Thursday, March 30, 2017

Who Wins What? Awards And Divisions

With spring training behind us, and Opening Day upon us, it's time to take a stab at how the 2017 Major League Baseball season will shake out. At the current juncture, hope is renewed and every team starts with a clean slate. Before the first pitch, each organization has, if for just a moment, the same standing when looking to end the year with a trophy.

A season ago, I simply posted my award and Postseason picks on Twitter. I wanted to have the thought a little more fledged out this year though, so I figured I'd go with a full post. With that being said, let's get into it.

American League:
West- Astros
Houston has a lot to like. They have a glut of young stars, and I think the pitching is there to carry them as well. I'll miss Tal's Hill, but this club is going to be really good in 2017. I think the Rangers can hold serve with them, and the Mariners are a bit overrated in my opinion, but I have the Astros taking the division.

Central- Indians
Cleveland should again be good, but they also shouldn't really be challenged. The White Sox and the Twins aren't very good, while the Royals are fading, and the Tigers are old. The Indians should run away with the division.

East- Red Sox
If there's a team that went out and did something this offseason in the AL, it's the Red Sox. I love the Chris Sale move, and think Pablo bounces back nicely. Combine that with another stud outfielder in Benintendi, and you have a pretty nice recipe for success.

National League:
West- Dodgers
The Dodgers just have so many weapons at their arsenal. They have the best pitcher in the game, and a lineup that has good hitters up and down it. Add in Bellinger at some point, and this club is going to be fun to watch. I think one team of intrigue here is the Rockies, and they could play spoiler in the Postseason, even if they don't top the West.

Central- Cubs
I'm not picking against the reigning World Series champs. They have the best lineup in baseball, a great rotation, and a bullpen that should have a lockdown closer for more than just the final few months. Joe Maddon's team is in full repeat mode, and everyone else is chasing them.

East- Nationals
There should be some real concern with the Nats pen. Dusty Baker is going to have to get big performances out of whoever closes for him, and he's going to need the starters to hold serve. That said, the lineup is still potent, and Bryce Harper should be on a revenge tour this season. The Mets should be in play here, but I just don't think they have enough.

AL Wild Card- Rangers, Blue Jays
NL Wild Card- Rockies, Mets

World Series- Cubs over Astros
When the dust settles, the talent gap between Chicago and the next best team is just a little bit too wide. They'll likely pick up a piece or two down the stretch, and they still have Ian happy to add along the way. I have some concerns about Almora being an every day player, but Maddon should navigate and once again have Wrigleyville rockin.

AL ROY- Andrew Benintendi
NL ROY- Dansby Swanson

AL Cy Young- Chris Archer
NL Cy Young- Clayton Kershaw

AL MVP- Mike Trout
NL MVP- Bryce Harper

Puzzling Pitching, and Disturbing Designating

The Minnesota Twins all but announced their 25 man Opening Day roster. In doing so, they dropped a couple of bombs. First, they would be going with 13 pitchers, and then secondly, they'd send ByungHo Park to Rochester despite no real good reason to do so. As the dust settled from the fallout, we're sitting here left to scratch out heads.

First and foremost, here's the Twins Opening Day roster:

Starters: Santana, Santiago, Gibson, Hughes, Mejia
Relievers: Kintzler, Pressly, Belisle, Breslow, Tonkin, Duffey, Rogers, Haley
Lineup: Castro (C), Mauer (1B), Dozier, (2B), Sano (3B), Polanco (SS), Rosario (LF), Buxton (CF), Kepler (RF), Grossman (DH)
Bench: Santana, Gimenez, Escobar

So, what to make of this? Let's start on the mound. Adalberto Mejia, the Twins return for Eduardo Nunez, cracks the Opening Day rotation. There's nothing wrong with this, and he's more than deserving. I wrote about how he could be a dark horse candidate even prior to Trevor May's injury. He had a strong spring, provides a second lefty, and while his ceiling isn't that high, he should be more than a serviceable back end starter.

What happened with Mejia however, allowed the Twins to balk on making a decision between him and Duffey. Instead of picking one for the 5th starter, the club then doubled down and sent Duffey to the pen. I really like him as a fit there, but putting him in the group to make a total of eight pitchers is nonsensical. There's no good reason to hang onto Michael Tonkin in this scenario, and if Duffey wasn't being stretched out to stay as a starter, then whittling the pen and using a higher value arm in Duffey makes sense.

Minnesota's bullpen could be among the worst in the big leagues this year. They did nothing to significantly improve it, and none of the high ceiling arms (save for Taylor Rogers and Ryan Pressly) are a part of it. Duffey can move the water mark, but adding him to a glut of mediocrity is silly.

Then we get to the position players...

Immediately, the most egregious problem is that the roster has no ByungHo Park on it. While it could be argued that Kennys Vargas is a better fit, he is also void of inclusion, likely to start the year on the disabled list. The Twins DFA'd Park prior to spring training, he went out and made it look silly, and then was still left out in the cold.

By leaving Park in Rochester, the Minnesota Twins will DH Robbie Grossman to start the year. That's a fine situation, especially given his on base prowess. What Grossman doesn't bring to the plate is much power. He hit 11 homers (a career high) a season ago, and his .828 OPS was over .100 points higher than his career water mark. On top of not having Park's power in the lineup, they also don't have his bat off of the bench.

Worse than not having Park getting regular at bats after showing a much improved process this spring, is what Paul Molitor will have available to him off the bench. Only three players are going to be in reserve, with one of them being backup catcher Chris Gimenez. Eduardo Escobar is limited to a utility infield role, while Danny Santana can play everywhere, but is a defensive liability in all those spots as well.

Although American League teams definitely don't need the bench that a National League team does, the Twins bench has three players with an average OPS of .609. Without looking, that has to be among the worst in the big leagues. There's no value coming into a pinch hit situation, and that could leave the skipper more hamstrung than you'd want him to be.

At the end of the day, the Twins are going to note they wanted eight pitchers. They have a bullpen comprised of guys that don't bring a bunch of value, and they sapped their offensive value through this construction. It doesn't look great on paper, and it's hard to see it being the best scenario. That being said, we'll get to see how it plays out in very short order.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

So You Wanna Make A Bet: 2017 Minnesota Twins

With Opening Day of the 2017 Major League Baseball season upon us, it's time to take a look at what could be ahead for the home nine. There's plenty of projection systems out there giving us indications of what may happen, but only through a sports book can you make concrete guesses that equal out to dollars and cents. It's time to take a look at the over/unders for all things Twins related.

Pulled from Bovada, there's both individual as well as team specific over/unders for the 2017 season. Although the Twins don't have anywhere close to a national following, there's still a good number of big name players with specific achievements tabulated for them. Whether $5 or $500, here's your guide as to where you confidence should lie while putting up some cash on the Twinkies.

Brian Dozier HRs 29.5

Coming off a campaign in which he launched 42 longballs, Brian Dozier is in for some regression. The question that needs to be answered, is how far backwards does the Twins second basemen go? In 2016, he became the only player not named Harmon Killebrew to hit 40 HRs in a season for Minnesota. Prior to that effort, he launched 23 and 28 respectively. In 2016, Dozier's HR/FB% was a career best 18.4% and well off his 12.7% career mark. If there's a Twins player I'm betting on hitting 30 homers in 2017, it's a husky 3B, not Dozier.

Bet: Under 4* (Based on a 1* to 5* confidence rating)

Ervin Santana Wins 10.5

A year ago, the Twins had the worst starting staff in the big leagues. Not one pitcher picked up more than nine wins, and that was from Tyler Duffey, who was sent to Triple-A at one point. In two seasons with Minnesota, Santana has yet to record double-digit wins (albeit his 2015 was shortened). This season, he should have a solid offense behind him, but the question has to be in regards to how many leads the early season bullpen gives up. Pitcher wins are a fickle stat, and on a bad staff, I want no part of them.

Bet: Under 2*

Joe Mauer AVG .270

It's been three years since Joe Mauer has finished a season with an average north of .270. In 2014, the former MVP batted .277 with a .732 OPS across 120 G for the Twins. This season, Paul Molitor has talked plenty about how he'll need to give his first basemen regular rest, and target a lesser load to get the best out of him. If that is followed through upon, Mauer has a chance to put up his best season since being an All Star in 2013. Mauer is a Gold Glove caliber first basemen that just can't play every day anymore, Should Minnesota use Mauer correctly, and more against RHPs (.793 OPS vs RHP .610 OPS vs LHP in 2016), then he has a very realistic shot to impress.

Bet: Over 3*

Max Kepler HR 17.5

This is one of the most interesting numbers in the set. Kepler is not a traditional power hitter in that his swing is more reflective of a smooth stroke that simply runs into the ball. I like Kepler a lot, and think he'll make a nice career of doing damage in the gaps. He blasted 17 homers in just 113 games a year ago, and should have more opportunities this season. Kepler's lobgalls came in bunches though, and bolstered by a three-HR game, he hit 12 in a 26 game span. I'll go out on a limb here and say Byron Buxton hits more longballs than the German in 2017.

Bet: Under 2*

Miguel Sano HR 29.5

Do you know what the Twins third basemen is going to do a lot of in 2017? He's going to strike out. Miguel Sano is also going to send a lot of baseballs into the stratosphere. Last season, in 116 games, Sano hit 25 homers. Over that time, he was told to learn a new (and odd) position, and he wasn't healthy for a good portion of the season. Regardless of the setbacks, Sano came up just five dingers shy of the 30 mark. In 2017, I'd expect Sano to strike out no less than 200 times, but when he hits 35 homers, it's not going to matter much.

Bet: Over 4*

Minnesota Twins Wins 74.5

Wrapping up the list is the team number. Coming off of a 103 loss season, winning 75 games seems like a massive jump. The reality though, is that the 2016 outfit wasn't anything significantly different than the 2015 team that won 83 games. If there's something of a wildcard here, I think it's Paul Molitor. He's mismanaged his lineup and bullpen for some time, and that's going to cost a team needing to steal wins. At the end of the day though, I think the Twins have a better chance at winning 80 games, than I see them losing 90.

Bet: Over 3*

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

MLB The Show 17: A No Hitter That Just Misses A Perfect Game

This season, Sony San Diego is once again back with the widely popular MLB The Show franchise. In MLB The Show 17, the development team had a very strong game from a year ago to build off of, and while that didn't stop them from adding, they had the advantage of a really great starting point. What were dealt is bells and whistles that just miss the final coat of polish.

In 2016, the big addition to MLB The Show was the introduction of PBR, or physically based rendering. Stadiums, players, and all things graphics were brought to a much more heightened level of realism. PBR returns this year, and it expands to further highlight players and equipment shading in a way that takes graphical realism to new heights. It can't be stated any other way, MLB The Show 17 looks amazing.

Gameplay wise, the biggest addition for The Show 17 is the enhancement in the way the ball reacts off of the bat. Now with the game programmed to understand a bat has a rounded barrel, contact doesn't deliver straight results. Balls curve, liners tall, bloopers bloop, and well, duck farts happen. Despite never really feeling like there was a repetitive level of hit variety a season ago, there's absolutely no way you'll ever question it going forward. A liner in the gap that slices away from a speedy centerfielder is oh, so satisfying.

Now that we've covered the biggest difference in how the game plays, there's two big differences in ways in which you can play the game. First, Road to the Show has been beefed up to include a narrator, dialogue, and somewhat of a story. It's been noted multiple times that this lays the foundation for what Sony San Diego would like to do going forward. Personally, I could take or leave Road to the Show, and the dialogue seems like a somewhat unnecessary overall to the experience that was already there. If it's the beginning of something more though, it's a nice enough first step.

The other big addition game modes wise is Retro Mode. With Ken Griffey Jr. on the cover of The Show 17, the dev team threw it back to the roots of baseball video games. Playing with a simplified "X button only" experience, while also allowing an 8-bit overlay, the mode turns up the retro flare while staying true to what The Show 17 is. You'll probably have had enough with the mode after a few games, it's more of a gimmick to target some of the R.B.I. Baseball types, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do.

When it comes to both Diamond Dynasty and Franchise mode, enhancements are the best way to describe the changes. While nothing full scale has been redone, the realization is that when something isn't broke, there's no need to fix it. There's different ways to manage through franchise and complete more seasons in less time now, while Diamond Dynasty has a ton of new missions and ways to collect cards and build your best team.

Nothing you've read thus far should have you feeling like MLB The Show 17 is anything but a grand slam. Where this year's offering falls short, again, is with the execution on the server side. While its understandable that a developer can never truly load test servers until their product goes live, The Show has been around long enough that this isn't Sony San Diego's first rodeo. Since launch, online servers have been poor at best. Diamond Dynasty is inaccessible, and no online components of the game (rewards or otherwise) are tracking. It's an unfortunate situation given the poor foot that The Show 16 got off on.

At the end of the day, Sony San Diego has again raised the ball with the yearly installment of The Show. Far more than just a simple roster update, MLB The Show 17 is a must own for any baseball fan. Competition or not, it remains the gold standard in baseball, and maybe sporting games as a whole. If the team can get the servers back right in short order, and nail them in years going forward, they'll have as flawless of a product as they can hope for.


  • The new ball physics are incredible
  • Graphical enhancements again take the realism to another level
  • Added tweaks to popular game modes make Franchise, Diamond Dynasty, and RTTS even deeper
  • The server issues again plague the launch

A Twins Pitching Triple Hitter

As the spring training slate comes to a close, I couldn't help but find myself wondering about the pitching for the Minnesota Twins. The organization put forth the worst starting ERA in the majors a season ago, and the relief corps wasn't far behind. Going into 2017, it needs to be markedly better, and there's three different storylines I'm keyed in on.

First, let's start with the good. Kyle Gibson has been one of the best storylines for the Minnesota Twins this spring. Across seven starts, he's compiled 28.1 IP worth of work, and owns a 1.59 ERA. Although the sinkerballer has just 19 strikeouts, he's only issued five free passes, and has been incredibly efficient.

Coming off of his worst year as a major leaguer, Gibson has some late breakout appeal. He posted a 3.84 ERA along with a 3.96 FIP in 2015, and there was some real steam behind him being a star performer a season ago. Unfortunately that never got off the ground, and while defense hurt him, he didn't help himself much either.

Although spring numbers can be taken with a very small grain of salt, he's looked like a man on a mission. Gibson has been efficient, calculated, and very, very good. I don't want to suggest that it's because of his Florida performance that causes him to breakout, but a very good outfield should help him, and this could be the year we see Kyle Gibson look like the Twins former top pitching prospect was expected to perform.

Now, somewhere in the middle ground, we find Jose Berrios. Recently he was optioned to Triple-A Rochester. I can understand that he wasn't ramped up after pitching (or not pitching enough) in the World Baseball Classic. However, if he was truly in play for the 5th starter spot, he could have easily been stretched out for 80 pitches by the time his first outing rolled around. The more I thought about the decision, the more frustration I found myself having.

Berrios is headed back to Triple-A again, and he'll be making his 31st start there, as parts of three major stints. For a top pitching prospect that's really blocked by no one, it's a relatively unprecedented move. Minnesota has a hopeful Phil Hughes, and an unnecessary Hector Santiago in their rotation. If the latter ended up bouncing Berrios, that's an unfortunate development.

At some point, the command has to develop for Berrios, and if Minnesota believes he's better off not working with Neil Allen every day, that's probably an indictment of their big league pitching coach. While I can understand the legitimacy of the reasoning behind his optioning, the optics behind it don't look good, and the Twins again decided against giving a high ceiling arm an opportunity.

Rounding out the trio is a situation that absolutely revolves around high ceilings. In the bullpen, I've often suggested the need to be either creative or good. As Minnesota heads north, it doesn't appear their seven relievers will be either of those things. In my last roster projection, I tabbed the group as being Kintzler, Belisle, Pressly, Wimmers, Haley, Breslow, and Rogers. Of that group, you could probably tab Pressly as good, with creative going to Rogers.

Over the offseason, the Twins knew relief pitching was an issue for them. Instead of throwing more money than maybe a player was worth at names like Romo, Holland, Feliz, or any number of others, they settled on one veteran While Matt Belisle has proved serviceable of late, he wasn't going to be near the top of anyone's relief help list. They enlisted Craig Breslow as a veteran who's reinvented himself, but even he was brought in on a minor league deal.

When the dust settled, Minnesota did nothing to greatly improve its pen from outside. Regardless of the fact that veteran relievers can be had easily on one-year deals (and flipped just as easily) Minnesota stood pat. Then they doubled down on the move by suggesting that none of J.T. Chargois, Jake Reed, or Nick Burdi were ready for the big time.

It's absolutely fair to have reservations about those prospects, but if your pen isn't going to be good, giving them run is far from a bad ask. There was really nothing determined this spring that the Twins didn't already know on those prospects either, so the idea that they were on the outside looking in with no real talented veterans above them is a bit disheartening.

At the end of the day, the Twins are going to have to navigate some tough situations on the mound. The rotation remains relatively unchanged, and while Berrios can breathe life into it at some point, Santiago may be sucking it out for a while. Kyle Gibson could be on the verge of a breakthrough, and Paul Molitor desperately needs him to do so. In the pen, the lack of managerial acumen Molitor showed last season, combined with hit or miss arms, Minnesota could be looking at more blown leads than they care to admit to.

Baseball is a game of pitching and hitting, and if you don't have the former, the latter doesn't matter much. The Twins may win one, they're likely going to lose one of these storylines, and well, Jose, it rains...

Monday, March 27, 2017

Out of the Park Baseball 18: A Great Thing Gets Better

Year after year, the dawn of a new Major League Baseball season brings new hope. Whether or not your are the reigning World Series champions, or a team that settled in the doldrums of the big leagues, everyone begins Opening Day anew. With Out of the Park Baseball 18, that thrill is put in the users hands over and over, as you're tasked with constructing the perfect organization and deploying a finely tuned machine.

A year ago, with OOTP 17, I had the privilege of reviewing the Out of the Park series for a second straight year here at Off The Baggy. Some significant advancements were made with the previous iteration of the game, and once again, the OOTP Developments team knocked it out of the park. This season with OOTP 18, it's much more of the same.
One of my favorite features in this year's game is the heightened level of realism. While the OOTP series has never intended to be a graphical masterpiece, its level of advanced simulation and customization is top notch. In OOTP 18 however, a new level of importance is placed on realism. With an improved 3D Mode, the ballparks feel more team specific than ever before. Players look as closer to their real life counterparts as ever, and the game draws you into the experience in a whole new way.

Two of my biggest gripes from a season ago had to do with both injuries and AI. Far too often, it seemed as though fluky injuries popped up regularly, and had you scrambling to fill out rosters. If you weren't losing players to the disabled list, opposing organizations seemed to be offering asinine trades at a ridiculous clip. This time around, that experience has been greatly improved.

On the injury front, teams and players are dealt more realistic injuries, less often, and with a more workable timetable. Losing a top tier starting pitcher still happens, but it often isn't couple with the entire pitching staff hitting the skids at the same time. Also, injuries seem to be more tied to a player's individual physique as well as relating to their past health history. This makes this a bit easier to cope with, and understand, while eliminating the out of nowhere 60 day DL stints.

From an AI perspective, the game plays differently on nearly all fronts. The computer is going to constantly challenge your baseball acumen. In game, you will be expected to execute properly in key situations. You'll need to make the correct roster moves at the right time, and winning the World Series is going to require a culmination of everything coming together at once. While poor trade logic still exists to a certain extent, it appears to be much less prevalent, and that's a welcomed scenario.

The look of OOTP 18 isn't all that different from the years prior, but it's the small tweaks that are incredibly welcomed. With quick links to get you to the screen you are looking for, whether making managerial or higher up changes, the interface couldn't be more fluid. It's admittedly going to be a bit overwhelming for someone new to the series, but as the learning curve is mastered, the precision of the experience will be welcomed.

If it's not the big leagues that do it for you, OOTP 18 once again brings more than 100,000 real players to the table, and they span leagues all over the globe. New for OOTP 18 is the inclusion of the Negro Leagues, and the experience only makes the level of immersion grow deeper.

OOTP 18 is a game that you can very easily pick up and play for a matter of minutes, but the true greatness shines when you sit down and diver in only to get lost for hours. As you look to take your team to the next level, you'll never be at a place of satisfaction, always looking for another edge. No matter what your play style is, there's something in this game for everyone. The armchair General Manager in all of us is put to the test through the OOTP series, and it's executed flawlessly year after year. Once again, OOTP 18 is a must for any baseball fan looking for another outlet to love the game.

The Twins Final 25

My first Minnesota Twins 25 man roster projection came out way back in January, the second version was then looked at in the middle of March. Now with Spring Training virtually over, it's time to get serious about who's coming north. It seems pretty clear who Minnesota will bring, but before the final announcement is made, I need to take one last shot.

The Twins still have just over 40 guys left in camp, and 10 of them are non-roster guys. A few of them have already been told they'll be reassigned to Rochester, so that helps with clarity a bit further. Given what we know, here's how I see the final 25 shaking out.

Rotation (5)

  • Ervin Santana
  • Hector Santiago
  • Kyle Gibson
  • Phil Hughes
  • Tyler Duffey
Paul Molitor recently told Mike Berardino that Santiago would start game 2 behind Santana, with Gibson to follow. That means Hughes gets the fourth game of the year and the fifth starter makes their debut against the White Sox. While the 5th starter could have been Trevor May or Adalberto Mejia, it's Tyler Duffey who has had a spring worthy of holding onto the job. I still think long term he profiles best in the pen, but to start 2017, this is where he begins.

Starting Lineup (9)
  • Jason Castro C
  • Joe Mauer 1B
  • Brian Dozier 2B
  • Jorge Polanco SS
  • Miguel Sano 3B
  • Eddie Rosario LF
  • Byron Buxton CF
  • Max Kepler RF
  • ByungHo Park DH
No changes here from roster projection 2.0. Kennys Vargas was given the opportunity to win the DH spot and simply fell short. He went to the WBC, didn't play, and then got hurt when he returned. I remain skeptical Vargas is a productive big leaguer, and while the injury gives Minnesota something to pin it on, the reality is that Park is simply the better DH option.

If there's something of intrigue here, it's that Eddie Rosario put together a really nice WBC and spring in general. He's expanding the zone just a bit less, and looks locked in defensively. If he can bring back some of the magic from his rookie season, the Twins stand to benefit big time.

Bench (4)
  • Eduardo Escobar
  • Robbie Grossman
  • Chris Gimenez
  • Danny Santana
Much remains the same here from the roster projection earlier this month. Drew Stubbs failed to capitalize on his opportunity to take Grossman's spot and has been released. The biggest difference is the inclusion of Danny Santana.

The final bench spot should've (and likely would've) been Ehire Adrianza's. A strained oblique late in spring training is going to have him open the season on the DL, and that likely saves Santana from the DFA that was looming. I don't see him as a productive big leaguer, he plays poor defense everywhere and struggles with the bat, but he's going to get a couple weeks to prove it.

Bullpen (7)
  • Brandon Kitnzler Closer
  • Ryan Pressly Setup
  • Matt Belisle
  • Justin Haley
  • Craig Breslow
  • Taylor Rogers
  • Alex Wimmers
The bullpen has seen a little bit of a shakeup since earlier this month. Chargois was optioned to Triple-A, and while it would've been nice to see him make the big league club, the reality was that a shaky spring did him in. I expect him to grab saves for Minnesota at some point in 2017, but he'll start the year on the farm.

Taking the place of Chargois comes down to a two man race between Michael Tonkin and Alex Wimmers. The former is out of options and likely wouldn't pass through waivers, but his spring hasn't been indicative of a guy the Twins can rely on. Coming back on a minor league deal, Wimmers has been solid enough in the limited spring action, and could offer some value in middle relief. His velocity has seen a spike since moving to the pen, he has been a better pitcher. It remains a tossup as to what the Twins do there, but Tonkin may have used his last chance.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

WBC Rolls Dice On Trio Of Twins

The United States captured their first ever World Baseball Classic trophy. After coming up short in the previous three contests, it was the fourth time that the American's captured the title. In doing so, they knocked off a Puerto Rican squad that had earlier bested them in the tourney. It is that Puerto Rican team that ended up being the focus for many Twins fans as well.

Although there was a handful of players with Twins ties all over World Baseball Classic rosters, it was Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, and Kennys Vargas playing on a stacked Puerto Rican squad that drew the most concentration. What's interesting, and maybe maddening for Minnesota, is that each of the trio had a very different experience during the tournament.

The reality of the situation is that we're looking at a max of an eight game sample size, and right around 30 at bats for position players. That's incredibly foolish to draw any conclusions based off of (as Nolan Arenado displayed in the title game), but there's plenty to be said about process and how things played out.

With Puerto Rico advancing to the Championship, the squad played in eight games from March 12-22. In those eight games, Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario played in six of them compiling 19 at bats. He hit to a solid OPS, and the highlight of his tournament was easily the laser he threw to catcher Yadier Molina to cut down a runner at the plate. For his part in the tournament, the Twins have to be happy with how his dice roll shook out.

Rosario was likely always a lock for the Opening Day roster. He had a less than ideal season a year ago, both at the plate and defensively. In participating in the World Baseball Classic, he was able to accumulate similar at bats to those he was missing in Grapefruit League action, and showed positive signs of being ready for the season. He'll settle in as a regular for Minnesota, and if he can continue to hone in on the strike zone, a big season could be in store for him.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Minnesota finds Kennys Vargas. He was given a vote of confidence to win the starting DH spot when ByungHo Park was removed from the 40 man roster. Although I've never seen Vargas as the superior player, it seemed Minnesota was going to allow him an opportunity to prove it. In WBC play though, Vargas was cast more along the lines of how I view him ever fitting with Minnesota.

Across the eight games, Vargas played in just three. The Twins first basemen routinely sat behind T.J. Rivera, a guy that's started a whopping 33 G at first across 600+ professional outings. Vargas struck out in just under half of his at bats (4/9), and while he did hit a home run, was routinely an afterthought. Not only did he miss out on vital spring plate appearances, but he's likely had to watch as ByungHo Park's spring has also overtaken his 25 man roster spot. That dice roll couldn't have gone worse for Minnesota. Their plan didn't work, and their guy didn't get his work in.

Landing somewhere in the middle is arguably the most talented of the group, Jose Berrios. Expected to be in the competition for the 5th starter role, Berrios was given the opportunity to throw in just two contests.

His first outing was a five inning start that featured a blow up, two home run inning, and was then solidified by being a six strikeout and one walk performance. Pitching for the last time in the title game, he was brought on in relief. After striking out four of the first five hitters he faced and looking untouchable, Berrios gave up a hit, hit Eric Hosmer, and walked a batter. When the dust settled, three earned runs were charged in just 1.2 IP.

For Berrios' participation in the WBC, he didn't really do anything too damaging results wise, but the process was something that left much to be desired. While command alluded him at times as it had in 2016, the Twins young phenom simply wasn't stretched out at all. He couldn't ramp up past 40 pitches or so, and almost certainly won't be on track to start full games when the season kicks off. That in and of itself essentially takes him from consideration for a starting role. For the player that maybe needed it most, the dice roll here just leaves everyone feeling empty.

The run that Puerto Rico made back to the title game was a fun one, and totally worth being locked into. For Eddie Rosario, it could vault him into a fast start. Kennys Vargas may find himself on the outside looking in, and Jose Berrios could be left wondering what happened. For everything the WBC isn't results wise, the process still matters, and that's where the Twins may be found scratching their heads.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Twins Future Is Within Two Moves

The Minnesota Twins recently announced that 2015 6th overall pick Tyler Jay was headed to the bullpen full time. While that obviously saps the value from the pick, it's a clear indication that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are all for positioning their young talent to produce the best possible return on the most ideal timeline. Given the state of the Twins, the organization actually has a lot of boxes checked off thanks to that young talent.

With Jay entering the fold, Minnesota now has a group of pen arms that could take what has been a poor relief corps, to the top in pretty short order. Building a stable of relief options that include Jay, J.T. Chargois, Nick Burdi, Mason Melotakis, Jake Reed, Tyler Duffey, and Taylor Rogers is a pretty great scenario to be in. Given the reality that all of them are in the cards for the 2017 season, their impact can be felt in relatively short order.

Then, moving to the offensive side of things, the new braintrust can look at a lineup littered with relatively young and projectable talent. The group consists of a former top prospect in Byron Buxton, a hulking slugger in Miguel Sano, a solid do-everything type in Max Kepler, and a bunch of other talent in the form of Brian Dozier, Jorge Polanco, ByungHo Park, Jason Castro and Eddie Rosario. Sure, it still remains to be seen whether or not Polanco and Dozier can realistically coexist, but trading the latter almost certainly brings another nice piece into the fold.

From this perspective, it's pretty easy to see that the Twins have a strong foundation when it comes to both their offensive firepower and the relief corps. Sure, not all of them are in their prime, and there's a handful of development still to take place. What's a pretty safe bet however, is that the intersection of peak performance should be relatively similar among the entire group.

That brings us to the elephant in the room, and it's a big one. Tell me if you've heard this before, a big league club needs starting pitching. On that front, the Twins really only have Jose Berrios, Adalberto Mejia, and Kyle Gibson. It's probably fair to reason that Fernando Romero could factor into the big league rotation within the next two seasons, and Stephen Gonsalves certainly looks like an MLB arm. If there's something this group is lacking, it's definitely void of a sure thing.

Given a relatively solidified bullpen and offense, splurging on an ace, or number two starting pitcher should be in the cards for the Twins. Whether scouring the free agent market as money is plentiful over the next two offseasons, or dealing from a position of wealth in order to recoup that top arm, Minnesota must commit to grabbing two pitchers.

In the season ahead, the development of the youth explained above will be nearly as intriguing of a storyline as the results themselves. If the breakouts come from the pen, and the offense sees it's youth round into the solid everyday types it should be littered with, then Falvey and Levine can absolutely envision a 25 man that's not too far away. Given the state of the AL Central, that's a really promising notion.

It's always going to be a pretty big ask to suggest a big league team go and get top tier pitching. If there's a club positioned well to overextended, or at least pull out all of the stops, it might be the Minnesota Twins. With two third of the roster categories complete thanks to internal help, looking at the best external options to complete the third is a very realistic possibility.

Regardless of how 2017 finishes for the Twins, a strong development arc could put them a pitcher or two away from being something really special for quite some time.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Jay Represents Twins Past And Future

Recently, Twins Daily reported that the Minnesota Twins have pulled the plug on turning 2016 6th overall raft pick Tyler Jay, into a starter. It's an unfortunate outcome that makes the pick look much worse off than what it was originally perceived, but at this point it's also representative of what was, and what is now. As the rest of Jay's narrative plays out, he'll be looked at through at a very unique lens. 

When selected 6th overall in the 2015 draft, there was plenty of concern over the pick immediately. Jay was a college reliever for the University of Illinois, and starting had never been something he'd done. His stuff was electric, and he was viewed as a potential quick riser as a reliever, but the peripherals really didn't suggest he could start. Then there was the reality that in selecting Jay, Minnesota declined to draft Andrew benintendi, Carson Fulmer, Ian Happ, James Kaprielian, or Walker Buehler. The list of those they past on, is simply much more impressive than the guy they took at this point.

Making the commitment to use Jay as a reliever full time, the Twins new regime has noted they are playing with house money. It was Terry Ryan as General Manager when Jay was selected, and it was his vision that he could be cast as a starter. Instead of sharing in that belief (and one that hadn't produced great results), both Derek Falvey and Thad Levine saw a way to get value, and in a more immediate fashion.

There's always been a pretty solid belief that Tyler Jay can be a good big league reliever. He was a closer in college, and his fastball and slider combination has seemed deadly out of the pen. Over his final 12 games in relief during the 2015 season, Jay worked 11.2 IP and owned a 1.54 ERA in which he allowed opposing hitters just a .505 OPS. During his pro debut being used solely in relief, Jay generated 10.8 K/9.

No matter how good of a reliever Jay becomes though, he almost certainly will never be able to justify the mistake that Terry Ryan made. That's something that Falvey and Levine have seemingly come to grips with, and decided it wasn't their problem. In using Jay as a reliever, he can more quickly help the Twins pen, and should be an option as early as midway through the 2017 season.

Although the Twins have strong relief arms in the form of Jake Reed, Nick Burdi, and J.T. Chargois, none of them were first round selections. Looking at elite bullpen arms such as Zach Britton and Andrew Miller, you find two failed big league starters that both began nearly 50 games at the highest level. Both became full time relievers at their age 26 and 27 seasons respectively, and it seems Minnesota is going to get a jumpstart on their guy.

Right now, Tyler Jay is just nearing his 23rd birthday. He's got a very realistic chance to debut in the big leagues not long after, and he could quickly find himself pitching in high leverage situations. Sure, that's not the result anyone wanted from that high of a pick, but the new regime has been given the keys to a solid bet on a fix for the pen, and they're turning the ignition over on him.

My guess would be that Jay pitches at Double-A Chattanooga to start the year, with a brief cameo in Rochester prior to his debut. I don't know that he'll beat Jake Reed to the big leagues, but given Nick Burdi's lost 2016, Jay could overtake him. At any rate, the Twins getting an influx of arms like Reed, Jay, Burdi, and Mason Melotakis in relief this season is a very good thing.

Tyler Jay wasn't a pick made by the current regime, and it's very likely he isn't the guy they would've wanted. Instead of committing to slow process with a high washout rate until he's about 26, Minnesota is cashing in now. Jay won't have to be the failed starter going to some other team and latching on as a strong reliever, he can do that for his new bosses. There's a pretty good blueprint for a lefty that owns a good slider and fastball combination, and he also happened to be the 6th overall pick. His name, the aforementioned Andrew Miller.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Twins 25 Man Roster Projection 2.0

With just a couple of weeks left of baseball down in Fort Myers, the Twins are gearing up quickly for the beginning of the 2017 Major League Baseball season. In what should be a much more competitive season, Paul Molitor's club is looking to put their best foot forward. It's been nearly two months since I last looked at the 25 Minnesota will take north two months ago, and an update is more than overdue.

Although there hasn't been a ton of shuffling, the Twins have been dealt a significant injury blow, as well as having played more than a handful of games. Looking at the landscape right now, here's how I see it playing out:

Rotation (5)

  • Ervin Santana
  • Phil Hughes
  • Kyle Gibson
  • Hector Santiago
  • Adalberto Mejia
The only change here is that Trevor May is obviously no longer a candidate. I think he had the inside track, but with a torn UCL, he's definitely out of the picture. The Twins could go Ryan Vogelsong for the final spot, but that'd be settling in the most disappointing way possible. Jose Berrios could also factor in, as he's got a higher upside the Mejia. Thus far though, Mejia has been sharp this spring, gives Minnesota another lefty, and has the staying power to remain in the rotation for the long haul.

Starting Lineup (9)
  • Jason Castro C
  • Joe Mauer 1B
  • Brian Dozier 2B
  • Jorge Polanco SS
  • Miguel Sano 3B
  • Eddie Rosario LF
  • Byron Buxton CF
  • Max Kepler RF
  • ByungHo Park DH
There wasn't ever going to be much change among the starters, they'd been cemented nearly from the get go. The switch here comes in the form of the designated hitter. Initially I had Park pegged, and felt the need to switch things around when he was removed from the 40 man roster. The reality is he's a superior player in comparison to Kennys Vargas, and he's looked as much this spring.

Park is fully healthy with his wrist surgically repaired. He's now more acclimated to the culture of Major League Baseball, as well as undoubtedly feeling more comfortable in a new country. He's looked relaxed at the plate, has chased less, and connected more. Expecting a breakout year from ByungHo is far from a stretch.

Bench (4)
  • Eduardo Escobar
  • Robbie Grossman
  • Ehire Adrianza
  • Chris Gimenez
The only way for Grossman to be unseated would be if the Twins decided they need more of a defensive presence in the outfield off of the bench. In that scenario, Drew Stubbs could get some consideration. Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza don't pair particularly well, in that they both play the same set of positions, but the former has a bit better bat while the latter plays incredible defense.

Behind the dish, it's become apparent that Chris Gimenez is going to be Jason Castro's backup. He has a level of familiarity with Derek Falvey and Thad Levine having played for both of their previous organizations. He's a strong veteran, and while he may not do anything exceptionally well, he's more than capable as a big leaguer. I'd still bet on Mitch Garver being the next man up however, even ahead of John Ryan Murphy.

Bullpen (7)
  • Brandon Kintzler Closer
  • Ryan Pressly Setup
  • J.T. Chargois
  • Matt Belisle
  • Justin Haley
  • Craig Breslow
  • Taylor Rogers
As it stands in this piece, the pen has seen a pretty significant shakeup from the former roster projection. Kintzler and Pressly remain status quo at the back, but from there, things get interesting. Matt Belisle was brought in on a major league deal and is going to have a role, while I also believe the Twins will keep Rule 5 pick Justin Haley in long relief.

At some point, J.T. Chargois could go from middle relief to high leverage, and it's a role he seems really well suited for. Then the Twins give themselves some real flexibility in having two capable lefties. Craig Breslow has reinvented himself, and looked very strong this spring. Pairing him with the youth of Taylor Rogers could be a great developmental tool as well, and both southpaws can get batters out from both sides of the plate.

We're not too far removed from Spring Training coming to a conclusion, and as we draw ever more near to that point, the Twins will continue to make cuts and provide more clarity. I feel good about this collection of players, and think Minnesota will have an immediate boost in the win column because of them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Twins In For An Overhaul

With just a couple of weeks left until Opening Day, the Minnesota Twins will be whittling down their players in camp and aligning the 40 man. What that means for a team with no spots left on the 40 man roster, is a handful of hard decisions lie ahead. The interesting bit for the new regime, is that it appears there are more moves than initially were to be expected.

Although the active 25 man roster can remain in flux through the first few weeks, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are going to need to make decisions on who they want to hang onto. With so many new faces coming into the picture, there's going to be some holdovers that find themselves out of luck. Shuffling the 40 man and sending guys to the minors, or looking for a different organization, is never an easy or fun task. From where I'm standing though, it seems there's plenty of work ahead.

First, let's take a look at the guys likely needing a spot:

Craig Breslow- RP

When the Twins signed Breslow this offseason, much was made about how he had reinvented his arm angle and pitching philosophy. Taking an analytical approach, Breslow broke down his mechanics and remade himself to suit his current ability. He's looked plenty capable this spring, and gives Minnesota a solid lefty presence in relief.
Chance he makes the club: 85%

Ryan Vogelsong- SP

Vogelsong hasn't been great this spring, and he's been largely mediocre since 2012. However, with Trevor May going down, I could definitely see the Twins going the easy or safe route with the 5th starter. Both Adalebrto Mejia and Jose Berrios still have options, and given the usage needed from a 5th starter, Vogelsong wouldn't have to take the ball incredibly often. Should Minnesota go this route, I'd look at it as settling, and really, an unnecessary 40 man move. However, reports are beginning to suggest it looks likely, and he'll need to be accommodated.
Chance he make the club: 80%

Chris Gimenez- C

Despite how good Mitch Gavrer has shown this spring, the reality is that there's a big jump from Double to Triple-A, and even further to the big leagues. Gimenez seems locked in now as the backup catcher, and his familiarity with both Falvey and Levine from previous organizations helps. He's a solid veteran presence, and has been on some really good ballclubs. He doesn't do anything incredibly well, but he's a serviceable backup to Jason Castro and allows the Twins time to wait on Garver to develop.
Chance he makes the club: 95%

ByungHo Park- DH

Before spring training started, Park was jettisoned from the 40 man. He went unclaimed on waivers and was brought into camp still competing for a DH job with Kennys Vargas. I have wondered if Vargas wasn't given this move as a vote of confidence that he was the lone 40 man DH, but he's done little with it. Park has looked solid at the plate this swing, both with the approach (6/4 K/BB) and the results. On top of that, he's the better fielding first basemen, and really gives the Twins a higher ceiling bat. I don't see Vargas as much more than a bench bat long term and think Park has earned his way back in.
Chance he makes the club: 60%

Drew Stubbs- OF

Stubbs inclusion is an interesting one, because it largely depends on how the Twins view Robbie Grossman. They are both solid OBP guys, but it's Stubbs who swings and misses (and has been ineffective in general) much more often. The one dynamic playing to Stubbs' strength is his ability to play all three outfield spots. Grossman is a corner guy only, and average at best. If the Twins want to have a more dynamic fourth outfielder, they could decide to go this way. However, teams shouldn't be beating down Stubbs' door, so Minnesota could likely hold him at Triple-A as well.
Chance he makes the club: 10%

With this construction, we have at least four guys needing 40 man spots, with a potential fifth. Right now the Twins find their 40 man at capacity, so what gives?

Trevor May- P

This is the easiest move for the Twins to make to clear a 40 man spot. May is done for the year after suffering a torn UCL. He'll likely need Tommy John surgery, and it's a certainty he's placed on the 60 day DL.
Removed from 40 man: 100%

Buddy Boshers- RP

Including Boshers here isn't a slight to him, but more of a roster crunch. Assuming Breslow makes the club, the Twins are going to carry a max of one more lefty reliever. That leaves the group of Taylor Rogers, Ryan O'Rourke, and Boshers vying for that spot. The first won't be removed from the 40 man, and both Boshers and O'Rourke could find themselves out in the cold.
Removed from 40 man: 50%

Ryan O'Rourke- RP

First, see above. Then realize O'Rourke is a dominant LOOGY but is rarely used solely in that instance, and is 28. He's been passed through waivers before, and likely would go unclaimed again. Regardless, I think it's a coin flip as to what happens between him and Boshers, with the slight edge going to Buddy.
Removed from 40 man: 51%

Glen Perkins- RP

At this point, Perkins presents an interesting case. He's on the path to recovery, but his exact timetable for return remain a mystery. He needed his labrum literally reattached to the bone, and I doubt his overall effectiveness going forward. For the time being though, Minnesota could open up a 40 man spot by stashing him on the 60 day DL.
Removed from 40 man: 25%

Michael Tonkin- RP

Out of options, and probably on the outside of the pen looking in, Tonkin could find himself looking for a new team. He was improperly used in 2015, and then did little with his opportunities a year ago. With Rule 5 pick Justin Haley in the fold, as well as newly signed Matt Belisle, there's maybe not enough room in the Twins relief corps to accommodate Tonkin. He could clear waivers, but I don't think the Twins view him as must keep material.
Removed from 40 man: 60%

Danny Santana- Util

This spring, Santana has been used all over the place, and he's played quite a bit. I'm starting to try and convince myself he's being used as the guy who gets breaks in for teammates. At this point, he's a utility man that can't play any position above average defensively, and his bat has never been anything close to the inflated BABIP number his rookie year lulled many into thinking. With Ehire Adrianza the superior fielder, and Eduardo Escobar a better all around player, Santana ends up being a roster casualty out of options.
Removed from 40 man: 90%

Robbie Grossman- OF

Of those included, Grossman is probably the least likely to be going anywhere. He's completely tied to Drew Stubbs and how that situation plays out. I'd view them as an interchangeable duo, and only one stays. If Minnesota keeps Grossman, they'll try to hold onto Stubbs on the farm. If it's Stubbs, Grossman will likely look to latch on elsewhere.
Removed from 40 man:10%

With that breakdown, we have seven candidates that could create room for four or five 40 man additions. The Twins are still a ways away from needing to have answers, but the guys on the bottom list are absolutely going to be considered to make way for those above them.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Twins Offense May Be Defense

There's no skirting around just how bad the Minnesota Twins were on the mound last season. Their starting pitching was the worst in the big leagues, and their relief options broke down far too often as well. Although and overhaul hasn't taken place, the more important understanding is that a heightened focus on defense may be all that was ever needed.

Target Field has been pegged all over the place as to which side of the game it favors. Although at times it plays big, I think the understood reality is that it leans more between hitter friendly and neutral. With the Twins running out fly ball pitchers such as Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago, having capable outfielders ready to track balls down is a must. For the first time in 2017, they should have a group worthy of league wide notoriety.

Plenty has been made about the boost Jason Castro should provide the pitching staff behind the plate. His pitch framing and game calling approach is a significant upgrade over what Kurt Suzuki brought to the fold. What's overlooked however, is just how important a 162 game sample of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler can be.

Defensive metrics remain a mystery, and certainly in a small sample size. Numbers derived from DRS (defensive runs saved) and UZR (ultimate zone rating) still fail to completely tell us what they're trying to indicate. While the picture of an outcome as it relates to a positive result is painted, the context surrounding each play is often left up for interpretation. Be that as it may, Buxton (3), Kepler (5), and Rosario (2) combined to be worth 10 DRS in 2016. That's hardly a number to be proud of, but again, it's a sign of things to come.

In 2016, Buxton and Rosario sporadically played in just 92 games for Minnesota, while Kepler gave the club 113. Without the ability to get in rhythm, contribute continuously, or really cement their place in the outfield, it's far from surprising that the best output wasn't achieved.

Given a full year, Buxton is expected to be in the conversation with the likes of the Rays Kevin Kiermaier as the best defensive center fielder in the game. His combination of instincts and elite speed should rarely see balls land around him. Max Kepler will be entering his first full major league season, and comes from a background that has seen him capable of playing all three outfield spots. Having settled into Target Field's dimensions a bit further, a heightened level of comfortability should follow suit. Arguably the biggest question mark of the group is Rosario, and it's in regards to what kind of player he shows up as.

Back in 2015, Rosario put up 10 DRS for the Twins in just under 750 innings in left field. He was an assist machine, and rarely had a play go unmade. A season ago, he regressed significantly and was no better than replacement level. The step backwards could be explained by both runners taking less chances on him, as well as a more casual approach to the defensive side of his game. Should he return to form, the trio will have plenty going for it.

While on paper the numbers trend towards the Twins having a strong outfield group, there's also a couple of in game factors that show promise. Buxton, Rosario, and Kepler have some of the strongest arms from the grass in the big leagues, and that should help to limit opposing baserunners stretching base hits. On top of their cannons, both Buxton and Kepler have proven their ability to make the difficult play.

Over at Baseball Savant, Statcast recently rolled out a new Catch Probability metric. Unlike UZR and DRS, this metric takes into consideration the amount of time a player has to make the play correlates it with the distance needing to be covered. The formula calculates measurable factors to produce and outcome that can be compared across several instances. The results are broken down into plays designated with "Star Rankings," 1 being the easiest opportunities (91-95% probability) and 5 being the most difficult (25% or less probability).

Among players with at least 50 opportunities, only seven players had more 5 star outs than Buxton (6) and Kepler (6) recorded. Of those with at least 25 opportunities for a 5 star out, only Adam Eaton's 27% success rate (10-37) was higher than Buxton's 24% (6-24). When looking for Max Kepler on the list, you don't have to go far to see his 18.8% (6-32) comes in 8th among those same stipulations.

Being that this is such a new metric, and we only have two years of data, it's hard to glean much from it at this point. Looking at it from its core though, suggesting that both Buxton and Kepler have strong instincts and ball tracking abilities, with solid play making athleticism is a more than fair statement.

At the end of the day, Paul Molitor's club is absolutely going to have to pitch. They're integrating Miguel Sano back into third, and have questions about Jorge Polanco at shortstop. When the ball is put in the air to the outfield however, the group that should patrol the grass more often than not, is going to have a very high probability to get the job done for the guy on the bump. The more pieces of the puzzle Minnesota can shore up, the closer they get to becoming a complete team, and this outfield group looks as sure of a bet as any

Monday, March 13, 2017

How To Stop The May Fallout

Having spent time at spring training down in Fort Myers last week, the Twins came off with a process that looked poised to process better results. 2017 has been looking like a season in which Minnesota could turn the page from an ugly 103 loss a season ago. Then, upon returning to Minnesota, the news that Trevor May's season would now be over had hit. What happens now?

After looking back through some of my tweets from Minnesota's exhibition against Team USA, it seems I had been aware of what really was unknown. Sitting around 95 mph on his fastball at the start of the game, May's velocity dipped to 91-92 mph in short order. It was later revealed that in a pitch midway through his outing, he blew out his UCL. Now destined for Tommy John surgery, the Twins must pick up the pieces and ask themselves what's next.

I had Trevor May penciled in as the team's fifth starter. He wasn't going back to the bullpen with his back issues, and he offered legitimate upside in the rotation. While that now isn't going to happen, the list of candidates to take his place is long. Everyone from Jose Berrios, Adalberto Mejia, and Justin Haley to Ryan Vogelsong, Tyler Duffey, and Nick Tepesch should be in play. For Molitor's squad though, I think the narrative is less about the next man up than it is the men already involved.

There has long been little doubt that Phil Hughes, Hector Santiago, or Kyle Gibson would be in the Twins Opening Day rotation. Each of those three was a lock, and they'd be joining Opening Day starter Ervin Santana. What becomes integral now is that the trio elevate themselves to pick up the slack.

First and foremost, Hughes has to show his injury is behind him. Over the course of the spring, a lot had been made of Hughes' velocity, and for good reason. After undergoing Thoracic Outlet surgery, he's seen a visible decline in the speed of his fastball. For a guy that doesn't blow batters away, losing any competitive advantage isn't ideal.

Last season, Hughes turned in just 59 innings before ending his season. He had already given up 11 homers, after surrendering a league worst 29 the season before, and his walk rate had doubled (but still respectable at 2.0 BB/9). Hughes hasn't given Minnesota more than 5.4 K/9 since his incredibly debut season, and he'll need to be better than his low water mark this time around. Minnesota isn't going to bank on him to be that Cy Young type pitcher he was in 2014, but he must have an ERA right under 4.00 and strike out at least six per nine. It's a big ask for a guy with a lot of question marks, but the Twins can't have him do less now.

That brings us to Hector Santiago, who's done little to put himself in good graces since getting to Minnesota. The Twins are paying him virtually the same $12 million that Ricky Nolasco took up, and his numbers haven't been heartwarming. After coming over from Los Angeles last season, Santiago owned a 5.58 ERA and gave up 13 long balls (to total 33 on the year).

The addition of Jason Castro should help Santiago. Kurt Suzuki wasn't going to do him favors behind the dish, and a pitcher who has given up 62 homers since 2015 needs every advantage he can muster. Again, the Twins won't be counting on the 2015 All Star version of the former Angels pitcher, but they need him to pitch like he deserves to be in the rotation as opposed to an arbitration casualty.

Finally, the biggest boost from the group could come from home grown Kyle Gibson. The former first round pick has been a breakout candidate for the past two years now, and it just hasn't come together. After an exciting 2015, Gibson took a big step back in 2016, and that needs to reverse its course. Despite owning a 5.07 ERA last season, it was the 4.70 FIP that did him in. Owning strikeout and walk totals in line with his career norms, Gibson wasn't doing himself any favors with an already shaky defense.

Molitor's sinkerballer needs to put himself in good situations and capitalize on them. Through early spring action, he's arguably looked the best of all Twins starters, and while results aren't much to get hung up on, his process and efficiency have been notable as well. If Gibson can emerge as the ace of the Twins staff, and take the reigns from Ervin Santana, the rotation group will be elevated beyond what the loss of May likely is.

At the end of the day, Minnesota not having Trevor May in the rotation to begin the year is an unfortunate development. No matter who fills his shoes however, it's going to be on the cast of the already assumed starters that will need to pick up the slack. What kind of upside Minnesota's 5th starter possesses was always going to be a wild card, but the margin for error is now markedly smaller.

Time to see who can pick their teammate up.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Dark Horse For The 5th Spot

Coming into spring training, the Minnesota Twins had no less than three of the five starting rotation spots claimed. Ervin Santana was a lock, Kyle Gibson wasn't going anywhere, and Phil Hughes was expected to be healthy enough to claim his role. With two openings left, Hector Santiago was presumably given another one, That left just one spot and a lot of competition for the Twins down in Fort Myers.

My expectation from the onset is that Trevor May would be given every opportunity to move back into the starting rotation. Thus far, that looks to be the plan of action that Minnesota has employed as well. May has started games as opposed to coming in second, and has been included among the group of five previously mentioned. However, as he transitions his way back from the bullpen, there could continue to be some growing pains.

As a starter, May's velocity will likely dip some from where he was at a year ago, and his strikeout numbers shouldn't be nearly as high. He looked like a natural fit in the role initially, and in time, the rotation seems like the best fit. What's up for debate is whether or not Opening Day represents that correct timing.

If it's not Trevor May, there's more than a handful of possible candidates. It would be great if Jose Berrios was dominant this spring and ran away with the role, but it appears his command is still coming into form. Veteran Ryan Vogelsong was brought in as a likely bridge guy, and there's not much reason to block prospects by sending him to Rochester. Could Rule 5 pick Justin Haley get some run in the rotation? Even former Texas Rangers starter Nick Tepesch figures to make things interesting. Of all the possible outcomes though, it may be the guy that Minnesota nabbed for Eduardo Nunez from the San Francisco Giants.

Enter Adalberto Mejia.

Mejia was Baseball Prospectus' 86th prospect prior to the 2015 season. He has top 100 prospect notoriety from a couple of other outlets as well. The 6'3" hurler would give the Twins flexibility with a second lefty in the rotation, and he should be viewed as having a relatively safe floor. Although he doesn't necessarily possess the ceiling of prospects like Jose Berrios, Stephen Gonsalves, or even Fernando Romero, as a 5th starter, there's reason to be excited.

In 2016, Mejia posted a 3.00 ERA between Double and Triple-A in the Giants and Twins organizations. He owned a respectable 8.6 K/9 while issuing just 2.0 free passes per nine innings. For the most part, Mejia has kept the ball in the yard, and his 132 innings a season ago represent a sizeable workload.

With just over two innings of big league experience under his belt, you can't draw anything from Mejia's exposure with Minnesota a season ago. His fastball sits low 90's while he also utilizes a four pitch mix including a slider, curve, and chanegup. There's no reason to think that Mejia would be incredibly out of his element when called upon to pitch at the highest level.

Thus far this spring, and it's early, Mejia has shown well. He's done nothing to set himself back, and he's taken advantage of the opportunities presented to him. It's going to take some combination of May faltering to bump Mejia up the ladder, but it's far from being out of the question. If it's Mejia that the Twins give the ball to when the 5th turn comes around, buckle in and enjoy the ride.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Twins Surprise In Filling Out The Bench

The Minnesota Twins have now played a handful of games this spring, and with the calendar quickly approaching the middle of March, players will be cut and reassigned to minor league camp shortly. For Paul Molitor's club, squeaking out extra wins on a roster looking to rebound from a tough 2016 is going to be an absolute must. I'm not so convinced there aren't a few surprises in store as to how the bench is constructed.

Arguably the most predictable scenario, or at least the one causing the least amount of change, would include a bench of John Ryan Murphy, Robbie Grossman, Eduardo Escobar, and Danny Santana. If the Twins go that route, they'd be looking to make as few waves as possible, and it's probably the safest bet as well. Although the ceiling for each player isn't high at all, the floor also isn't disastrous for the most part.

Getting creative though, there's a real situation in which none, or almost none, of those players go north with the Twins this spring. If Minnesota looks for upside, and some fresh talent, there's a surprise group of four players that could join together. Here's what that may look like:

Mitch Garver- Backup Catcher

Garver owned a ,764 OPS between Double and Triple-A in 2016. It was a nice offensive showing, and his defense was spectacular. He threw out 52% of would be base stealers in Chattanooga (44 attempts) and caught three of ten runners at Triple-A. Garver is 25 and has never been a household name, but he's pushed himself to the top of the Twins organization when it comes to up and coming backstops.

He's a right-handed batter and would give the Twins both a defensive minded option to spell Jason Castro, as well as bringing a respectable bat to the big leagues. It's a pretty big jump for him to go from 22 Triple-A games to the big leagues, so that could definitely work against him. Unless the Twins settle for John Ryan Murphy or Chris Gimenez, Garver absolutely makes a good deal of sense.

Ehire Adrianza- SS, 2B, 3B

New to the Twins organization, Adrianza has never been lauded as any sort of top prospect. What has been touted this offseason however is his glove, and specifically at shortstop. In a limited sample size, he's produced Andrelton Simmons-esque defensive metrics, and that's something the Twins haven't had for quite some time. Adrianza owns just a .605 OPS in 154 MLB games but he's got a .822 OPS across five Triple-A seasons.

Even if he can't bring much to the plate, Adrianza could be vital to the Twins with Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco slated to man the left side of the infield. Pitching could end up struggling to get consistent outs from that side of the diamond, and Adrianza as a fill in or defensive replacement makes a good deal of sense.

Zach Granite- OF

The Minnesota Twins minor league player of the year would be making his big league debut if he joined the 25 man roster. Granite brings exceptional speed and defense to the big league club, and that's absolutely what separates him from the competition. Last season, as a 23 year old at Double-A, Granite posted a .729 OPS (his best as a pro). More of a singles hitter than a gap guy, Granite got on base and then advanced via the steal. He racked up 56 stolen bases and nearly walked (42) more often than he struck out (43).

When comparing Granite to the likes of Robbie Grossman, or even J.B. Shuck, Minnesota gets a fielder that can realistically play all three outfield spots. Granite is above average no matter where he is in the grass, and has the speed to let very little fall in. The big jump from Double-A is worrisome potentially, but as a hitter with a great eye, the on base skills could quickly rival those of Grossman.

Byungho Park- 1B/DH

Removed from the 40 man roster this offseason, the Twins gave Kennys Vargas the leg up in winning the designated hitter role. He still could fill that spot, but a healthy Park should be expected to be a different player. He struggled with velocity in his first big league season, although a wrist injury could have contributed to that. Park's spring homers thus far have come off of 93 and 96 mph heat, and while he'll still strikeout plenty, that power can play.

While Joe Mauer is Gold Glove caliber at 1B, he's not going to be able to play every day. Vargas has been below average defensively, while in roughly the same limited sample, Park has been as asset. He was a quality player in the field over in Korea, and represents a clear upgrade in the field behind Mauer as well.

This construction would require the Twins to figure out what to do with the likes of Robbie Grossman, Danny Santana, and Eduardo Escobar. They can save money (roughly $2 million) by moving on from Escobar. Grossman has a smaller deal, and Santana has been a guy that I've contended Minnesota would be best served to move along from for quite some time.

The likelihood that this construction plays out if minute at best, but it remains an intriguing group of guys that I believe would serve the Twins well to start 2017. Admittedly the biggest hole here is the lack of a left-handed bat, but given Minnesota's options, it still may represent the most optimal scenario.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What Do Twins Have In Santiago?

Last season, the Minnesota Twins jettisoned Ricky Nolasco to the Los Angeles Angeles. The move was widely applauded as it purged Nolasco's contract from Minnesota and got him out of the rotation. What was overlooked however, was that former top prospect Alex Meyer was thrown in, and Hector Santiago was coming back to the Twins.

There's no kind way to put it, Nolasco was a disaster in Minnesota. Terry Ryan over-extended himself by spending on starting pitching that had almost no chance of paying off. In trading Nolasco to the Angels though, Minnesota simply took on a similar pitcher. Hector Santiago was awarded $8 million through arbitration, and the club is still paying the Angels $4 million of Nolasco's salary this season. Essentially they gave up Alex Meyer simply to get a team to take Nolasco off their hands.

Santiago came over to Minnesota in the midst of a hot streak, and there was some thought he could pitch right around the high water level he'd established. What ended up taking place however, was 11 starts to the tune of a 5.58 ERA and a 5.82 FIP. His strikeout numbers plummeted and he gave up 13 homers in those starts.

Although Santiago was an All Star in 2015, his recent career has always had reason for concern. In his All Star campaign, he gave up a league leading 29 homers, and then backed that up with 33 in 2016. He also surrendered a league leading (and career worst) 79 walks last season. For a guy that's never thrown over 182 innings, and owns a 4.84 FIP since 2014, he's got very few things going in his favor.

Since his 2011 debut with the White Sox, Santiago's velocity has fallen off as well. Topping out at a 93.8 mph fastball then, he's fallen to hovering right around 90 mph last season, and routinely sitting there is a stretch. His contact rate checked in at 81.8% last season, which was it's highest since 2014. If there's a level of consistency, it's found in Santiago's swing and miss stuff, which has routinely generated an 8% mark throughout his career.

The reality though, when looking at the sum of all parts, is that the Twins are going to be asking a lot from a guy they already have cemented into their rotation. There's real reason to believe that Santiago could be among the Twins worst pitchers this season. He serves up dingers at an alarming rate, his velocity has dipped, and his command has waned. He could be helped out by the boost that Jason Castro will serve over Kurt Suzuki, but he's going to need a significant jump.

If Santiago wasn't the Twins return for Nolasco, or frankly if he had a different name on the back of his jersey, you'd be able to make a real argument he'd struggle to make this club. Considering top prospect Jose Berrios has little to prove in the minors at this point, running him out there more consistently would provide more long term benefit.

As things stand. Paul Molitor and the Twins are going to be forced to choose between Trevor May, Berrios, Adalberto Mejia, Justin Haley, Ryan Vogelsong, and Nick Tepesch for one spot. There's absolutely some guys in that group that will be filtered out, but on numbers alone, there isn't a reason to suggest Santiago is better than the bulk of the group. Having to settle for him no matter what ties the hands of the Twins rotation a bit, and it was already not in a good place.

Maybe everything gets turned on its head, and Santiago's first full year in Minnesota allows him to acclimate and things go incredibly well. Looking at the numbers he's put up, and the way things have trended for him though, that's a pretty big ask. Hector Santiago is going to be in the Twins rotation, but he may just be another form of Ricky Nolasco.