Thursday, June 29, 2017

Longball Ready To Shine Once Again

For years I tuned into the Home Run Derby during All Star Week of the Major League Baseball season. In the days prior, I planned to make it a must see TV event, and always made sure the schedule was blocked out. When the festivities came to Target Field, I was there in person to take in the slugging spectacle. Each year though, I walked away feeling a bit empty. Then 2015 happened.

After years of wondering how to spice up the event, I became convinced Major League Baseball hit gold. In putting a timer on each participant, the goal was to hit bombs quickly. You could still launch them, as it would give you bonus points, but liners served a purpose as well. An event that had become stale due to batters watching for the perfect pitch, was once again rejuvenated with some extra flair.

In 2016, the field featured somewhat of a darkhorse in hometown team product Wil Myers. Then there were boppers like Giancarlo Stanton and Mark Trumbo. Past participant Todd Frazier was back, and he looked to knock off Stanton in the final round. When the dust settled though, it was the Marlins slugger who powered his way, with some moonshots sprinkled in, to a total of 61 dingers through the three rounds. No one watching could have walked away from the event with anything but excitement for what had just taken place.

Fast forwarding to this season, it's hard not to get excited about what we may see on Monday July 10. Stanton has already announced he'll defend his crown, and it's been reported that the Twins Miguel Sano will also take place. Throw in the possibility of Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, and you have an amazing combination of strength, as well as youth, to put on display.

The derby itself caters to those with endurance. It's no doubt a workout having to swing the bat that hard, that often, in that short of a time span. Returning hitters like Stanton find an upper hand in knowing what to expect, but you'd be hard pressed to find people willing to be against other names in that type of a star studded field. It's what they've all done to this point in the season however, that may make everything that much more exciting.

For the majority of 2017, Miguel Sano has paced Major League Baseball in average exit velocity. Recently relinquishing that lead, he now trails only Aaron Judge. The Yankees rookie right fielder leads baseball in longballs with 27, and the Dodgers young star Bellinger check in right behind him with 24. Although Stanton (20) and Sano (18) don't have quite the numbers of the top two, there's no denying their ability to put some distance between a ball and home plate.

Digging a bit deeper into the statistics, there's even more numbers to suggest that this foursome could put on a show. Per Fangraphs, Sano ranks first in MLB among hard hit % (50%). Bellinger is second at 49% and Judge is tied for 5th at 48.3%. Then there's the HR/FB ratio, where each of the four players ranks in the top 15. Judge paces baseball (41.5%), Bellinger checks in 3rd (32.4%), Sano finds himself 11th (26.9%), and Stanton is 13th (25.6%). That all of these guys are hitting the ball out of the yard on one of four fly balls during a game, only raises expectations of what they can do in a derby scenario.

While we have to wait and see in regards to a full participant list, there's no doubt baseball fans should be clamoring for each of these guys to show up. The Future's Game and All Star Game itself will be fun this season, but it's this Derby that could end up topping them all. The groundwork was laid back in 2015 with the event itself returning to relevancy, now the sport has a cast list it can select that would be nothing short of A-listers.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Leach Looks To Blossom With Twins

With their second round pick in the 2017 Major League Baseball draft, the Minnesota Twins selected a right handed pitcher out of high school in Canada. Landon Leach may not yet be a household name on the mound, and it's a position he's still growing into, but the Twins see him as a rotation fixture for the future.

Having just transitioned from behind the plate to the mound in the past two years, Leach remains raw on the bump. Shoving a 95+ mph fastball however, there's plenty of reason to be excited about the Twins prep star from Toronto. Now having signed his contract, he's just days away from beginning his pro career down in Fort Myers with the Gulf Coast League Twins.

Before he kicks off the next phase of his baseball life, I caught up with him to ask a few questions.

Off The Baggy: Let's start with the organization, what is your knowledge of the Twins and Minnesota at this point?

Landon Leach: During my first showcase as a pitcher (at 15), Walt Burrows (Twins Canadian Scout) came up to me and was saying positive things about my body type and that they'd keep in touch in the future. That ended up being true as he's the one who signed me. That was really the first contact I had with the Twins. My visit to Minneapolis and Target Field was just a great experience. It's a very nice city; very quiet compared to Toronto I found. I have much more knowledge now about the organization than before the draft.

OTB: Describe your pitching presence to me. What pitches do you throw? What do you rely on? How do you attack hitters?

LL: This is actually just my second year pitching, after moving from catcher. My pitches are fastball (4 and 2 seam), changeup, and slider. I can reach 96 with my fastball, so I can rely on that. My out pitch is my slider, which is above average. My changeup is still in the making, just need to perfect it for strikes. Having been used to coming out of the pen, I'll soon get used to starting. I'm going to need to attack hitters with my fastball, and as the lineup turns over, I'll need to change looks and use offspeed stuff.

OTB: Being from Canada, are you a Justin Morneau fan, or who are some of your big league influences?

LL: Actually, Morneau was one of my coaches for my team Canada trip. I know him fairly well, definitely a great player for the Twins. I feel like my game right now, my body and my arm angle, I'm more of a Corey Kluber kind of guy. I like how he pitches and what he does for his team.

OTB: In making the leap to pro ball, what's the area of your game you think is going to set you a part? What requires the most work yet?

LL: Most amount of work, like I said, I haven't pitched many innings. Getting more innings under my belt is going to be the early focus. I feel like a strength is that I've played against many professional players having been with team Canada. We've gone to extended spring training and instructional leagues to against guys from the Dominican and Cuba, so I have a good idea what the level of competition looks like. I feel comfortable playing against those types of players.

OTB: What's the one thing you want Twins fans to know about you as a person, and also as a pitcher?

LL: I love when people interact with me face to face. I've had a lot of support in my classroom and school, and seeing Twins fans continue that support would be great. As a baseball player, I'd do anything to get to the major leagues. The work ethic is there, and I'll do anything for my teammates.

Ready to get going down in Fort Myers, Leach is going to be a player that's absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the coming years. As he continues to grow into a pitcher as a professional, it will be exciting to watch the Twins organization help him come into his own. He should be making starts in short order for the GCL squad, and seeing him rise the ranks is something Twins Territorians can get behind.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Enlow Makes Twins His Choice

As the Minnesota Twins closed out the first day of their 2017 Major League Baseball, some heads were left scratching. There was talk of below slot deals and pool money being saved. It came full circle at pick 76 however, when the organization was able to grab (and ultimately sign) high school hurler Blayne Enlow.

Committed to LSU, Enlow decided the over-slot deal (reportedly $2 million) would be enticing enough to take his talents to the pro ranks. Highly regarded as a prep pitcher, Enlow was said to have the best curveball in the entirety of the 2017 draft. Minnesota gets a kid that could end up being a rotation stalwart a few years from now, and the Louisiana native begins his journey to the ultimate dream.

I caught up with Enlow to talk the draft, and his game. Here's what he had to say:

Off The Baggy: Going into the draft, you were among the top prep arms in the nation. What was your draft day experience like? Did you have any idea where you may go?

Blayne Enlow: I had no idea where I would go. I was waiting for the best offer I could get and the first day nobody got to my number so I turned down a few offers, and then the second day the Twins came up to two million and I knew that's what I wanted to do so I took it!!
OTB: The Twins ended up taking you 76th overall knowing they got a first round talent. When did you start hearing from them and thinking that may actually be where you land?

BE: I was on a golf course with a couple of my buddies and then I got a call from my agent saying the Twins are putting 2 ($2 million) on the table and I agreed.

OTB: Velocity is what gets noted first, but called your curveball the best in the draft. What does your repertoire consist of, and how do you like to attack hitters?

BE: I like to pound the strike zone and get batters out quick and my finisher is my curveball. I can throw it first pitch for strike too, and I would say it's my best pitch.

Making the jump to pro ball from high school, what do you feel like may be the biggest challenge? What sets you apart?

BE: The biggest challenge will probably be being away from home and meeting the new players, but what sets me apart is that I will work harder then anyone on the field and I always give it my all.

OTB: When looking at your pitching style, is there a big leaguer, past or present, that you emulate or look to build yourself off of?

BE: I would say Jacob deGrom would be who I feed off the most. I see a lot of the same mechanics and same pitch work.

OTB: Prior to the draft, what did you know of the Twins organization? Have you been to MN or Target Field previously?

BE: I've actually never been, and to be honest, I never knew much being Louisiana grown.

OTB: What's the one thing you want Twins fans to make sure they know about Blayne Enlow?

BE: That when I make it I will give it my all for the city and I will continue to work harder than everyone to try to be the best Blayne Enlow I can be!
For an organization that is always looking for pitching help, Enlow sure seems like he can give the Twins that lift. He'll be a name to watch for years to come, and one that Twins fans will hope to cheer on at Target Field in the future.

Royce Lewis Ready For Life As A Pro

When the Major League Baseball draft commenced in early June, the only certainty was that the Minnesota Twins would make the first selection. There were a handful of names being thrown around as possibilities for the first overall pick, but only those inside the Twins war room knew for certainty whose name would be called. As the dust settled and prep phenom Royce Lewis was the pick, Minnesota immediately had a new name atop their prospect rankings.

Lewis, a star shortstop and outfielder, is regarded as being the most polished high school position prospect in the draft. Noted equally for his maturity as his athleticism, he should immediately step into the Twins system and find success. I had the privilege of catching up with him following the draft, and touched on a few different subjects to get to know him a bit better.

Here's what he had to say:

Off The Baggy: What was your draft day experience like? 

Royce Lewis: I was in Studio City, CA at my grandparents house with my family. We went into the day without expectations, just excited about the potential opportunity.

OTB: Did you have an inclination early in the day the Twins might be looking to take you at 1/1? 

RL: I absolutely did not have any idea that the Twins would select me. I had many conversations with them, however I had conversations with all of the teams. I never doubted my abilities and what I could bring to an organization, but you just never know what will happen, what a team is looking for, or what their needs are.

OTB: Playing both shortstop and the outfield, your athleticism shines on the diamond. What do you feel your strengths are at both positions? Do you prefer one?

RL: I am very athletic with great speed and reactions. Having baseball instincts and the ability to read the ball off the bat well, I have an edge to make plays that others may not at both positions. I have never had much formal training at either position, basically I have relied on my athleticism to do things take over, so with daily training at either or both I am excited to see where it takes me. I love being up the middle because I feel I can help the team at both, however I prefer shortstop because I feel that I am a natural leader and at shortstop I am able to be involved more in the game. The position is naturally a position which is a leader on the field, so I would be able to help the team to get wins and championships.

OTB: Tell us about your hitting approach? Are you a gap power guy, or is speed on the basepaths your thing?

RL: My approach to hitting is that I look for a pitch to drive. I believe I can offer all 3: power, gap to gap, and speed. I just turned 18 on June 5th and have not reached my full potential or growth. Again I look forward to the daily training and facing the best pitching teams have to offer. I feel I am at my best when being challenged. One of my strengths as a hitter is that I am very good with 2 strikes. 

OTB: Making the jump from high school to the professional ranks, what do you see being your biggest challenge? What will help to set you apart?

RL: My biggest challenge will be playing with the best of the best everyday, but this is my dream and I look forward to working hard to challenge myself to always try to be better than the day before. Everything only happens with determination and hard work and I am determined and will work hard everyday, this is what will set me apart. The fact that I am always a student of the game, whether I am in the game or watching others play, there is always an opportunity to learn something which will help better my game.

OTB: Being from California, what is your knowledge of Minnesota and the Twins organization? Have you been to Target Field previously?

RL: I had never been to Minnesota before the Twins organization flew my family and I out for the weekend. It is such a beautiful and clean city. I love that the fan base is so big with Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the surrounding areas. It is great that the Twin Cities have 6 professional teams in one area (Baseball, Football, Basketball, Hockey, Soccer, and Women's Basketball), so many cool things to be apart of and support. My family and I love the state motto "Minnesota Nice." I feel that I will fit in perfect with that as I am a nice guy who will give everything I have to be successful in all that I do while helping others along the way. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing organization. Target Field was incredible, it is one of the best stadiums I have been in and I love that you can maneuver through the downtown area in the skyways without going outside. That is really cool, we do NOT have stuff like that in California!

OTB: Who's a pro player, past or present, that you may have modeled your game after or look up to?

RL: I have always looked up to Derek Jeter because he played the game the right way both on and off the field. I also look to Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor because they are really really good and always seem to be enjoying the game and making it fun! When you love what you do, you will be more successful at what you are doing no matter what it is and for me it is the game of baseball. However, I really hope to just be me, to be "Royce Lewis" and hopefully one day people will look to be like me because I am a great person and player who makes the game fun in all the right ways. It is good to look to others for advice and tips to better yourself but in the end you have to be you and make you.... "the best you can be"!!!

With a long journey ahead, Royce appears to have a great head on his shoulders, and be well positioned to climb through the organization. As the GCL season gets underway, Twins fans will have a chance to see it begin to come together.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Berrios Making A Mirage Of 2016

Another Jose Berrios start, another dazzling performance. The former top pitching prospect for the Minnesota Twins has looked every bit the top tier starter he was billed to be. After an ugly start to his big league career a year ago, 2017 couldn't be more of a drastic turnaround for the Puerto Rican native. No matter where you look, the numbers jump off the board.

Surface numbers weren't kind to Berrios in his MLB debut during 2016. He made 14 starts and compiled an 8.02 ERA. He won just three of his starts and totaled a 6.20 FIP. A strikeout guy on the farm, he posted just a 7.6 K/9 and walked a ridiculous 5.4 per nine a season ago. He was allowing hard contact one-third of the time, and 16.2% of fly balls were leaving the yard. Batters were making contact with his pitches just under 81% and he generated swinging strikes just 8.2% of the time. You'd have to look lone and hard for anything that suggested promise.

Maybe most importantly, Berrios was just 22 years old, and a whole lot of maturity seems to have latched on over the course of the past year. In 2017, Berrios has made eight starts for the Twins, totaling out to a 7-1 record. He owns a 2.67 ERA backed by a solid 3.30 FIP. Strikeouts are there at an 8.8 K/9 clip, while walks are in control at a 2.5 per nine pace. The Twins hurler has kept hitters off balance allowing just 22.8% hard contact, and only 6.9% of his fly balls are leaving the yard. Contact rates have dipped to 77.2% and he's generating swinging strikes 10.4% of the time. In 2017, you'd be equally hard pressed to find a problematic area.

Despite making half the starts (Baseball Savant hasn't yet been updated to include his latest outing), Berrios has compiled 84 swinging strikes as opposed to 100 in 14 outings a year ago. He's getting batters to miss, and his breaking pitches have become the draw of many a GIF around the internet. Velocity remains the same across the board, and really, the only change to his repertoire is a higher amount of benders being thrown. Halving his changeup usage from 14.4% to 7.7%, Berrios has upped his curveball rate to 28.3% this season.

The knock on the Twins young star has always been his stature. Given his height, the lacking plane on his arm angle could be seen as problematic when getting pitches to appear as anything but straight. Recently, Baseball Prospectus' Matthew Trueblood penned a piece on a few tweaks he's made. In lowering his arm slot (as Parker Hageman diagrams in a tweet), and switching to the third base side of the rubber, Berrios has experimented with controllable options to make him more effective. While they may not be the golden ticket, it's hard to argue against the effectiveness in 2017.
As the season draws on, each start continues to give us more insight into what the Twins may have in Berrios. There's been more than a handful of times he's worked himself into danger this season. What has been different, is that he's avoided the big inning, and in general, not allowed the game to get away from him. Pitchability is something that seems to have taken an uptick, as Berrios is dictating at bats and getting the results he needs to escape a jam.

During the 2016 season, the game seemed to control how Berrios was going to react on the mound. As the flow progressed, Berrios reacted and the results followed. In 2017, the opposite seems to take place. Berrios is dictating the game flow, and allowing a heightened sense of maturity to keep him in charge regardless of the scenario. Pairing that with the minor physical tweaks seems to have unlocked the potential that was expected all along.

Right now it's not worth putting a numerical starter value on him, or discussing what his ceiling for the Twins may be. It's pretty apparent that Jose Berrios is a difference maker, and while it's still early, that much appears to be here for good.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ervin Servin Up An Uncatchable Problem

Way back in 2015, I wrote about Ervin Santana and what he was bringing to the Twins after signing as a free agent. The crux of the piece was that he needed to show an ability to be more than his surrounding parts. He's been a great pitcher when paired with great defenses. That has been the case in 2017 for the Twins, but in June, his defense hasn't been able to be a factor.

As doom and gloom sets in of late, it's first worthwhile to offer some perspective. Santana has made 15 starts for the Twins, and pitched exactly 100 innings. He owns a career best 2.97 ERA and his 1.020 WHIP also registers as a high water mark. Throw in three dazzling complete game shutouts, and the sum of all parts still equals a very fun-to-watch 2017. In June though, the wheels have fallen off, and it's worth finding out why.

Having now made four starts in the month of June, Santana owns a 7.04 ERA while opposing hitters are enjoying a .972 OPS against him. He's labored to get through outings, going more than five innings just once. In fact, had he not thrown a complete game shutout against the Giants as one of the four starts, the already gaudy numbers could look even worse. In taking a deep dive to find a deficiency, it seems that Santana has become susceptible to the ball that can't be caught. He's given up seven homers in four June starts, after allowing just eight in his other 11 combined.

On the year, Santana has danced around danger by avoiding hard contact. He's given up low line drive rates, and the ball simply hasn't been difficult to track down. Some of that has continued in June, but as the ball has elevated, so too have the numbers.

Santana has actually dropped his line drive rate from 15.5% (4/3-5/29) to 11.4 % (6/3-6/20) as the months have gone on, but the hard hit rate has spiked ever so briefly from 24.5% (4/3-5/29) to 28.8% (6/3-60/20). As the ball has been hit harder, the Twins aced has seen a BABIP go from .143 through the first two months, to .315 in the last one. Giving his fielders less of a chance to help him out, he's also watched his FIP balloon from 4.19 through May to 6.82 in June. The icing on the cake is pretty simply though; the amount of fly balls turning into home runs is incredible. At just 9.2% through May, that number has spiked to 25% in June.

Among qualified starters, only six pitchers have allowed over 20% of fly balls to leave the yard. Of those, only the Yankees Masahiro Tanaka has given up a 25.0% HR/FB rate, and his ERA rests at 6.34. Pretty obviously, allowing one out of every four fly balls to leave the stadium is not a path to success.

Santana is a guy that has seen his fair share of homers allowed, but it's never been an egregious problem for him outside of 2012 with the Angels when he led the league with 39. After giving up 1.0 and 0.9 HR/9 with the Twins each of the past two years, Santana has seen the total swell to 1.4 in 2017, ow the worst mark since that 2012 season. Before June hit, that total was at just 1.0 on the year.

In trying to figure out what has changed, Santana doesn't offer a whole lot of clues. He's allowing less line drives of the past month, and while the hard contact is slightly up, he's actually decreased the flu ball rate by just over 8%. If there is something that jumps off the page however, it's the usage of his pitches.

Through May 29, or his 11th start, Santana was throwing his changeup 14.7% of the time. In the month of June, he's cut that number down to 8.2%. As we can see in comparing his pitch types by count in April/May up against June, the changeup is a pitch he's all but abandoned in multiple scenarios. Not only has he turned away from it in pitcher's counts (namely 2-2 and 1-1), but he's not using it to keep hitters off balance either (3-0, 3-1, 2-1). It's not a pitch he's thrown at 14% over the course of his career, but it is something pitching coach Neil Allen is known for, and an offering that the Twins ace appeared to be having success with.

We could absolutely look back on the month of June late in the season and see it as a blip on the radar. Santana could simply have a confidence issue he's working through, and this could easily be put behind him. It could also end up being a turning point that spoils what began as a very exciting start.

There's no denying that Ervin Santana has always been a pitcher held up by a strong defense. He's capable on his own, and elevates his game by using the guys behind him. When allowing the ball to leave the yard as much as he has however, no one is able to come to the rescue, and things snowball as they have. Whether turning back to the changeup, or finding some other way to right the ship, Minnesota needs Santana to give himself and his fielders a chance.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

2017 Mid-Season Twins Top 15 Prospects

Way back in October 2016, I ranked the Twins Top 15 prospects (found here). While there wasn't a number one prospect in all of baseball like Byron Buxton, there's still a lot to like in the organization from top to bottom. Now with the 2017 Major League Baseball draft behind us, and the minor league slate half over, it's time to reassess the group as a whole.

Going from 15 to 1, the group has seen some movement, and there's been some really strong performances thus far in 2017. We could see a few of these names graduate from the group yet this year, and the Twins could find help internally from the farm. With that said, here we go:

15. Mitch Garver C

Garver just missed out on this list prior to 2017, but has continued to command attention. I opined there was some steam to him making the club out of spring training, and he's probably next in line behind John Ryan Murphy. Garver owns an .808 OPS at Triple-A Rochester in 40 G this season, and has some positional flexibility being able to play 1B as well. He has strong caught stealing numbers, and can defend behind the plate at an above average level. There's reason to believe that Garver should finish the season in Minnesota.

14. Daniel Palka OF

For a time Palka looked like he could push for an early promotion to the big leagues in 2017. His production dipped a bit, and now he's on the DL with a .768 OPS. Power is always going to be his calling card, and he was off to a nice start with eight homers through his first 41 games. The strikeout numbers are only going to rise at the big league level, so he'll have to do more work to draw a consistent amount of walks.

13. Lewis Thorpe SP

Getting back on the mound after missing the past two seasons, Thorpe has picked up where he left off. Through his first four starts at Fort Myers, he owns a 2.12 ERA and a 12.7 K/9 to go with a 2.6 BB/9. He looked good at Cedar Rapids prior to his Tommy John surgery, and it seems he's rebounded well. The Twins will no doubt have the 21 year old on an innings limit (and he's never thrown more than 71.2 IP in a season), so he'll likely end 2017 at High-A.

12. Jake Reed RP

Had he stayed healthy out of the gate, Reed would probably be with the Twins already. He suffered an injury on the final day of spring training, and lost a few months of work. Now back healthy, he made quick work of a brief return to Double-A and is back at Triple-A Rochester. Reed has an electric fastball, and solid movement on his pitches. He's a big league reliever with the ability to move towards the back end of the bullpen.

11. Wander Javier SS

Yet to play in 2017, Javier is likely destined for the GCL. He missed a good amount of time in the Dominican Summer League last year, but remains an incredible physical specimen. Watching him in Fort Myers this spring, I have doubts as to whether he can stick at short simply because of his growth. He's bulked up a good amount, and the power potential already flashes big time. The Twins have no shortage of shortstop prospects, but Javier is among the best of them.

10. Tyler Jay RP

Unfortunately for the former 6th overall pick, health hasn't been something easy to come by. Jay was slated to work solely as a reliever this year, and should be at Triple-A by now at worst. He's on the DL again however, and pitched just two innings at Double-A prior to being shelved. If he can stay on the field, the velocity and stuff play out of the pen, but he needs to get a clean bill of health first.

9. Blayne Enlow SP

Taken with the Twins pick at 76th overall in the 2017 MLB draft, Enlow is a prep pitcher with an arrow pointing straight up. He's got a strong fastball that can sit mid-90's, and a host of different outlets called his curveball among the best in the draft. Enlow should have top of the rotation starter potential for the Twins, and ends up being a great value pick for them.

8. Travis Blankenhorn 3B

Since being selected in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft, all Blankenhorn has done is rise in the Twins prospect ranks. He owns an .804 OPS in 66 games with Cedar Rapids this year, and the power has started to play. With 12 doubles and eight homers already, he's a corner infielder that can drive the ball out of the park. Blankenhorn could push for a late season promotion to the Miracle, and at just 20 years old, he's got plenty of developing left to do.

7. Felix Jorge SP

At the time of this writing, we've already had at least one opportunity where the Twins could've called upon Jorge. Realistically, he probably could use a stop at Triple-A, but making the jump from Chattanooga isn't out of the question. He owns a 3.35 ERA across 13 starts this season, and has compiled a 6.2 K/9 with a 2.5 BB/9. Jorge doesn't have much in the form of strikeout stuff, and he's not going to blow big league hitters away, but he can pitch, and doesn't miss his spots. Expecting him to get a few turns with Minnesota this year is a good bet.

6. Brent Rooker OF/1B

With their first comp pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, the Twins took the SEC Triple Crown winner from Mississippi State. Rooker can hit, and whether or not he can hit at the professional level will determine his fate. 23 already, Minnesota will move him aggressively. He'll be at Fort Myers for the bulk of 2017, and could push for time with the Twins as early as 2018. Finding him a position, either in the corner outfield or at first, remains a question but the bat should be expected to play. The Twins will likely go with a sink or swim approach to Rooker and have a good idea of what they've got quickly, but I believe there's something special here.

5. Alex Kirilloff OF

The 2016 first round pick is missing the season due to Tommy John surgery. After suffering the injury late in the 2016 season and being shut down, it's not ideal how long it took for Minnesota to address the root of the problem. Regardless, Kirilloff has time on his side, and he'll have the success of a strong pro debut in his back pocket. Look for him to make an impact in the lower levels of the farm a year from now.

4. Fernando Romero SP

Quite possibly the Twins lone ace prospect, Romero is one of the most intriguing pitchers in all of minor league baseball. He can push his fastball near triple digits, and the command is something he's beginning to hone in on. With a 3.27 ERA through his first 13 starts for Double-A Chattanooga, he's another guy that the Twins could be looking to bump up a level sooner rather than later.

3. Stephen Gonsalves SP

After getting a late start to the year due to injury, Gonsalves has come out of the gate firing. In six starts, he's posted a solid 3.18 ERA, but more impressive is his 11.1 K/9 and the 2.1 BB/9. Gonsalves had a few bouts of command issues during his initial call to Double-A in 2016, but those appear to be all but behind him. While he may not have the upper 90's fastball, his repertoire puts him in the conversation for a very nice rotation piece in the years to come.

2. Royce Lewis SS

If I was to include Lewis on this list prior to 2017, he'd likely have been number one. He just misses out on the top spot now, but the top pick in the 2017 MLB Draft should make Twins fans salivate. He can hit, hit for power, and field well above average at shortstop. The tools are all there for a star in the making, and while he's no less than four years away from the Twins, he'll be one of the top prospects in baseball for the majority of that time.

1. Nick Gordon SS

There's no Twins prospect that has been more impressive than Gordon in 2017. In his first 64 games at the Double-A Level, he owns an .880 OPS and is batting .315. Gordon has clubbed six homers, doubling his previous career season high, and he's already just two doubles away (21) from tying that career high as well. For someone that was noted as a glove first prospect when he was drafted, he's bounced between second and short, now settling back in at shortstop, and all he has done is rake. I'd still like to see him cut down on the errors, but Gordon is continuing to look more and more like a potential All Star.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Leap To Prevent A Dive: The Twins Looming Decision

The Cleveland Indians came into Target Field and punched the Minnesota Twins right in the mouth. Not only were the Twins swept, but their lead in the AL Central is all but gone. What's worse is that what took place over the weekend (especially Saturday) may happen more often than not. The unfortunate reality is that the Twins just don't have starting options.

For game one of a double-header against arguably the division's best team, the Twins sent out a sacrificial lamb in the form of Adam Wilk. The journeyman lefty has never been given more than 14 innings in an MLB season, and he owns a 7.36 ERA at the big league level. Simply put, he's not qualified to be attempting to retire major league hitters. All of this information was known going into the tilt with the Indians, and there wasn't much Minnesota could do about it.

Sure, Wilk isn't who the Twins would prefer to run out to the mound (he was DFA'd immediately following his outing), but they are sparse on options as well. Already nine starters deep this season, both Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago is currently shelved. There's been talk of both returning as relievers, but that is likely only to mask the sunk cost and unfortunate truth that effectiveness eludes them both.

That leads us to where the Twins currently find themselves. The 2017 season has 95 games left for the Twins, and they're 2.0 games back in a pretty poor division. Realistically though, the playoffs weren't something seen as a possibility coming into the campaign, and the slate thus far has provided quite a bit of surprise. With the window being fully opened (with a few pieces added) in 2018, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have to decide what to do with what's left of 2017.

On the farm, there's a few answers, but development will likely need to come into the question. The largest area of deficiency for the Twins still stands on the mound. Both starting and relief options have been lackluster at best, and the system itself has a few options for the big club to consider.

Adding to the starting options, Double-A includes the trio of Fernando Romero, Felix Jorge, and Stephen Gonsalves. Both Romero and Gonsalves have an injury history, and are likely being monitored for health going forward. They represent no less than middle-of-the-rotation upside, and both (at their best) can be impact arms for Minnesota. Making the leap from Double-A is a steep one however, and a promotion may not be in the cards under more normal circumstances. Jorge can be a back-end big league starter, and while a quick promotion may stunt a little development, he could be argued to be the most ready.

If the Twins weren't in a place where they were having to draw straws for a starter every other night, there's probably no talk of any Double-A arms going anywhere but Triple-A Rochester. Given the circumstances though, the front office must at least consider if it's beneficial to provide a boost to the big league rotation with one of the top arms on the farm. There will be innings limits to monitor, and rough patches to be expected, but the alternatives haven't provided much more upside.

Out of the bullpen, similar scenarios reside for the Twins. Alan Busenitz was finally given a shot, but the farm still holds guys like Trevor Hildenberger, Mason Melotakis, Jake Reed, and John Curtiss. Hildenberger has paid his due at Triple-A and would be a worthy call at this point. Melotakis was recently promoted to Rochester, and probably could've skipped the level. Reed has pitched in Triple-A before, and Curtiss looks the part of a guy that can get big league hitters out.

Each of the aforementioned names have their warts, but the present more upside than a handful of the current relief contingent. The Twins would have less to lose throwing a reliever into a big league scenario than the starters they'd be considering, but the jump is still not one to be taken lightly. The pen is an area that needs vast improvement, and having not signed multiple vet replacements this offseason, it would appear that an influx of youth makes the most sense.

For a team that has a terribly negative run differential, and has been playing above water due in large part to offensive performance, real questions need to be addressed. At this point, I think we can safely rule out any reason for this team to be "buyers" in another month, but they maybe should consider supplementing from within. Although they'd likely have to disregard normal timelines, jump-starting a prospect's career at the big league level could provide benefits for all. If a young arm flops right now, they have knowledge necessary to compete a year from now. If things break right, Minnesota ends up with the needed influx of talent.

What is easily apparent however, is that this club can't continue to shuffle bodies on the mound. They won't play competitive baseball that way, and they aren't building for anything in that scenario either.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Dust Settles On The Twins Draft

Three days and 41 selections later, the Minnesota Twins have concluded their 2017 Major League Baseball draft. Owning the first pick, and being the first team to do so while leading their division since they were in the same spot in 2001, the Twins found themselves in a good spot. Now with the war room disassembled and the picks made, it's hard not to be excited about what Derek Falvey and Thad Levine did in their first crack from the director's chair.

Starting off with the first overall pick, the front office had a clear plan, and it appears they executed it. I opined multiple times on Twitter that the Twins wouldn't spend over $7m regardless of who they took at 1/1. With Royce Lewis, they get an elite athlete that could stick at short, and his the upside of a big league All Star for years to come. In taking him above projection, Minnesota banked slot value to disperse to a few other picks.

Although the Twins would never suggest that it was McKay, Greene, or Wright they preferred over Lewis, there's plenty of reason to believe the prep shortstop was their plan all along. His bat has plus-plus potential, and he offers versatility in being able to play up the middle of the diamond, regardless of it being in center or at short. The makeup is incredible, and while he may not have drawn the nod from many mocks, the tools are indicative of a guy with an arrow pointing straight up.

Following up Lewis with another slam dunk pick, I'm a huge fan of what the Twins did in taking Brent Rooker. After having the privilege to get to know him a bit better, the mentality matches the output. He not only puts up incredible numbers with his bat, but he puts in the work and understanding to have the know-how to keep it going.

Sure, Rooker is going to have to settle into a position (most likely LF or 1B), and he's a bit older at 23. Neither of those things should deter Twins fans though when the guy does what he does at the plate. I'd imagine he'll be assigned to Cedar Rapids from the get go, and we could see him at Target Field sometime in late-2018. Rooker should immediately slot into the Twins top 5 or 6 prospects, and his bat alone makes him a high value pick just outside of the first round.

I won't pretend to know a ton about Canadian right-hander Landon Leach, but I think he has the potential to be a nice arm for the Twins. He drew steam late in the draft process, and sounds like his stuff has the ability to tick upwards while already being relatively strong with command. Touching 95 now as a prep arm, that's a number that should only increase as he continues to grow into his frame.

Thanks to the plan working out in regards to Lewis and positioning, Minnesota found themselves able to select Blayne Enlow and pay him over slot to turn away from a commitment to LSU. He's arguably one of the top arms in the draft, and even higher among those only in the prep ranks. Yes, it'll take time for him to rise through the system, but he gives the Twins another potential top-of-the-rotation type to add to the organization. called Enlow's curveball the best in the draft, and he has a fastball that can get big league hitters out.

Looking at the rest of the draft from a more top down view, I really like the Andrew Bechtold pick in Round 5. He's a strong third basemen that can absolutely hit, and he comes from a Chipola program that is top notch. More value was found in the 6th Round when Minnesota grabbed Ricardo De La Torre. He didn't have a good year, and fell, but getting a one-time first round potential pick this late is great.

The group as a whole did have some surprises. I'm not too terribly shocked that the Twins went college heavy, and where they did go with prep players, the ceiling remains very high. Just three left handed pitchers was a bit low for my liking, but the organization may not have had too many on their radar. I also thought waiting until the 17th round to grab the first catcher was somewhat of a shock, but this draft didn't have a ton of great options there either.

All in all, the Twins should walk away from this class feeling accomplished. Of their first seven or so selections, three or four should slot in among their top 10 prospects in the organization. I'd imagine all will have a place in the top 20, and Royce Lewis immediately becomes the Twins second best prospect for me. I plan on revisiting the top 15 prospect list in the coming weeks, but this club added value back into an organization that needed it.

Right now, it doesn't matter how many young shortstops the Twins have. It doesn't matter how few pitchers they can turn to. Honestly, the biggest thing that needed to happen in the draft, was Minnesota rejuvenate the farm, and they did that. Adding young, high ceiling, talent always has to be the goal. Figuring out how to utilize it, whether that being through trades or otherwise, can always come later. In their first go round, both Falvey and Levine should feel good about what took place.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Hailing From State, Twins Pick Brent Rooker

With their second pick in the 2017 Major League Baseball draft, the Minnesota Twins selected Brent Rooker from Mississippi State. He's one of the most exciting hitters in the country, and he's a guy the Twins targeted in 2016 as well. I had the opportunity to catch up with him, and get a little more insight into the process and his game.

Rooker was absolutely incredible for the Bulldogs this season. He batted a robust .387/.495/.810 along with 30 doubles, three triples, 23 homers, 82 RBI, and a solid 58/48 K/BB rate. Playing in the SEC, he was raking against some of the best pitchers in the nation, on a nightly basis. After heading back to college following a 38th round selection by Minnesota a year ago, he became a Twin with the 35th overall pick.

I reached out to Brent and had a few questions for him. Prior to him signing on the dotted line for the Twins and heading to his first stop as a pro, here's a little insight into the newest Twins slugger.

Off The Baggy: You've been drafted by the Twins each of the last two years. Obviously the 30 plus round jump says plenty, but what do you see as the biggest difference in you as a player now compared to a year ago?

Brent Rooker: I really grew and matured as a hitter. I have a sense of how to formulate advanced game plans pitch by pitch, which gives me the best chance to be successful. The conviction to a specific plan and ability to execute that plan is something that I struggled with last year. 

OTB: At Mississippi State, you put up video game like numbers at the plate. Explain your approach to hitting, and what you see as being the most challenging at the next level?

BR: I like to be aggressive in the box and look to do damage with every swing. I think my power is my best tool and I need to do everything I can to utilize it as much as possible. Obviously the higher you make it in baseball the better the arms get, so just being able to continue to adjust and compete with elite arms is gonna be a big key.

OTB: Coming off a successful 2017 season with the Bulldogs, what has most prepared you to make the jump to the professional level?

BR: The daily grind of the SEC is something that I was very blessed to be able to be a part of. It's the best conference in the country and we see top 3 round arms every single weekend. It's that kind of competition that I think has really prepared me for pro ball.

OTB: It's the batting numbers that pop off the page, but what are some of the other aspects of your game you think set you apart?

 I think my mental preparation allows me to have a lot of success. I take scouting reports and game planning for pitchers very seriously as well as focusing on putting my self in the best mental state for success.

OTB: What do you know about the Twins organization? Have you been to Target Field, or Minnesota in general?

BR: I've never been to Minnesota but I know that it's an outstanding organization with tons of talent from top to bottom. I couldn't be more excited to get started.

The Twins tweeted out a video of you getting the call, what was the draft experience like for you?

BR: The draft experience was amazing. Being surrounded by my friends and family when I got that call and fulfilled a lifelong dream was a surreal moment that I'll never forget. 

Congratulations again to Brent, and this begins the start of what should be a long and exciting professional career.

Keeping Up With Twins Picks

The 2017 Major League Baseball draft is well underway, and the Minnesota Twins are working towards building up their farm system. Looking for impact players that turn into long term prospects, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine get their first shot at running the show. Through the process, it's the players selected that watch their lives change in an instant, and keeping up with them is what makes this process fun.

As the draft continues, and eventually concludes, you'll be able to find the names, schools, and channels to connect with these future Twins right here. Welcome them to Twins Territory, get to know their story, and dive into how they can help the organization take the next step.

Here we go...

Round 1, Pick 1- Royce Lewis SS JSerra Catholic High School Interview
Competitive Balance A, Pick 35- Brent Rooker OF Mississippi State @Brent_Rooker19 Interview
Round 2, Pick 37- Landon Leach RHP Pickering High School @l_leach Interview
Round 3, Pick 76- Blayne Enlow RHP St. Amant High School @BlayneBlaynee Interview
Round 4, Pick 106- Charlie Barnes LHP Clemson @charliebarnes5
Round 5, Pick 136- Andrew Bechtold 3B Chipola College @bechtold5
Round 6, Pick 166- Ricardo De La Torre SS Puerto Rico Baseball Academy @rdelatorre_1
Round 7, Pick 196- Ryley Widell LHP Central Arizona College @ryleyr002
Round 8, Pick 226- Bryan Sammons LHP Western Carolina @bryan_sammons32
Round 9, Pick 256- Mark Contreras OF UC Riverside
Round 10, Pick 286- Calvin Faucher RHP UC Irvine
Round 11, Pick 316- Gabriel Rodriguez OF Adela Rolon Fuentes
Round 12, Pick 346- Bailey Ober RHP College of Charleston @baileyOB_17
Round 13, Pick 376- Jared Akins OF Fresno State @jaredalexanderr
Round 14, Pick 406- Derek Molina RHP Merced Col @_derekmolina22
Round 15, Pick 436- Rickey Ramirez RHP Fresno State
Round 16, Pick 466- Cade Smith RHP Mennonite Educational Inst
Round 17, Pick 496- Andrew Cosgrove C North Carolina State @thekidcosgrove
Round 18, Pick 526- Colton Burns CF UC Santa Barbara @Coltonburnss
Round 19, Pick 556- Jordan Gore SS Coastal Carolina @jordangore3
Round 20, Pick 586- Tyler Gray RHP U Central Arkansas @tgray08
Round 21, Pick 616- Colton Waltner C University of San Diego @ColtonWaltner25
Round 22, Pick 646- Christian Broussard RHP Cal St Los Angeles
Round 23, Pick 676- Jared Finkel RHP Iona Col
Round 24, Pick 706- T.J. Dixon OF Samford U @tdixon_2
Round 25, Pick 736- Carson Crites 2B Southeastern Louisiana U @CarsonCrites
Round 26, Pick 766- Jordan Spicer RHP Polk State College @IAMJaySpice
Round 27, Rick 796- Chandler Taylor RF Alabama @7aylor_Made
Round 28, Pick 826- Joe Record RHP UC Santa Barbara @JoeRecord_
Round 29, Pick 856- Griffin Roberts RHP Wake Forest @Griff_Roberts
Round 30, Pick 886- Alex Robles RHP Austin Peay @R_Alex5
Round 31, Pick 916- Luke Miller 3B Indiana
Round 32, Pick 946- Nick Brown RHP Col of William and Mary
Round 33, Pick 976- J.J. Robinson 1B Lewis-Clark St Col
Round 34, Pick 1006- Max Meyer RHP Woodbury High School @mxmeyer22
Round 35, Pick 1036- Adam Oviedo SS Alvarado High School @adam_oviedo
Round 36, Pick 1066- Josh McMinn RHP Oral Roberts U @JoshM_OK
Round 37, Pick 1096- Patrick Bailey C Wesleyan Christian Academy
Round 38, Pick 1126- Benjamin Rodriguez C Pepperdine U
Round 39, Pick 1156- Jonny DeLuca OF Agoura High School
Round 40, Pick 1186- Austin Bizzle RHP Alabama St U @BizNasty_8

Monday, June 12, 2017

Defense Remains Answer For Twins

Way back in November, I wrote that the Twins number one priority before the 2017 season should be to sign a legitimate catcher. With Kurt Suzuki on his way out, they needed someone that could command the game behind the plate. Jason Castro brought that, and has helped in being an answer to the Twins pitching woes. The other part of the equation is the defensive mastery Minnesota has shown, and it continues to be the narrative in 2017.

Right now, we are through just 59 games in the 2017 season, and the Twins have already used eight different starting pitchers and 23 total arms. Of those starters, only Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios have an ERA south of 4.00. Three pitchers, all of which were in the Opening Day rotation (Hughes, Gibson, and Santiago), have started at least nine games with ERA's north of 5.00. Among Twins starters, only Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia are truly striking anyone out.

In short, the summary of the Twins starting staff remains relatively status quo. It's a group of guys that don't get the ball by many big leaguers, and the final spots are interchangeable as the club looks for someone to stick. Because of the strong performances by both Santana and Berrios however, Minnesota is 13th in the MLB when it comes to starter ERA. Given where the club has been in recent seasons, that's a significant leap forward.

The story hasn't been great in the bullpen either. With eight different starters being used, the Twins have turned to 15 different pen arms already. The group has compiled a 5.48 ERA, dead last in all of baseball. Right now, there's still room to cycle guys in, and with the likes of Matt Belisle and Criag Breslow struggling, 40 man roster moves could be coming as well.

Really what Minnesota is showing us, is that the results are indicative of minor tweaks, rather than a completely redone process. A year ago, the Twins used 11 different starters and a club record, 29 different pitchers. I'd bet we get by the latter number, but this club is currently in first place. 2016 was a perfect storm of failed expectations across the board. In deciding to look at catching and defense, Minnesota has masked what otherwise could've been another disastrous pitching season.

It's relatively difficult to quantify Jason Castro's presence behind the plate, but it's not hard to see. He commands the zone as good as anyone in the big league's, and he's been a welcomed presence for pitcher's that have really needed him at times. His framing skills are heralded, but the effect he has on a game goes deeper. With a 39% caught stealing percentage, the running game has been mitigated to a certain extent, and pitchers are more easily able to focus on the task at hand.

When you get to the fielders, the Twins are much more than just Byron Buxton in center field. With 27 DRS on the season, Minnesota is second in baseball (Red have 34 DRS) when it comes to saving runs, Looking at UZR, Minnesota checks in right behind the Reds (19.1) with an 18.1 mark. Given the ranger of players not only in the outfield, but Joe Mauer at first base, the club is getting to more balls than the vast majority of big league clubs. Although their pitchers are still struggling to get the ball by hitters, it being put in play is no longer a detriment.

Each time you look at the Twins having to cycle out a pitcher and bring someone else in, there's a bit of gloom that sets over someone not living up to expectations. In 2017 though, the pitching staff is just a small cog in an otherwise well-oiled machine. This organization couldn't say that a year ago, as the total of its parts were a mess. Right now, the Twins can plug in multiple options on the mound, and be confident in the guy behind the dish, and the seven fielders on the diamond.

At some point, Minnesota can significantly raise the water level by adding some impact pitching. Whether that's through the draft, trades, or free agency, a big time starter or two will only advance this club further. For now though, the pitching is just a part of the puzzle, and while the job is lackluster at times, the sum of all parts equals a really positive result.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hector Santiago Has Derailed For Twins

After the month of April, Hector Santiago turned the calendar owning a 2.43 ERA for the Minnesota Twins. He'd made five starts and owned a 2-1 record for his efforts. Given the results, there may have even been a line of people ready to question whether or not he was an "ace." Then reality set in, and regression hasn't just gone towards the mean for Santiago, it's been straight up mean to him.

Early on in the season, Santiago danced around danger, and has peripheral numbers that suggested his career norms were much more indicative of who he was. Despite the sparkling ERA, his FIP still didn't view him kindly, and a .276 BABIP seemed to be doing him wonders as well. For a sinkerballer that gives up a ton of longballs, Santiago had allowed just two, and had done a good job of avoiding damage.

Fast forward to where we are now, and Hector Santiago has made eight more appearances (seven starts). The results have been nothing short of ugly. There's the 7.64 ERA, the .910 OPS against, an ugly 24/20 K/BB ratio, and a ridiculous 12 HR allowed in just 35.1 IP. Still compiling just a .255 BABIP, Santiago is just watching his mistakes blow up as the ball leaves the park. What's even more worrisome, is we probably haven't seen the slide quit.

With a 5.84 FIP, Santiago is actually still being afforded a better ERA (5.26) thanks to the fielding prowess behind him. It's a sad turn of events, but given that his FIP of 5.31 in 2016 was present (5.82 FIP with Minnesota), there's not much room to suggest it couldn't be seen coming. The Twins hurler is on pace to allow a career worst 38 homers, and with all of the runners he's put on board, it's only going to balloon the numbers across the board.
Opposing hitters are spraying the ball to all fields against Santiago

There's a lot to unpack with Santiago when it comes to his troubles. Chief among them may be just how often Santiago gets behind in the count. He's allowed batters to be ahead in 146 of 285 plate appearances on the season, and he's surrendered a ball before a strike on 127 different occasions. Because of his inability to get ahead, and the relative lack of plus stuff, opposing hitters are also clubbing a whopping 1.156 OPS off of him when swinging at the first pitch. Thanks to the results, he's struck fear in no one, and batters step into the box ready for the early mistake.

Maybe somewhat of an oddity, the platoon splits have also been a detriment to Santiago in 2017 as well. For his career, righties have compiled a .742 OPS off of him while lefties have worked a .703 OPS. That number in 2017 rises substantially on one side of the box. While righties own just a .611 OPS in 234 PAs this season, the 51 lefties to face him have totaled a ridiculous 1.609 OPS. He has a negative (5/10) K/BB to same handed batters, and six of his 14 long balls have come at their doing, despite having just under 1/4 of the PAs righties have seen.

Of the 65 base hits against Santiago, 15 have been barreled (23%)
Another underlying cause is no doubt a dip in velocity. Since 2011, Santiago has lost roughly one mph on his fastball speed each year. In 2017, he's averaged just 89.4 mph on the pitch, and with the lack of plus movement, it's getting hit. He's actually decreased his sinker usage about 4% while deferring to his slider a bit more, but with just a 7.4% swing strike rate, he's still not fooling anyone.

Santiago's contact rates all remain in line with career norms, as do his walk and strikeout rates. The numbers don't suggest that there's any one point in the at bat that has dramatically changed in favor of opposing hitters. What seems to be happening is a perfect storm of a pitcher getting behind, with mediocre stuff, and allowing every instance of getting burned to be significantly detrimental.

Coming into 2017, I wasn't a big fan of offering Santiago arbitration. He's making $8 million this year (which is more like $12 million given the $4 million Minnesota had to pay the Angels for Ricky Nolasco), and there was very little room for any upside. He'll be a free agent come 2018, and there's next to no reason for him to remain within the Twins organization. It's fair to suggest that other options to take Santiago's rotation spot may have been lackluster, but at a lower cost, they could've been more easily jettisoned or shuffled.

At this point, Hector Santiago is a 29 year old pitcher so far removed from his 2015 All Star season, that it must appear another dimension away. His velocity has waned, the homers have spiked, and nobody steps into the batter's box thinking they won't have their way with him. The Twins are going to have to weather this storm for a while. He could be placed on the DL, or even DFA'd (can't see them eating that much money though), but there's no one ready to claim his spot either. It's a bed the organization made, and now their being forced to sleep in it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Did The Twins Clone A Marlin?

At age 24, Max Kepler has now played 167 major league baseball games. The German-born product has a full season of big league experience under his belt, and the $800k investment Minnesota made in him looks to be paying off. When projecting what he could be in the future, there's one player that I can't seem to get out of my head. Enter the Marlins Christian Yelich.

I began making this comparison back in March of 2016, suggesting that Kepler could be a better version of the Marlins outfielder, or if nothing else, a very similar player. Now through 51 games in 2017, we're starting to see that come to fruition. Yelich was a top 25 prospect in all of baseball prior to 2013, while Kepler check into the top 50 just once (and only among two national outlets). However, their skillsets seem quite similar, as do their frames, and the numbers are starting to bear that out.

Through June 6, Chistian Yelish owns a .270/.348/.407 slash line with 14 extra base hits, seven of which have been homers. He's worked a 40/23 K/BB ratio, and he's driven in 25 runners. On the flip side, Max Kepler has compiled a .269/.348/.462 line in 2017, along with 21 extra base hits, also of which seven are homers. He owns a 40/21 K/BB ratio and has 25 RBIs to his credit.

Opening up the hood just a bit further, the underlying peripherals are all virtually the same as well. To illustrate just how close we're talking, take a look at some of these numbers:

Yelich- 9.7 BB% 16.8 K% 33.9 Hard% 24.1 O-Swing% 81.6 Contact% 7.8 SwStr%
Kepler- 10.0 BB% 19.0 K% 37.4 Hard% 24.9 O-Swing% 77.9 Contact% 9.1 SwStr%
When looking at their spray charts, things continue to remain in line. Sure, Kepler pulls the ball to right field a bit more, but he is also a bit more uneven in his splits against opposite handed pitchers. While facing righties, Kepler owns a .901 OPS compared to a .463 OPS against lefties. Yelich remains more balanced with a .768 OPS against righties and a .665 OPS against lefties. For the most part however, they continue to work the same.

Defensively, things remain comparable as well. In 2017, Yelich has operated solely as the Marlins centerfielder, moving over from left. Kepler has played mainly right field for the Twins, but has sprinkled in some time in center. To date, Yelich has been worth 4 DRS with a UZR of 3.0 and RngR factor of 4.7. Kepler has compiled 7 DRS for Minnesota while totaling a 4.0 UZR and a 2.3 RngR factor. A season ago, both players checked in with UZR totals right around 0.0, while being worth 6 DRS apiece.

So, what do we make of it all, other than the Twins might have their own version of Christian Yelich? Well, at this point, that doesn't mean all that much. Yelich is a really nice player, and he's got a Gold Glove to his credit, but the accolades pretty much end there. In 2016, he did win a Silver Slugger and came in 19th among the NL MVP voting. He's never been an All Star, and while being a household name, he's not necessarily regarded as among the best in the game.

While no doubt overshadowed by his teammate Byron Buxton, Max Kepler is in the conversation with Aaron Judge defensively among right fielders. Unfortunately Mookie Betts exists and is running away with Gold Glove consideration for AL right fielders, but Kepler should be a finalist at the end. He's always going to have stiff competition for Silver Slugger awards, but he very realistically could be a 20/10 or even 20/20 guy (with work on the basepaths).

Given what was expected of Yelich coming up as a prospect, and the arc of his career thus far (he just started for Team USA in the WBC), allowing Minnesota to have their own version is far from something the Twins would scoff at. Kepler is not all that far removed from a .734 OPS in 113 games during his first big league season, but as he's settled in, the height of his play has risen as well.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had to be salivating at the opportunity to build a core around Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, but Max Kepler is far more than a throw in. We're seeing him turn into a legitimate name in this league, and it may just be the beginning.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Twins Home Run Hitters Not Created Equal

In 2016, the Minnesota Twins slogged through what was undoubtedly among the toughest seasons to endure in franchise history. Over 100 losses, not much competitive play, and a season that can be classified as nothing short of lost. If there was a silver lining though, it was Brian Dozier and his 42 home runs. In 2017, we're seeing it again, but from a player that's doing it his own way.

Last year, Brian dozier became the first player to hit 40 or more home runs in a season for the Twins, not named Harmon Killebrew. He went from hitting 18 in 2013, to hanging around in the 20's each of the next two seasons, to exploding for 42. At points, it seemed his swing had become defiant. He was going to pull everything, it wasn't necessarily working, and it may have been a problem. He then got hot, popped off a bunch of long balls over the summer, and became the most coveted second basemen in baseball.

Fast forward to 2017, and Minnesota Twins third basemen Miguel Sano has 14 homers through the first 53 games. Interestingly enough, that's a pace of 43 homers on the year, or the same number Dozier would've had without Minnesota watching a game they started be wiped out by rain. Despite a similar trajectory to Dozier from a year ago, the Twins hulking slugger from the Dominican couldn't be going about his power in a more different way.

Some key numbers from Dozier's 2016 include a 34.7 Hard%, a 20.0 K%, and an 8.8 BB%. Dozier also posted an 18.4 HR/FB% and yanked the ball to left field 56.4% of the time. To summarize, the Twins second basemen generated power by being a dead pull hitter while also experiencing a good deal of gap contact.

The numbers for Sano couldn't be more of a stark contrast. This season, he owns a 52.0 Hard%, and has paired it with a 37.1 K% and 15.2 BB%. His HR/FB rate is 30.4% and he's pulling the ball just 40% of the time. Sano is a three true outcomes hitter, that is hitting bombs and getting on base by just destroying the baseball.

On the season, Miguel Sano is pacing the big leagues with a 96.6 mph average exit velocity. A year ago, Brian Dozier's average exit velocity was just 87.5 mph, sandwiched between James McCann and Josh Reddick. For each of the balls that Sano sends deep into the night, Dozier was scraping the flower pots at Target Field. Sano is also averaging a big league best, 241 ft on balls he puts in play. Dozier's average distance last year was 192 ft.

You can make a pretty obvious guess that Sano has sprayed homers to all fields more than Dozier did a season ago. Given that the latter is classified as being a dead pull hitter, it's not surprising to see the differences in their spray charts. Sano has gone to the opposite field and used dead center more already in his first 14 homers, than Dozier did all of 2016. What's maybe more interesting is in the quality of contact.

The expectation should be that solid contact is a necessity when it comes to hitting a home run. What's not a given however, is whether or not the ball was barreled on the bat. It's in utilizing the barrel that a hitter sees the long and powerful home runs. Looking at their comparisons, not only did Dozier not barrel all of his homers, but the vast majority fall very borderline on the spectrum. It helps to explain the differences our eyes suggest in just how the home run is being produced.

Given everything we've dissected here, the goal isn't to classify one players as more of a home run hitter than the other. The difference however, may be in terms of sustainability, and projectability. While Dozier was primed to come back to earth this year, and likely sit somewhere in the 20's when the dust settled, it's fair to project Sano for 35-40 homers a year for the foreseeable future. Power is something that comes natural to Miguel Sano, while Brian Dozier has generated his on his own accord.

Having now looked at what 42 homers looks like, and what a 43 home run pace suggests, it's exciting to see the Twins employ both a guy who's created his own power stroke, and one who is simply using the tools already afforded to him. Miguel Sano is going to destroy baseballs for quite some time, and Twins fans should sit back and enjoy the show.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Twins Sending A Message With New Arm

After the debacle that was the Minnesota Twins series with the Houston Astros, it was apparent that a lackluster bullpen needed and overhaul. The club had shuffled deck chairs too often this season, and there wasn't much room for error to begin with. In one of the moves that was made, we might be able to get a better understanding for what could be to come in regards to roster construction.

When the dust settled as Houston left town, the Twins bullpen had given up 28 runs (27 earned) on 29 hits in just nine innings. They struck out only three opposing hitters and issued 10 free passes. Any way you cut it, that's an implosion. Jason Wheeler was DFA'd, and Ryan Pressly was optioned to Triple-A Rochester. With two open spots, the Twins needed some revamping.

The brain trust turned to Alex Wimmers, and a surprise, Randy Rosario.

To be fair, Wimmers represents the same deck chair philosophy that I referenced above. Not meant as a shot at him whatsoever, he's a feel good story to be sure, he's just not going to move the needle in a big league pen. Wimmers is a failed starter, and a bust of a former first round pick. He threw 17.1 IP for the Twins in 2016, and posted a 4.15 ERA combined with a 7.3 K/9 and 5.7 BB/9. Expecting him to come into the pen and provide much of a boost is probably a stretch.

It's in the second transaction, the promotion of Randy Rosario, that is one of serious intrigue. Rosario was added to the 40 man roster prior to the 2016 season. He's a 23 year old lefty, and can push his fastball into the mid-90s. Over the course of seven minor league seasons, he's worked at least as a part-time starter all but this year. To his name however, he has thrown just 29.2 IP above Single-A, with 23.2 IP of that coming in 2017.

At Double-A Chattanooga this year, Rosario has posted a 1.90 ERA. He's limited damage by walking batters at just a 2.3 BB/9 clip, and he's tallied strikeouts at a 7.6 K/9 rate. Hits have been hard to come by off of him as well, regardless of the batter's handedness, given he's allowed just a .486 OPS to righties and a .490 OPS to lefties. In short, he's among the most promising arms the Twins have had in relief this season.

When Mariana Guzman of Twins Latinos broke the Rosario call up news, it came as a surprise. Sure, he's on the 40 man roster, but for a guy with such limited experience in higher levels of the minors, it could be classified as an aggressive move. Given the pairing with Wimmers however, it's worth speculating if Derek Falvey and Thad Levine gave Molitor one of his guys (Wimmers) and one of their choosing (Rosario).

There was a few reports out of Fort Myers that Molitor had campaigned for Wimmers to make the 25 man roster. He had a nice spring, and Molitor apparently preferred him over Michael Tonkin. Making the move at the same time, it's certainly worth wondering if Falvey and Levine are picking their spots with this group.

It probably could be argued that the expectation for extra arms would include one of Trevor Hildenberger or Alan Busenitz. Both have been very good at Triple-A, and seemingly could provide an upgrade at the big league level. Dipping down to Double-A though, maybe John Curtiss enters the picture sooner rather than later, and there's plenty of big name starters to keep an eye on now. Fernando Romero and Stephen Gonsalves could be inserted in the rotation sooner rather than later, and if the Rosario move is any indication, when Falvey and Levine deem they're ready, it won't matter what level they are at.

Coming into 2017, Molitor is under a lame-duck contract. He's being felt out by the front office, and it's much less about the results, than it is the process, that will eventually determine his future. As he continues to champion for certain players, make in game decisions, and interact with his new bosses, his fate going forward will be etched out. For now, that's too far off to be thinking about. What's in front of us though, is a GM that's not unwilling to get help from talent at whatever rung oif the organization it may reside.

Randy Rosario could be just the start, and the move is a linchpin into a narrative that's worth dissecting as the summer draws on.