Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Who Are The Twins Adding In September?
To refresh, virtually the only stipulation for September roster expansion is that any player called up must be on the team's 40 man roster. While clubs are being given an additional 15 roster spots, they obviously will not have that many openings on their 40 man. For example, the Twins currently have a full 40 man roster, so anyone promoted that's not currently on it, would make another move necessary.
First, let's take a look at how the Twins can clear some space. There's not a ton of options for the club, but the most likely would be transferring players on the 10-day DL to the 60-day. The problem for Minnesota is that there isn't a ton of options.
Both Adalberto Mejia and Dietrich Enns could be shifted to the longer DL if the club doesn't expect them back. J.T. Chargois has had virtually a lost season, but he's not on the MLB DL, so there's no way to clear a spot involving him outside of a DFA, which isn't logical. The Twins could clear space by DFA'ing players like Buddy Boshers or Hector Santiago, but none of those instances seem entirely likely either. So from a top down view, the Twins are looking at maybe one or two spots on the 40 man being open.
To fill those spots, I'd wager Jake Reed and Stephen Gonsalves appear the most likely. The Rochester Red Wings are currently battling for a playoff spot, and with the likelihood that both would be used out of the pen for Minnesota, I can't imagine a promotion prior to the Triple-A season coming to an end. Reed can definitely help the big club in relief, and should've been up a long time ago if not for an injury to start the year. Gonsalves is going to be a difference maker in the coming years, and while his value is as a starter, getting his feet wet in 2017 is hardly a bad thing.
Looking at what's currently available on the 40 man roster, there seems to be a few more candidates worthy of a promotion. Boshers seems much more certain to rejoin the big club than to be DFA'd, and both Aaron Slegers and Nik Turley should join him. Slegers could be a spot starter down the stretch, while Turley profiles well in relief. Despite being on the 40 man and previously making the jump, I'm not sure there's much allure to bringing either Felix Jorge or Randy Rosario back up. Like Gonsalves, Fernando Romero is an impact starter for the Twins future, but with a workload well above previous seasons, and slowing of late, I'd just call his season quits.
From a position player perspective, there's only two players not on the active roster that are possibilities. Engelb Vielma is a glove first shortstop in the same vein as Ehire Adrianza. With Adrianza already used sparingly, and Vielma hitting just .212 in 84 Triple-A games, I can't imagine it worthwhile to ask him to sit on the Twins bench. From a bat perspective, Daniel Palka makes some sense. He's an outfielder by trade, but survives as a slugging hitter. He's a lefty, not the righty that the Twins need, but he owns a .272/.324/.428 slash line in 78 games for Rochester this year. He's a power threat, and adding another pinch hitter for the final month is hardly a big issue.
The way I see it, Minnesota has very little space to create room, and they don't have a ton of candidates needing a call up either. I think we see more players return to the big league club, than we see fresh faces. Also, despite the big league club taking precedence, I'd be far from shocked if we don't see a few players hold out at Triple-A until and Postseason run is concluded.
If I had to handicap things right now, here's who I see coming up, and the likelihood that they do:
Buddy Boshers 100%
Nik Turley 100%
Aaron Slegers 80%
Jake Reed 60%
Stephen Gonsalves 55%
Daniel Palka 50%
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
The Other Twins Breakout
August has been an exciting month for the Minnesota Twins. While they have continued to command the second American League Wild Card spot, they've also watched Byron Buxton continue an incredible breakout. Despite all of the praise he's garnering, there's another youngster commanding your attention. Enter 24 year-old, Jorge Polanco.
On June 7, the Twins placed Polanco on the bereavement list. His grandfather had passed away, and the Minnesota shortstop was set to return home to be with family. There's been plenty written about the relationship Polanco had with his grandfather. A close friend, Polanco leaned on his elder as a father figure, and respected him very much.
Upon returning to the diamond, it was almost as if the emotions were continuing to take their toll on him. In 32 games following his return to the lineup, Polanco had hit the skids. He posted a .146/.205/.214 slash line, and he had just five extra base hits over that time frame. For a guy who's bat had always been his calling card, his line had bottomed out at .213/.265/.308.
Then, as the calendar turned to August, Polanco had also seemingly turned a page. Over the course of his last 24 games dating back to August 2, the Twins shortstop owns a .378/.411/.656 line with 15 extra base hits and four longballs. He has been a catalyst for a Twins lineup that is surging, and he's seen his efforts rewarded being bumped up to the third spot in the order. A bat first player, Polanco had once again regained his swagger.
It's incredibly hard to deduce what, if any, impact the passing of his grandfather had on his game. It is fair to note that baseball is an extremely mental sport, and for a guy struggling at his profession, there was probably other things weighing on his mind. Out of minor league options, Polanco was likely spared from a fate that could have had him back at Triple-A Rochester. Instead, he wrestled through his own struggles, and has gotten back to the player Minnesota has always expected him to be.
On the season now, Polanco owns a .253/.300/.390 slash line. While the .689 OPS still sags behind the .757 mark from a year ago, it's a microcosm of how far he had fallen off the wagon. After looking like a player that may need some seasoning to get things back in line, he now appears to be the impact bat that can continue to help Minnesota stave off regression.
What's maybe most impressive when it comes to Polanco, is that he's gotten back on the horse while never truly falling off with the glove. There hasn't ever been much concern with Polanco's ability to hit, but him sticking at short in the big leagues has always been met with skepticism. Now through 130 games in 2017, Polanco has played 860.2 innings at short. In total, he's been worth an even 0 DRS while improving his UZR to -3.7 (from -10.9 in 2016) and increasing his RngR to 1.7 after a -5.5 mark a year ago.
Given the inefficiencies of defensive metrics, numbers aren't nearly the be-all-end-all. What they do tell us however, is that Polanco is hardly a detriment. He doesn't cover the ground you'd necessarily hope for from a shortstop, but his range is above average, and he is hovering right at replacement level when it comes to runs saved. Given the demands of the shortstop position, and the amount of elite gloves that play there, he's been far more an asset than a detriment.
With just over 30 games left for Minnesota, Polanco is putting it together at the right time. His bat is scalding, and while it will see some slowing down the stretch, expecting it to level off to career norms is hardly a negative. On defense, he's continued to toe the line, and that's probably a bit better than was expected.
Over the course of his career, whether or not he has to make a move to second base, the trajectory continues to be an upwards one. Polanco is a guy that should continue to be mentioned among the core of Buxton and Sano. The youth movement has not only begun, but has taken shape, and allows the Twins to be thought of in a different light for the immediate future. This team is going to make waves in the AL Central and beyond; this 2017 run is only the beginning.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Everything Breaking Right For Twins
Going into 2017, I felt pretty confident that something in the upper 70's seemed like a realistic win total for Minnesota. A .500 record seemed doable, if not a best case scenario, but a certainty to bank on was the floor not once again dropping out. Fast forward to late August and the hometown nine is within striking distance of the division, and pacing a tight knit group for the second Wild Card spot. The results have no doubt been a culmination of 120 plus games of solid baseball, but right now, something different is taking place.
Looking ahead, the 2018 Twins appear to be a team that should target the Postseason or bust. With the maturation of the youth, integration of the veterans, and the landscape of their division, it's a perfect storm. That all held relatively true regardless of what took place this season. Over the past few weeks however, it's been a tying of the old guard, and the new, that has really positioned Minnesota to crack a smile.
As of this writing, Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario are all pacing Minnesota at the same time. Hot streaks tend to come and go, but each of the aforementioned names have seen a consistent and sustained level of success over a period of weeks. While it's great on an individual basis, it's also explained why the Twins have been so able to fight off regression. It's fair to wonder whether one may cool off, but with the chips stacked as five players go off at the same time, there's definitely some room for error.
Each player could have an entire post dedicated to their surge, but from a snapshot view, here's what we're looking at from the names above since the month of August kicked off:
- Brian Dozier .333/.429/.702 12 XBH 9 HR
- Joe Mauer .303/.379/.395 5 XBH 1 HR
- Jorge Polanco .382/.417/.647 10 XBH 3 HR
- Byron Buxton .316/.349/.566 9 XBH 4 HR
- Eddie Rosario .346/.375/.679 13 XBH 7 HR
That group above accounts for over half of the Twins nightly lineup. Given the fact that their combined average is well north of .300, and they have produced a glut of extra base hits, it's no wonder why the Minnesota offense is clicking. There's some like Rosario and Buxton that have sustained it longer than others, but the goal is to try and continue to increase the sample size for each of the parties involved.
Quite possibly the best news about the group currently putting the Twins ahead on a nightly basis, are the names it doesn't include. Miguel Sano has been scuffling since the All Star Break (and is currently on the DL), while Max Kepler has yet to really find a groove in 2017. In it's entirety, that full contingent of seven players remain with Minnesota not only for this year, but at least the one that lies ahead as well.
It'd be foolish to suggest that Minnesota is a World Series contender in its current state. As we've seen as 2017 has drawn on though, this team is ready to make some waves. The offseason ahead provides some real opportunity to supplement a strong nucleus, and continuing to get production from a blend of player types will have a Derek Falvey and Thad Levine squad as must watch entertainment.
At some point in the not so distant future, it's a good bet there will be some cooling off. The hope would be that opponents fall victim to the same situation. Given the lay of the land however, the Twins have the deck stacked in their favor right now, and that's not a bad situation to be in at all.
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Buxton Turning To Process In Redefining Results
Despite continuing to play otherworldly defense, Buxton was once again scuffling at the big league level. Despite raking at every stop along the way, he just couldn't put it together for the Twins. With only 5 extra base hits through 30 games, and a 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio, things were all going downhill. From the outside looking in, it's not as if there was a point in which things clicked, but small tweaks along the way have now narrated a different story.
Fast forward to August 21, and Buxton is batting .243 with a .682 OPS. It's still a far cry from where he'd like to be, but there's no denying the massive jump in production. He's in the midst of a 12 game hitting streak (.400/.408/.800) and owns a .366/.402/.6123 line in 27 games dating back to July 4th. While the production in and of itself are fun to marvel at, it's worth digging to see what changes took place.
Having both added and abandoned the leg kick multiple times over his career with the Twins, Buxton's swing has been a work in progress. At times, he's struggled with plate coverage, and a weak front side has prevented him from reaching and driving the outside pitch. He's continued to work with new hitting coach James Rowson to find something that works, and as the results come, so to does the comfortability. Outside of the physical changes though, we can eye a few trends that have yielded positive results.
Through April, Buxton had a swinging strike rate of 16.1% and was making contact just 65.3% of the time. Both of those numbers are lackluster, and combining them with a 31.8% chase rate, there was little room for success to follow. Jump ahead to August, and Buxton has overhauled two of those three areas. He's swinging through just 11.4% of pitches, and his contact rate has jumped to 76.9%. He's still chasing often, now 34.8% of the time, but it would stand to argue that the reason isn't because he's being fooled.
Like teammate Eddie Rosario, Buxton is somewhat of a free swinger. Now generating more contact and having an enhanced level of success, he's likely finding himself expand the strike zone on pitches he genuinely likes. While that still isn't going to produce ideal results, it's a better practice than flailing the bat head at pitches you've simply been fooled on. In fact, what Buxton's chase rate illustrates, is that his approach at the plate is still a work in progress, and there's even more to squeeze out when it comes to production.
There have been times throughout Buxton's maturation at the plate he's struggled with different zones of coverage. Whether it be not having the ability to turn on the inside fastball, or to drive the outside breaking pitch, plate coverage was a by-product of a breakdown in swing mechanics. As those have begun to correct themselves, the Twins centerfielder has seen an uptick across the board. The next step for him is to settle in even further on pitch recognition, and hit balls in the zone he choose, rather than the ones opposing pitchers dictate to him.
As the confidence has grown, the output has turned more favorable as well. Looking at the first two months of the season in comparison to the last three, quality has taken a significant leap forward. Rather than dribbling balls into the ground, Buxton has generated quality contact with launch angles that give him a chance to do something on the basepaths. His radial charts between the two instances display a night and day difference.
Right now, as a .240 hitter, the Twins have themselves and above average regular. A Gold Glove defender is doing enough at the plate, Minnesota can't complain. Getting up closer to something like .260/.340/.480 would put him in elite territory. It's encouraging to see the process take shape in more than just the month of September, and it's great to know that there's still room to grow. At 23 years old, the Georgia native is probably just beginning to scratch the surface, and the prime that lies ahead of him remains incredibly exciting.
Monday, August 21, 2017
Emptying Out The Twins Mailbag
Before letting the Twins play out the rest of their 2017 season, it seemed like a good time to take a look at some lingering questions about the year that has been, and what lies ahead. This group has no doubt played well above expectations, and that's created a heightened level of excitement surrounding the hometown nine. With that said, let's get into these questions.
There's a ton of talent with those three names, and I think they each carry a unique situation. Among the group, the one I think makes the biggest jump a year from now is Blayne Enlow. He was a steal for the Twins in the 2017 draft, and has dominated short season GCL ball. He could go to Elizabethton considering his age, but he appears ready for full season ball in Cedar Rapids.Do you think Benninghoff, Leach and Enlow will all be in Cedar Rapids next year or will one be in Elizabethton?— Jonathon Zenk (@jzenk42) August 17, 2017
Both Landon Leach and Tyler Benninghoff are exciting prospects as well, but there's a bit more reason to slowplay them. Benninghoff, an 11th round pick in 2016, has just returned to the mound following surgery. At 19, there's no reason to rush him. Leach is still relatively new to pitching full time, and while I think he has promise, I'd make him show you at every level for the next few seasons.
I can only surmise that Colon's diet doesn't solely include salads. Not knowing his background, and having never been to the Dominican, trying to peg cultural foods is tough. I can say I love me a good (if that isn't an oxymoron) hot dog, some mac and cheese, or maybe even the two mixed together.If you were Bartolo Colon, what would your favorite food be?— Wild Dad (@WildDad77) August 17, 2017
For one reason or another, it seemed like the Twins were destined to keep Garver down until September. He would have been an easy one to peg, but is now finally up. With Rochester playoff bound, I'd imagine we don't see a ton of immediate promotions on September 1st. Also, the 40 man roster is pretty well represented at the big league level.Who will be the September call ups?— Bruce Bialka (@theRealJemmer) August 17, 2017
I'd guess we could see Randy Rosario again, as well as maybe Felix Jorge or Fernando Romero getting work out of the pen. Romero is being limited right now for Chattanooga, and I'd guess he'll be coming up to an innings limit soon. Zack Granite and Daniel Palka should be near certainties from a position player standpoint with both being on the 40 man. If there's a candidate or two off of the 40 man, both Jake Reed and John Curtiss make a ton of sense.
While the quick and easy answer is anybody, the realistic one requires a bit more thought. I've gone back and forth internally as to whether or not a Postseason run saves Molitor. I think though, he's shown enough to prove to Falvey and Levine that the results don't justify the means. It's been a situation in which the Twins have won despite him on more than one occasion.Who should replace Molitor?— Brad Beneke (@Expression451) August 17, 2017
I think the biggest thing for any new hire is going to be relatability. Minnesota trots out one of the youngest lineups in baseball, and the manager needs to be someone that can connect with youth, as well as different cultures. A progressive thinker isn't going to hurt as well, and someone that meshes with the desires of the new front office will be a must. A name I've wondered about is Sandy Alomar Jr., but I haven't done near enough digging to see if he checks off any of those boxes.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Twins To Perk-O-Late The Pen
After suffering a severe shoulder injury that required his labrum be reattached over the offseason, Glen Perkins is nearing a return to the big leagues. I was skeptical this day would ever come, but the Twins former closer has worked his tail off to be where he is today. The question remains, can this version of Perkins be an asset in relief for Paul Molitor's squad?
Perkins last appeared on a big league mound on April 10, 2016. It marked two innings of ineffective pitching a year ago. You'd have to go back to July 11, 2015 to find the last instance in which Perkins was right on the mound. Fortunately for the Twins, when Perkins was right, he was among the best in the game. A three time All Star, Perkins totaled at least 32 saves each year from 2013-2015. He has been a steadying force at the back end of a bullpen for what amounted to pretty poor teams. As he returns though, it's fair to wonder what is left.
Having now pitched at three different levels on the farm in rehab stints, Perkins has posted a 6.14 ERA across 7.1 IP. His 10 strikeouts in that span are exciting, but they've been paired with an unfortunate five walks. Velocity returning has been a big question, and aside from a few low 90's reports, he's hovered somewhere in the high 80's. It's hard to imagine the life on his fastball being better than what it was, and he's dipped from 96 mph in 2013, to 92.1 mph a year ago.
Looking at the boost Perkins could provide however, is somewhat notable given the Twins current situation. While the bullpen has been better than it started out, there's still some easily replaceable parts. Maybe the easiest place to see the former closer slot in, is with a swap for lefty Buddy Boshers. Across 29.0 IP in 2017, Boshers has posted a 4.66 ERA that's due for even more regression with a 5.41 FIP. His strikeout rate has dipped to 7.4 K/9 and his walk rate has ballooned to a 3.1 BB/9 mark. Effective only against lefties, he's been exposed at the highest level of the game.
Asking Perkins to slot in and take over Boshers' spot in the pen is a pretty mediocre ask. Being better than a 4.50+ ERA while limiting walks shouldn't be a tall task for a big league arm. What we don't know is whether or not Perkins still has the stuff to play at the highest level of competition. It's an easy move to tag him in, and it could end up being just as easy to remove him.
The day appears to be coming that the Twins will need to make a decision. In terms of his rehab calendar, there's only a few days left in which the Twins can leave him on the farm. From everything Glen has stated publicly, he believes he's ready to go and wants to compete. For a guy that's given the organization so much, and has a team option left for next year, he's earned the opportunity for a swan song.
It'd be pretty unfortunate to see Perkins go out and be shelled, effectively ended his time as a big league. His rope is probably pretty close to the end regardless, but it would be a much better story to allow him success and the ability to go out on top. This book is probably in its final chapter, but the author has yet to write the last few pages.
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are going to have to give the Minnesota native an answer, and the result seems to be a harmless one no matter what takes place. Perkins replacing Boshers is of little note, and should he too need to be replaced, there's more than a few capable arms still in the prospect realms waiting to hear their names called.
Baseball is a tough game, and it generally dictates to everyone when they'll be done playing it. Rarely do athletes go out on their own terms, and some have harder exits than others. I'm pulling for Glen Perkins to ride off into the sunset, but I'm not certain how rocky the path will be.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
All Strikeouts Are Far From The Same
There's an association with the strikeout that it is representative of negativity. In a certain context, that's a fair principle. At it's core, the strikeout is a non-productive at bat the results in an inning likely becoming less fruitful. For guys like Sano and Judge however, it seems a necessary evil, that most major league teams have given into.
Thus far in 2017, both Sano and Judge have launched their share of homers. The former has 26 to his credit, while the latter has 36. When striking out his big league record amount, Reynolds clubbed 44. There's some key differences among the trio however. As the strikeout ties them together, it's the underlying factors that separate them.
During his record setting season, Reynolds drew 76 walks and posted an on base percentage of .359. With a SLG percentage of .543, he totaled an .892 OPS. In comparison, it's Judge that has made his strikeouts less of a detriment than the Twins Sano. On the year, Judge owns a .420 OBP thanks to his league leading 87 walks. at a 1.028 OPS, he also leads the league. On the flip side, Sano has walked just 49 times, and owns only a .354 OBP. While his SLG is a solid .511, his .865 OPS checks in below the .916 mark he put up in his rookie season.
Looking at the group from a top down view, none of the three represent a black hole for their club. The production, despite the strikeouts, remains an asset. Chris Carter, virtually for his whole career, is where you get into the territory of the positives not being worth the strikeouts. While he launched a good deal of homers from 2013-2016, his OBP hovered around .300, while his OPS was north of .800 just once.
For the sake of this argument, Reynolds' 2009 is probably the baseline for where you'd like the combination to come in. The 44 longballs are a great offensive boon, and the .359 OBP is plenty efficient. Under those sentiments, Sano's 2017 is in jeopardy of leaving plenty to be desired. While he has just 26 homers to his credit, he hasn't picked up the pace significantly in the walks department. Finishing with an identical .269 average across 80 games in 2015, Sano has a .385 OBP. Right now, the Twins need Sano to trend more towards Judge, or even Reynolds.
Judge has drawn plenty of criticism for his second half slide. After batting well north of .300 for the first half, pitchers have beaten him consistently with the low and away pitch. Still though, he's drawn walks and has posted elite numbers despite the strikeouts. When the dust settles, his average is probably going to hover somewhere around the .270 mark. Even with that reality, he should have an OBP up in the .380 range, and his OPS will remain above the league leaders.
Strikeouts are something that plague most power hitters, and teams tend to put up with them to a certain extent. Chris Carter is jobless because his peripherals were of next to no value. Mark Reynolds has since reinvented himself and become a much more complete hitter. Aaron Judge is slipping some, but still owns extraordinary supporting stats. The Twins need Miguel Sano to tighten it up at the plate. In 2017, he's trended more towards Carter than Judge or Reynolds. The power will need to play for more longballs, and the in between times need to have more walks filtered in.
Right now, Sano has just over 1,100 big league at bats, and he's still just 24 years old. He can continue to mature as a hitter and shape his approach at the dish. As the Twins continue to work with him, they'll need to focus on the aspect of discipline and punishing mistakes. There's no cause for concern as it relates to the strikeout, but Minnesota needs more production when the ball isn't leaving the yard.
Monday, August 14, 2017
Twins Going Streaking
The 2017 Major League Baseball season has been one that's proven incredibly tough to read for the Minnesota Twins. After pacing the division for much of the first half, there's been multiple times in which the club looks to have lost all hope. As the summer draws to a close however, they've hung around, and it's been in large part to a handful of key pieces getting hot.
Coming off a franchise worst 103 losses, there should have been a massive expectation that this Twins would rebound. While they weren't a team destined for the Postseason, 2015 and 16 highlighted the volatility of young players. After surpassing expectations two years ago, virtually the same group failed them mightily last year. Once again on the upswing, this group is probably much closer to a settling in point.
The veterans in the lineup are doing their part to keep a good thing going. Chief among them, Brian Dozier, is once again experiencing his patented August surge. Recently written about at Twins Daily, Dozier has consistently turn in a strong month to round of the summer. Now through 12 games, he has six home runs and a .340/.375/.736 slash line. Dating back to July 14, the Twins second basemen has posted a .982 OPS, and is once again trending towards a strong finish.
On a much smaller scale, Joe Mauer has always experience a slump and a streak in August. After starting slow, he turned series against the Brewers and Tigers into a .321/.387/.464 slash line that has brought his batting average back up to .279. While he's no longer going to contend for batting titles, he's remained an asset against right-handed pitching, and is contributing at the best time possible.
Looking at youth, the continued emergence of Eddie Rosario has been a sight to behold. While you could consider him a bad ball hitter, the reality is more that he simply chases balls that he has no business swinging at. Arguably his greatest knock as a pro remains his plate discipline, and the amount of time he spends expanding the strike zone. As the months have gone on in 2017 however, he's continued to dial that reality back, and leads Minnesota in batting average because of it.
Now experiencing career best chase rates and swinging strike marks over the past two months, Eddie Rosario owns a .333/.376/.581 line since July 1st, and has put forth a 1.143 OPS in the month of August. In dialing back his approach, he's become arguably the Twins best hitter, and one that hits for both power and contact. Despite the defensive dip this season, he's been incredible at the plate.
On a lesser scale, Byron Buxton is again rounding into form. Since July 4th (and with a DL stint in between), Buxton owns a .371/.420/.500 line across 19 games. Dating way back to May 9, Buxton has played in 71 games for the Twins and has posted a .258/.322/.355 OPS, While that isn't going to do much offensively, combined with his Gold Glove ability in center, that makes him an incredible asset. Whether he continues to shape into a player reflective of the smaller or larger sample size remains to be seen, but the promise is still through the roof.
Unfortunately, players like Miguel Sano and Max Kepler haven't yet hopped on the streaking bandwagon. While each has seen their struggles down the stretch, the hope would be that each has a nice burst left to finish the year. It's absolutely promising however, to see such an offensive contribution from so many different parts of the lineup.
At the end of the day, the Twins probably still aren't a Postseason team in 2017. What the stretch run is showing us however, is that the expectation for 2018 should be a Postseason berth. Given the landscape of the division, and the emergence of this group, things are trending in the Twins favor. No matter what happens the rest of the way, Minnesota is on a better pace than the 2015 squad, and is going to play some really exciting baseball right up until the dust settles.
Thursday, August 10, 2017
2017 Highlights Twins Postseason Dreams Are Close
Coming into 2017, Minnesota was looking to turn the page on a season that resulted in a franchise worst 103 losses. Despite not being indicative of their true talent level, the organization absolutely had to reverse course. As the development of young players has continued, they've achieved that result, and will begin 2018 with a whole new outlook. A year from now, we should be watching a team with a realistic Postseason opportunity, and there's a few reasons why.
Maturation Of Youth
It can't be overstated how volatile young players are at the highest level. Miguel Sano went from a rookie phenom, to a sophomore slump, to now settling in to a slugger that can play adequate defense. Max Kepler has struggled mightily against lefties, but has proven valuable, and Jorge Polanco has been forced to work through his first professional struggles. Throw in the emergence of Jose Berrios and the development of Byron Buxton, and the Twins have a nice set of building blocks.
Next season, Minnesota can afford to add in pieces like Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves, Mitch Garver and a host of bullpen arms with the notion that they'll be taken care of. The roster got younger and more talented at the same time, allowing the group to progress and grow together. There's little doubt that some of the next wave will take their lumps too, but the group as a whole will be better positioned for sustainability than in 2016.
The Depth Of The Division
We are starting to see this play out now, but to begin 2018, only the Twins and Indians will have a realistic shot at winning the AL Central. The Chicago White Sox have already gone into a full blown rebuild, and the Kansas City Royals are an offseason away from watching half of their roster walk out the door. In Detroit, the 25 man was held onto too long, has gotten old, and now will need to be pieced together.
Looking at where each organization is presently, only Cleveland and Minnesota appear to have the pieces for sustained winning in the near future. Even before making offseason moves, the Twins find themselves in an enviable spot within their own division. Consider the fact that they'll play those teams most often, and the Twins could wind up with among the easiest schedules in baseball during 2018.
The Front Office Makes Its Mark
It's been mostly a feeling out period for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine this year, that will change over the winter. Front office personnel have already been shown the door, and the expectation should be that it will continue in the coming months. I'd be shocked if Paul Molitor is back, and there will be other coaching staff changes that likely follow.
While a big league manager may not make an incredible amount of difference, over the course of 162 games, a better option can steal a few victories. Look for Falvey and Levine to bring in people ready to elevate the play of their young roster, and get the most out of them for years to come. Who is put in charge this offseason in key positions, has the potential to bear fruit well down the line.
We could take a look at the opportunities outside of the organization as well, but even before that, it's apparent Minnesota has things going for them. During the winter, Minnesota will be in a position to spend and supplement internal talent for the first time in a while. They can realistically elevate their Postseason positioning by making key and timely acquisitions. Knowing that those moves can be paired with a formula already trending in the right direction; the Twins have to be looking ahead with a smile.
Although the excitement of meaningful games late in the season is back during the 2017 season, it'll be a year from now that the Minnesota Twins should be discussing how their Postseason starting rotation looks. It will actually matter, because they'll have fall games to go and win.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
The Vargas Carousel Revolves Again
While there's plenty of reason to be excited about a player that looks like the shadow of David Ortiz, the reality is that the comparisons stop there. Now 27 years old, Vargas is hardly a prospect (and was never considered a top 100 entrant even when he had prospect status), and he's done little to separate himself at the highest level. Across parts of four big league seasons, Vargas owns a .738 OPS and a 228/55 K/BB ratio. With 32 homers to his credit, he hasn't exactly excelled at launching the long ball either.
In 2017, things have gotten even worse for what Minnesota may have hoped Vargas could provide. As a switch hitter, he's generally been more dangerous from the right side. Unfortunately this season, Vargas owns a .170/.231/.277 line against left handed pitchers, and just one of his eight long balls have come from that side of the dish. In 47 at bats versus lefties, he's compiled just three extra base hits, and the .507 OPS leaves an incredible amount to be desired.
Quite arguably a greater source of frustration is not necessarily Vargas' struggles, but how they could be avoided. In continuing to promote him, the Twins have passed by alternative options. Mitch Garver and ByungHo Park both represent a higher ceiling addition to the big league club, despite neither of them getting a chance. The Twins roster construction has begged for a right handed power bat virtually all season, and both of the aforementioned names also profiles better in the field.
Through 82 games for Triple-A Rochester, Garver owns a .909 OPS and has been an asset behind the plate. As a catcher, it could be argued that he should've replaced veteran backup Chris Gimenez some time ago. Knowing he can play first base and some outfield as well, his not being added to the big league roster is confusing at best. Garver almost certainly make the 25 man next spring, and not jump-starting his debut seems a bit foolish.
Although Park is not currently on the 40 man, that's hardly an issue for the Twins. Given the club has open spots, as well as an opportunity to trim if they need to, Park should've found his way back. After missing time to start the year, he's hit well at Rochester. Since June 17, Park owns a .309/.355/.495 slash line at Triple-A. The lack of power has been odd (he has just six homers), and the swing and miss tendencies have remained poor (63/11 K/BB). That said, he's 31 and coming up on the latter half of his current deal with the Twins.
Between Garver and Park, Minnesota has two avenues they could choose to push the envelope with. The former appears ready to jump in and contribute at a high level, while the latter represents more of an alternative to Vargas that has some crash and burn potential. What's somewhat frustrating however, is that Vargas represents a move that really doesn't move the needle at all. Despite realistically being a long shot for the playoffs, Minnesota is still playing meaningful games. By making the move they did, it seems Minnesota chose the lowest common denominator.
If everything breaks perfectly for Kennys Vargas, he's a serviceable bench bat. When a team has opportunity to aim higher and make a bigger impact, it would seem to reason that they should. Minnesota will probably welcome one or both of Garver and Park in September, but it'll represent at least a month of missed opportunity.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Closers By Creation, Twins Making It Work
In 2015, Kevin Jepsen was Minnesota's answer to Perkins breaking down. Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays, he racked up 15 saves despite having just five across 315 appearances to that point. Then again, a year later, Brandon Kintzler emerged. The long time Brewers veteran picked up his first save since minor league ball, and he would go on to run off 44 more up until July 2017. Over the course of three years, Minnesota had consistently created closers out of thin air.
Should this tell us anything, it's likely that the narrative be closers are overvalued, and underutilized. The save is a statistic that places more importance on the 9th inning of a ball game, despite their being no evidence that it actually is. Sure, the game comes to a close when a team is winning after the 9th, but the game likely was decided long before that. In having a pitcher designated to get the final three outs, one of your best relievers may have missed the opportunity to get a much more important trio of outs earlier in the contest.
It really doesn't matter whether or not a big league team has a "Proven Closer," and holds even less importance for a team not destined for the Postseason. That being said, the Twins appear on a path to again create an asset and this time it's in the form of Matt Belisle. The question is, are the pieces there to make it work?
Unlike Kintzler before him, Belisle is not a groundball machine, and he tends to miss some bats. The former throws harder than the latter however, and they both leave something to be desired in a high leverage situation. For Belisle though, there's a few things working in his favor.
During 2017, Matt Belisle has racked up strikeouts at a 7.5 K/9 clip. That mark is his best total since 2013, and the third highest total of his career. While he does induce groundballs 43% of the time, Belisle uses a low 90's fastball to generate swings and misses over 10% of the time (for just the second season of his career). He's giving up contact at a career low 78% of the time, and balls are being hit hard a respectable 27% of the time.
The beginning of the season didn't go well for the 37 year-old veteran. Through his first 17.2 IP, he owned an ugly 8.66 ERA and was allowing opposing hitters to post an .833 OPS. His last 27.0 IP however have been a different story. He's posted a 1.67 ERA and opposing batters have posted just a .598 OPS. Suggesting it's been a tale of two seasons is more than fair.
Down the stretch, the Twins will be on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Having been sellers at the deadline, they realize the uphill battle doesn't seem in their favor. With such an ugly run differential, regression should be expected to hit hard. However, with 52 games remaining as of August 8, the club has exactly half of those contests against teams with sub .500 records.
As the summer turns into fall, Matt Belisle should be expected to get most of the Twins save opportunities. He's absolutely the veteran candidate that manager Paul Molitor falls in love with. In closing out games, Belisle is hardly a worse option than either of the previous two created closers. Whether or not anything more than a handful of saves comes out of his work in the 9th remains to be seen, but for now the Twins have again created from within.
Monday, August 7, 2017
Twins Will Work Harder And Smarter
On August 5 at Target Field, Baseball Prospectus embarked on the bowels of the stadium to have an in depth discussion with General Manager Thad Levine. Speaking on the course of the season as a whole, and the plans for what lies ahead, there were a few key indications as to what changes may be coming for the Minnesota franchise. Arguably chief among them is that the Twins will win as they fine tune their process.
During the course of the conversation, Levine discussed the fact that both he and Derek Falvey didn't immediately ask to skyrocket the Twins payroll. While they are aware funds are available to them, they'll be making a conscious effort to spend wisely on the guts of the organization, to make the on field product improve. This transition began to rear its head recently, as the departures of Jack Goin (head of what amounts to analytics) and a handful of area scouts were moved on from.
Levine noted that the Twins Analytics Department currently consisted of four full time employees, and that it could swell to nearly double in size a year from now. On the scouting front, he talked pregame Sunday that it was necessary to retain those let go through the draft and trade deadline, before transitioning to the future. It's in these internal areas that the Twins can carve out somewhat of a competitive advantage.
Over the offseason, Minnesota will find themselves in a position to spend for the first time in nearly a decade. A team with an opportunity at a realistic playoff run, supplementing from outside makes a ton of sense. While they're almost certain to be out on big name fish like Yu Darvish, they'll land more middle ground options to help the club take the next step. In making sure those brought in both fit, and elevate the club, Minnesota will lean on those internal departments to help dissect decision making.
Minnesota has already been able to employ different practices and strategies brought in by the new front office. It was noted that the Analytics Department played a very integral role in the recently completed MLB Draft. Figuring out the probability of players lasting past a certain round, to deciding what level of success a guy may have, baseball was being married from an eye test to what the numbers also suggested.
It's in this strategy that Minnesota can begin to shape its future. Given the perceived volatility for players hovering in the middle ground, a more forward thinking process will hopefully give the club a higher ceiling for success. Levine and Falvey will look to employ an organization full of forward thinkers looking to squeeze out every bit of advantage the team can find. Although the dollars may not be spent on the big splash free agent, the hope would be that a commitment to spending from all angles will produce more fruit from each acquisition the club makes.
Looking back at how the organization has been run for years, this is a pretty drastic deviation and something Twins fans will likely look upon with favor. There's no doubt the transition will come with some hiccups, but finding a competitive advantage for an organization that has made the middle ground home, is something you'd be hard pressed not to get behind.
We've already seen some of the internal transition begin. I fully expect a new manager and a handful of other positions to experience turnover in the coming months. What will be worth monitoring, is where each player brought in can squeeze out that extra bit of success that the process will have dictated they are capable. This new regime is beginning to put their stamp on things, and in the years ahead, that should prove favorably for fans across Twins Territory.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
A Deep Dive Into The Twins 40 Man
Recently at Twins Daily, prospect guru Seth Stohs wrote up a comprehensive piece looking at who needs to be added to the 40 man roster in November. He outlined the stipulations for 40 man additions, and broke down the situations regarding more than a handful of key names. Looking at his work, the question now becomes, who makes the cut.
Despite being a few months early, here's a stab at where I see Minnesota needing to allocate roster openings to:
Stephen Gonsalves- This is a no-brainer, and he should probably be added before the end of 2017, with the idea that he makes a September big league debut. He's been dominant at Double-A, and should factor into the Twins rotation next season.
Jake Reed- Another guy that should have a very real shot at an August or September debut, Reed profiles well out of the Twins pen. He is a hard thrower, and the hope would be that he continue to blossom into a high leverage option for Minnesota.
Zack Littell- Recently acquired from the New York Yankees in exchange for Jaime Garcia, Rob Antony all but suggested Littell was a lock in a recent interview with Darren Wolfson. Antony noted Littell was the name Minnesota targeted from New York, and sees him as an impact starter for them as early as next year.
John Curtiss- Like Gonsalves and Reed before him, Curtiss is another guy that should be up with Minnesota before the end of 2017. He's been dominant as a closer this year for both Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester. With the Twins needing a pen overhaul, it'll be some internal options that are likely called upon first.
Lewin Diaz- I haven't been nearly as high on him as other outlets, failing to rank him among the top 15 Twins prospects. Diaz is just 20 though, and has continued to show power (10 HR) at Cedar Rapids this year, after a .928 OPS in the Appy League a year ago. There's too much upside to let him go unprotected, though I think it'd be a massive ask for a team to roster him at the MLB level all year in 2018.
Kohl Stewart- The former 4th overall pick in 2013 hasn't fared nearly as well as the Twins would've hoped. He continues to post low ERA's, but really hasn't struck anyone out. That being said, he's been good at Double-A Chattanooga since coming back from the DL this year, and I don't think there's any way he'd go unclaimed.
Lewis Thorpe- Having missed essentially two years due to Tommy John surgery and his recovery, Thorpe is still at High-A Fort Myers. He's looked good there though, and is probably more advanced than his current level would suggest. I'd imagine he'd be a stash option for a team, and the Twins will want to protect him.
By my count, the Twins have seven names they'll need to figure out how to protect. I could see Aaron Slegers being added to the 40 man in 2017 for a debut, but am not sure he would need to stick. Recently acquired reliever (from the John Ryan Murphy trade) Gabriel Moya is an intriguing name, and Luke Bard is another guy that appears to be knocking on the big league door. Given that he passed through waivers unclaimed this year, I can't see the Twins making Mason Melotakis a priority, and Nick Burdi shouldn't be an option as he'll be recovering from Tommy John surgery.
As things stand right now, Minnesota has 37 players on their 40 man roster. Glen Perkins will need a spot coming off the 60 day DL if he does pitch this season, but I'm not sure what's left there. Going into 2018, Minnesota will be hoping Phil Hughes can be useful as well, though that seems uncertain as well. If you're having to create room, here's a few guys that could be battling for their spots:
Matt Belisle- Signed a one year deal, and while he's been better after a dismal start, I can't imagine the Twins will bring him back for a second tour.
Buddy Boshers- Boshers has been solid, but isn't posting the per nines he tallied a season ago, and his FIP is ugly. This is a spot you can upgrade with a much higher ceiling player.
Bartolo Colon- A fun story the rest of the way, Colon may retire at season's end. Even if he doesn't, the rotation shouldn't have him in it, and likely won't.
Dillon Gee- This seems somewhat of a tossup, and I've been harsh in regards to Gee. He has never been anything above average, but if the Twins have room to keep him, you could do a whole lot worse as a spot starter.
Kyle Gibson- Far from a certainty, but the Twins will need to offer Gibson an arbitration deal this winter, and they could definitely choose not to. I'd imagine that's unlikely, but the possibility exists.
Nik Turley- Having had a few turns in the rotation, Turley doesn't look like a big league starter. I think his stuff can play out of the pen in shorter bursts, but if he's not given an opportunity they, you can move on.
Chris Gimenez- On a one-year deal with the Twins, Mitch Garver should have taken over his position by now. Regardless, there's not much need to bring Giemenz back in 2018 when the goal will be moreso finding a lower tier depth option.
Ehire Adrianza- This should sort itself out in the coming months, but the reality is that there isn't room on the 25 man for Eduardo Escobar, Ehire Adrianza, and Jorge Polanco. The former two are utility men with somewhat competing skillsets, while Polanco should be the starter of the bunch but has struggled. Adrianza seems the easiest to squeeze out in hopes of better utilizing a bench position.
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Missing Playoffs Provides A Simple Blueprint
In any given year, there's some sort of an expectation as to how things should go before it gets off the ground. Despite coming off a franchise worst 103 losses in 2016, the 2017 Minnesota Twins were representative of a better team. They weren't expected to make the playoffs, but competing on a nightly basis was a fair ask. As the season wears on, your conclusion is often presented months in advance. At some point, it's wise to adjust how you finish.
With the trade deadline in the rear view mirror, the Twins became sellers. Now, that term carries negative feelings, but Minnesota shipped away just two expiring assets. They dealt no one that would help them in the future, and the club got real assets in return. There's no other way to dissect it besides saying it was executed properly. Now into August though, the balance of the season takes on another form of importance.
I recently opined on Twitter that if a non-playoff team isn't using August and September to set up the next season, they're doing it wrong. Your goal should always be to stay ahead of the competition. Right now, there's a handful of teams that are in the mix for the Postseason and ultimately the World Series. With Minnesota not being one of those, they should be setting forth plans for the year ahead.
Given the opportunity to expand big league rosters in September, there's often the caveat that baseball becomes watered down in the final month. Teams are playing lesser players and giving their regulars time off. Entering 2018, Minnesota should be no worse than the second best team in the AL Central, and having an idea of who they can count on ahead of time sounds like a pretty good thing to bank on.
With Jaime Garcia being shipped out at the deadline, Minnesota needed to replace a starting pitcher. Instead of going with a high ceiling prospect like Stephen Gonsalves or Fernando Romero, the organization will call upon veteran retread Dillon Gee. There's nothing wrong with Gee pitching in big league games, he's a capable arm. What he doesn't do however, is tell you anything you don't know about the year ahead. Both Aaron Slegers and David Hurlbut at Triple-A will feel the 40 man roster crunch over the offseason, even they could provide more insight as to future positioning than Gee.
For a club that's thrown nearly 15 different starting pitchers, and is on pace to set a new club record in terms of pitcher's used, it'd sure be great for them to go with guys that could have long term value. In 2018, hurlers like Colon and Gee will still exist, and can be had with the same expectations as they are presently capable of. Having to call on a top prospect, or even a lower tier guy, early on or out of spring training without seeing them at the highest level seems suboptimal.
This same principal carries over to the other aspects of the game as well. There's no denying that Jorge Polanco has taken a significant step backwards in 2017. Despite being a bat first player his whole career, he's started solid defensively, and now how dipped well below average both with his glove and at the plate. That being said, he does no good to anyone sitting on the bench. Unless the Twins are in a position right now that they believe Eduardo Escobar or Ehire Adrianza is their surefire answer at shortstop, Polanco should be getting those reps every single day. Being on the bench does no good for answers, growth, or future expectations when it comes to Polanco or the Twins.
At the end of the day, the idea should be that you're always building towards something. If you aren't building towards a World Series this year, you should be putting your ducks in a row to jumpstart the season ahead. While it's still just the early stages of August, each day that passes counts as a missed opportunity for the Twins. There's a lot of question marks and possible solutions down on the farm, but the longer you wait to figure out who falls into what category, the worse off your find yourself.
Going into the winter, Minnesota will have a strong core that should be supplemented with a few impact pieces to put them over the hump. If they miss out on internal options because they didn't act aggressively, that will hurt far more than whatever the final month's win/loss record sits at. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine traversed the trade landscape admirably in their first year thus far, now it's time for them to make something of what the season has left to offer.
Moves Highlight Front Office Acumen
Over the offseason, the Minnesota Twins hired a new front office duo in the form of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. They were thrust into a situation where the roster was in flux, and the manager was appointed to them. On top of all that, they were faced with making a critical decision regarding a second basemen coming off one of the best seasons in franchise history. Fast forward to today, and trades have been the highlight that define the new tandem's baseball acumen.
Prior to the 2017 season getting underway, Falvey and Levine had extensive discussions with the Los Angeles Dodgers in regards to Brian Dozier. It was a match made in heaven from a needs perspective, and LA had the assets to part with. However, as the process drew on, it was apparent the Dodgers were stuck on giving up a sole player in return, and the Twins brass held their ground.
Despite putting up Harmon Killebrew like numbers a season ago, Dozier was primed for regression. He had averaged 23 homers a season from 2013-2015, and the 42 long ball output in 2016 wasn't going to cloud that. Regardless, he was still more valuable to the Twins than a one-for-one return. Jose De Leon is a nice enough prospect, but as they all are, a lottery ticket nonetheless. He had shoulder and arm issues in the past, and flipping a high level big leaguer for that level of uncertainty never made sense.
In the end, Falvey and Levine did their best to have Cody Bellinger or Walker Buehler brought into the conversation. While never a possibility, you can't fault them for aiming high. When players like Brock Stewart and Willie Calhoun weren't going to be thrown in either, they smartly walked away. At the end of the day, even with his faults, Dozier would be more valuable to the Twins than a straight up return of solely De Leon.
Fast forward to the 2017 Major League Baseball trade deadline and the duo was at it again. Despite no numbers suggesting Minnesota could hang with the red-hot, and frankly more talented, Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals, the front office took a calculated shot. Giving up next to nothing in Huascar Ynoa, Jaime Garcia was brought in to bolster a depleted rotation. In a matter of a week, the expected played itself out, and Minnesota' front office flipped the pitcher in a deal that essentially boiled down to buying two better prospects from the Yankees for roughly $5 million.
Caught in the middle ground between buying and selling, the Twins dipped their toe in, allowed the scenario to play itself out, and then ended up in a better position anyways. Once they established themselves as sellers, the strong decision making continued. With no realistic place for him in the organization, the Twins getting any return for John Ryan Murphy was a win. Sure, the former regime screwed the pooch in dealing away Aaron Hicks for nothing, but Gabriel Moya is dominating Double-A and is one heck of a dart throw in exchange for a guy you can't use.
While the Twins bullpen has been a mess in 2017, it always stood to reason that Brandon Kintzler had no place in it once Minnesota deemed it wasn't going anywhere. A free agent at the end of the year, he's still free to resign, and getting something back for him is a huge win. Falvey and Levine turned a guy the Twins signed on a minor league deal, and paid next to nothing in 2017 for, into a high floor/low ceiling minor league arm from the Nationals. Continuing to add to pitching depth, Minnesota did right by Kintzler and themselves.
It's been less than a year thus far, but what we've seen from the front office in terms of acquisitions should be heartwarming. The Twins have a young core, and are positioned to win soon, and for an extended period of time. With savvy decision making thus far, an offseason in which it makes sense to spend and supplement is something that lies ahead of both Falvey and Levine.
The rest of the way in 2017, it would be nice to see a glut of prospects make their debuts at Target Field. Starting the audition process now would go a long ways into shaping the 25 man coming out of spring training a year from now. There is the caveat that Paul Molitor may not be around a year from now, and that could influence roster decisions presently. That being said, it seems that when shaping this organization, Derek Falvey and That Levine have a plan. So far, they've shown an ability to know when to hold em, and maybe more importantly, when to fold em.
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