almost certain that Twins brass sees the need for proven big league help in the pen. Rather than taking fliers on guys that could accept a minor league or one-year deal, it stands to reason a big league contract could be offered to a true arm.

On the starting side, Stewart represents more quantity than quality in terms of starting depth. While the Twins need to beef up their rotation, right now the group of guys filling out the back end seems to be relatively plump. Adding top of the rotation pieces is where Minnesota needs to focus, and Stewart doesn't ever appear to profile as that. Again, open 40 man spots suggest that pitching is going to be a focus, and we should have clarity soon enough.

It'll be interesting to see if Minnesota can package either Reed or Stewart in any prospective trade talks. With the market for starting pitching being thin, and the expected loss of both players in the Rule 5 Draft, they could be moved for a return prior to that date. It's always tough for prospects of a former regime to find their footing amongst new bosses, but it seems the Twins levied some clarity to the group. Now, the organization will begin to show us what they intend to do with their four open roster spots, and that's plenty exciting.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Twins 2017: Diamond Treasure

Now in it's third installment, the week of Thanksgiving prompts the revealing of the Minnesota Twins Diamond Treasure. Crafted after being moved by the 2015 Turkey of the Year piece penned by Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune, this article has been carried on at Off The Baggy. The Diamond Treasure is designed to be able to highlight a player or area of the organization showing excitement for the future, while having roots established in the past.

Now in the third year, the inaugural winner was Miguel Sano. Last season, the new front office tandem of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine too home the Diamond Treasure. For 2017, I think the designation was all to glaring to overlook. Minnesota centerfielder Byron Buxton is your diamond treasure.

The soon-to-be 24 year-old is coming off his best season as a big leaguer, and we've only begun to scratch the surface. Debuting with the Twins at 21 years-old, things are just now beginning to bear fruit. Picking up enough votes to finish 18th in MVP balloting and tally his first (of many) Gold Gloves, Buxton show plenty of promise to get excited about his future.

As things stand currently, the former first round draft pick may be the best defensive outfielder in all of baseball. He essentially redefined the Statcast-era of defensive metrics this season, owning the top spot in Outs Above Average and Catch Probability. His sprint speed numbers dubbed him as the fastest man in the game, and his Gold Glove was actually a proper reflection of his defensive acumen in terms of sabermetrics. What's most impressive though, is that he's just scratching the surface as a player.

In garnering the MVP votes, Buxton was able to do so despite hitting below the Mendoza Line as late as July 3. His defense didn't slump, and the speed never will, but that early season struggle at the plate hung over his head for most of the season. Broken down however, James Rowson was able to reconstruct the centerfielder's swing at the highest level. After finding a better footing, Buxton slashed .285/.339/.492 from June 11 onwards (85 G). Over the course of a full season, that level of production no doubt vaults Buxton into a top five MVP conversation.

Thus far through his big league career, Byron Buxton has experienced a roller coaster of emotions. With so much promise and hype, the former top draft pick was never going to escape the immense expectations set out for him. The reality however, is that he remains a kid by big league standards, and is just now coming into his more adult frame. With 278 games at the highest level under his belt already, Buxton far surpasses what Kirby Puckett (0 games) and Torii Hunter (142 games) had for MLB experience prior to their 24th birthdays. That should only enhance the belief in what's yet to come.

Sometimes players race out to an immediate showing of exceptional ability, and whether it fades or sticks, remains a mystery. For Buxton, it appears a level of growth was a slower process, but he's been made all the better for it. There's a good amount of time yet before he'll be considered in his prime, and the amount of high level production to be expected should be sustained for well over a decade. Developed from within, and bearing fruits internally, the Twins find themselves in as great of a spot as Buxton himself.

We haven't even begun to see the best of the Twins star centerfielder, but at this time of thanks, I think it's fair to be thankful that the hometown team has a legitimate superstar on their hands. 2018 should be a ton of fun for the organization, and it could be the one where Byron becomes the poster boy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Are Yu Ready?

The Minnesota Twins enter the offseason prior to 2018 with immense expectations. Following a season in which they arrived in the postseason a year early, this club looks ready to take the next step, and the AL Central is begging them to do so. Knowing pitching remains a focus, a free agent starter seems to be a sensible acquisition. The question always revolved around how high the Twins may aim though.
According to a report from Fanrag's Jon Heyman, Minnesota is coming out guns blazing. While the arms on the market are hardly plentiful at the top, Derek Falvey an Thad Levine appear to be keyed in on premier starter Yu Darvish. Levine was a part of the front office that signed him in Texas, and the fit is one I've liked for quite a while. Yes, he'll likely command the greatest contract of the available starting pitcher's, but that's not something that should deter Minnesota's efforts.

Darvish will be pitching 2018 at 31 years old. He has just over 830 innings on his arm in the big leagues, but that number jumps to 2,100-plus dating back to his time with Nippon Ham in the Japanese Pacific League. Potentially no worse for the wear however, Darvish has actually added to his velocity post Tommy John surgery, and he's been healthy each of the past two seasons.

For both Texas and Los Angeles in 2017, Darvish owned a 3.86 ERA across 31 starts. Rejoining the All Star team for the first time since 2014, Darvish posted a 10.1 K/9 with a paltry 2.8 BB/9. His 3.83 FIP was a career worst, but was better (3.38) with the Dodgers down the stretch. On the biggest stage in the game, Yu was knocked around by the Houston Astros, but I hardly find his World Series performance concerning. Given the talk of tipped pitches, I tend to believe Darvish is more the guy that went 11.1 IP with a 1.59 ERA against the Dbacks and Cubs, than he is the 21.60 ERA guy in 3.1 IP vs the Astros.

It's likely the last chance for Darvish to cash in on a long term deal, and he'll probably want to expand upon the $11m he received a season ago. A free agent for the first time since coming to the big leagues, Darvish is going to have plenty of suitors. Even as the price tag climbs towards an expected $200m though, Minnesota should continue to fight for real estate in the Japanese pitcher's mind.

At the end of the day, a perfect storm is brewing in Twins Territory. The 25 man roster has gotten younger and cheaper, while money should dive off the books in the next few years. On top of that, the division has three teams that should be virtually nonexistent in the foreseeable future, and Paul Molitor's club already began to exceed expectations. If there's a time to go and make the biggest free agent signing in franchise history, now seems as good of one as ever.

With the goal being to develop internally for the sake of sustainability, there comes a point where supplementing with high-end talent from the outside seems the best answer. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are arguably now at that crossroads, and how they handle the offseason will likely lay the groundwork for how at least the next few seasons go for Minnesota.

Right now, with things in such infancy, it's hard to get giddy about the potential to land a big fish. That being said, when I wanted Darvish for the Twins rotation back in May, it was for the same reasons that I feel the same way now. He's a difference maker, a solidifying presence, and a true ace. Those things don't grow on trees, and you never know when the next opportunity will present itself.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Twins Closing In On A Closer?

Over the weekend, news broke that the Twins checked in on the availability of Cincinnati Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. While he's undoubtedly not the only player Minnesota has looked at on the trade market, his name has filtered into the media cycle at this point. No matter how much substance there is to the situation moving forward, it's worth looking at Iglesias as a player, and whether or not he fits for the Twins.

First and foremost, Minnesota needs to shore up the bullpen heading into 2018. While Brandon Kintzler and Matt Belisle did an admirable job in the closer role for Paul Molitor a season ago, it's hard to imagine either in that scenario during game seven of the ALCS. As the Twins look to follow up a postseason berth this year, they'll no doubt have sights set on a deeper venture towards the World Series. While relief pitching has become the sexy topic in the playoffs, the reality is a complete team still trumps everything. The Astros won a World Series with a bullpen that was virtually on par with Minnesota in 2017, and that's worth keeping in mind.

Getting to Iglesias in a vacuum, the Reds current closer is a soon-to-be 28 year old from Cuba. He is not a free agent until 2022, and is currently signed on a team friendly contract through 2020. Across 76.0 IP in 2017, Iglesias picked up 28 saves and posted a career best 2.49 ERA. His 2.70 FIP was also a career best and he cracked 10.0 K/9 for the first time in his big league career. As a starter during the 2015 season, Iglesias sat around 93 mph with his fastball. In relief last season, he was pushing 96 mph on average and dropped down to 85 mph on his slider.

Despite being a bit of an older player, Iglesias quickly ascended to the big leagues. After signing out of Cuba, he pitched just 29 innings at Triple-A prior to his 2015 debut. Raisel only threw three seasons in Cuba before taking his age 23 year off to go through the process of getting stateside. Even at 28, you'd like to believe his body is a bit better for the wear.

Should Minnesota choose to pursue him, the asking price would probably be substantial. Wade Davis was just a one year rental at 31 years old for the Chicago Cubs, and he required the Royals receiving Jorge Soler in return. Still under team control, and with age on his side, I'd imagine the Reds would ask the Twins for at least one top six prospect. If I'm Minnesota, it's a hesitant place to start, but something I'd be interested in hearing out.

As a general philosophy, I believe it makes sense for teams close to winning to parlay either picks or prospects into immediately usable assets. Obviously this isn't a practice you can repeatedly employ or you run the risk of depleting your long term viability. Tracking guys with qualifying offers or dealing top prospects will eventually leave you in a barren place on the farm. That being said, Minnesota finds themselves in unique territory given the current organizational landscape.

Following a strong season, most of the club's top prospects from the past few seasons have reached the big leagues. They won't hold an enviable draft pick having finished as one of the final teams playing as well. If the Twins can entice Cincinnati with someone like Nick Gordon or Alex Kirilloff, they could get a solid return for someone that may be an expendable piece.

Closers are a fickle beast, and I'd hate to see the Twins acquire Iglesias only to use him in the 9th inning of games they lead. Ideally, bringing him in would involve him being relied upon to get high leverage outs regardless of where in the game that is. Also, if Gordon or Kirilloff generate that much interest, I'd probably see what other starting pitching they may be able to net as an alternative. If this is the only level of return that seems viable though, it's tough to pass up.

The reality is that the Minnesota Twins aren't too far away, and raising the water level of the big league roster is a must. There's some really strong impact prospects in the farm system, but some of them are representative of the next wave. While you'd love to see everyone you draft come through your system, sometimes the best tradeoff is matching them elsewhere and turning a prospect into an immediately usable player.

With the GM meetings ready to kick off, and the Hot Stove warming up, we'll get plenty more exciting nuggets in the weeks and months ahead. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine seem to know they have something exciting on their hands, and I feel comfortable with the direction the seem to be running in.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Buxton With the First Of (How) Many

As the Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners were announced of the night of November 7th, Byron Buxton was a lock. Yes, there were surprises among the finalists, but it was a certainty that the Twins centerfielder would win his first. There wasn't going to be a Mauer-esque snub, or a Dozier-like surprise, Byron Buxton is the best centerfielder baseball currently has to offer. With the Gold Glove solidifying that belief as reality, the question now becomes, how many more follow it?

To recap a bit, Buxton was nothing short of exceptional in the outfield for the Twins this season; you don't need sabermetrics to inform you of that. Looking at the numbers, he posted 24 DRS, a 9.9 UZR, 12.6 RngR, and a 13.1 UZR/150. In short, it was both his speed and his routes that made him the most impressive centerfielder in the game. Statcast (via Baseball Savant) came out with a new metric, Outs Above Average, for 2017 as well. Buxton's 25 OAA led all of baseball, and was also better than the total any other team (Rays 2nd with 23) could muster. For his efforts, Buxton's ability added 6 percent to expected catch percentages on balls hit his way.

It seems that each time Statcast puts forth a new defensive metric, it's Buxton that finds himself at the top. The 26 four-star outs he recorded in 2017 were an MLB best, and the 92.9% conversion rate on those outs (26-28) were also tops in the major leagues. With a 30.2 ft/s sprint speed on the basepaths, Buxton has also taken the crown as the fastest player in The Show. You'll likely be looking for a while to find something he doesn't excel at in the field.

Whether just watching him from afar, or taking a deeper dive into the advanced analytics, it's apparent that the kid from Baxley, GA is special.

So, with one Gold Glove now is his trophy case, the question becomes how many join it? Knowing what we do at this moment about his career, and what we can project going forward, I think there's a couple places we can point to in making an educated guess.

First and foremost, there's going to need to be a level of offense that follows Buxton's path. While the Gold Glove is a defensive award, Joe Mauer was left out for bigger offensive names, and Brian Dozier was included (and won) for his prowess with the bat. A guy like Buxton, so far beyond normal realms in the field, is going to be given more of a pass with his bat. For both the Twins and Buxton going forward though, the dish can't simply be a place where he punts. The good news is that a rebuilt swing under James Rowson has made it seem like that won't be the case.

Buxton ended 2017 with a career best .728 OPS despite hitting below the Mendoza Line for the first two months of the year. Across his final 82 games of 2017, Buxton owned an .801 OPS with a .278 AVG and a .332 OBP. In a full season, those numbers elevate Buxton to All-Star status, with at least a couple of MVP votes along the way. For a guy that's hit at every level of his career, I think we've only begun to see the offensive production begin to blossom, and that's quite the comforting development.

Outside of what Buxton can do in the field or at the plate, it will be integral for him to stay healthy as well. While there are times that routes are less than crisp, or closing speed allows for miraculous catches, the Twins centerfielder often finds himself acquainted with immobile objects. Finding a way to balance the ability to save games, but also not miss them will be a must as his career goes on. Outfield walls are far from forgiving, and missing stretches of play from crashing into them is hardly an ideal tradeoff. Some of Buxton's biggest highlights have included physical altercations with field dimensions, but he'll need to take care of himself from a longevity point of view.

Finally, how much can Buxton unlock from his arm. With advanced metrics measuring all aspects of defensive output, Byron has an opportunity to push the envelope with his throwing ability. A strong arm that can touch the mid-90s, accuracy seemed to leave him at points during 2017. Whether throws sail up the line, or miss cutoffs in certain scenarios, cutting down runners with more pinpoint accuracy is only going to enhance his defensive offerings as a whole.

Looking across the landscape of centerfielders, and specifically those that played for the Minnesota Twins, I'm comfortable putting Buxton Gold Glove over/under at nine. It's the same number that Torii Hunter won, and three more than Kirby Puckett tallied.

As a betting man myself, I'll take the under, but only slightly. My fear is that Buxton's reckless abandon costs him time at some points during his career, and that will hold him back from putting up the counting stats. If healthy however, Buxton is easily the best centerfielder I've ever seen, and watching him reach double-digits in the Gold Glove department would be an absolute treat.