Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Twins Can Groom Cave for More

Once again, the Minnesota Twins have recalled Jake Cave to the Major League roster. After optioning Ryan LaMarre back to Triple-A Rochester, the former Yankees prospect is back in The Show. A he heads back to the Twins active roster, Derek Falvey, Thad Levine, and Paul Molitor should all be on board with this being an extended stay for the Minnesota outfielder.

Here's something that seems to be lost on Twins fans at times; not all prospects are created equal. Cave was acquired from the Yankees this offseason, and was someone the front office targeted back during the Jaime Garcia flip. While he isn't the pride of the organization, he is included among MLB Pipeline's Top 30 for the Twins, and makes a similar appearance on Seth Stohs' list (from Twins Daily). At 25 years old, he's cut from a similar cloth to a player like Mitch Garver.

For the Twins, Cave presents an opportunity that should be capitalized upon. With a three man outfield all but set in stone, finding the regular fourth that can contribute in all phases should be something of importance. Robbie Grossman filled the role admirably in his first season with the Twins. His .828 OPS was a career high by a longshot, and he proved to be an on base machine. Since then, he's came back down to earth, and in 2018, he's no longer a replacement level player.

When targeting a fourth outfielder, Minnesota should want someone with a little pop, that can provide value as a bat off the bench. Ideally, the player can field in all three spots, and assets including speed and arm strength would be ideal. Cave checks off the boxes, and has gotten just 19 big league at bats to show anything.

Looking back at their respective abilities, Grossman is definitely a stronger player when it comes to commanding the strike zone. He's long been an on base guy and that's heavily bolstered by his ability to draw walks. While Cave lags a bit in that category, he's not some sort of massive black hole either. Showing a bit more pop over the course of his minor league career, there's a bit of give and take at play here.

Last season, Cave posted a .921 OPS at Triple-A across 72 games. The downside is that it came with an 82/18 K/BB ratio. This season in the Twins organization, he has just a .735 OPS across 58 Triple-A games, but the K/BB ratio has improved to a respectable 55/26. Those strides are both significant and important.

Right now, Grossman is a 28 year old with 470 major league games under his belt. He's turned the opportunities into 1.2 fWAR, or essentially just scratching the surface above replacement level. If that doesn't suggest an opportunity to improve upon that spot on the roster, I'm not sure what does.

Down in Florida for spring training, I heard rumblings of Grossman being saved by manager Paul Molitor. It was the front office who acquired Cave, and despite being arguably the better player and one with more upside, the skipper had stuck his neck out to keep Robbie around. Again, what he did for the Twins in 2016 was nothing short of exceptional but that performance is also long gone.

With the Twins season trending in the direction it has, and regardless of how it goes from here, I'd much prefer to see Cave get consistent opportunities. At some point, Byron Buxton is going to return to the 25 man roster. From that point forward, Cave could have the opportunities that Grossman has been given. Losing an asset is never ideal, but at that point, DFA'ing Grossman makes a lot of sense.

Being a betting man, I'd lean towards the Twins not going about it this way. That said, I'd hope it's the point in which the rubber meets the road. Falvey and Levine should exert their will on this roster, and one way of doing so would be choosing Jake over Robbie.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Off The Rails: Mauer Raked by Souhan

I don't typically find myself sitting down to write on a Sunday evening, but with my foot in a cast, and a level of frustration in tow, here we are. The first part of that formula is thanks to my achilles deciding to part ways with my foot, the second half is the fault of none other than the Star Tribune's Jim Souhan. On Sunday night, the Tribune Twitter account sent out Souhan's latest with this attached to the piece, "Affordable contract would keep Mauer in good standing with #MNTwins."

Prior to getting full blown defensive, I needed to dive in further. So, I hopped into an incognito window and got to reading.

There were some quotes from Twins President Dave St. Peter defending the $184 million deal that any team would've jumped at the opportunity to ink. There was some talk with Molitor about wanting him back, and then there was what Souhan added on his own.

The journalist quipped "Mauer’s desire to play probably will be based on his health. He has recovered from concussion-like symptoms to return to the everyday lineup, but is batting just .222 with a .556 OPS since his return. Before his injury, his on-base percentage was .404, ranking among the league leaders. His on-base percentage since is an uncharacteristically low .300."

From Mauer, Souhan went on to talk about Dozier. A late-bloomer that has an impending pay day ahead. The Twins don't look like they'll pony up, and there's baseball reasons for that (even aside from his typical slow start). He could end the piece without returning to Mauer however, in which he offer "the best thing Mauer could do for his image is to sign an affordable contract, to give the hometown team a break, and finish his career as a bargain instead of a financial burden."

Now that you've read as much as you need to, I'm sorry.

Over recent seasons, Souhan has been raked himself by plenty a fan of his poorly written pieces. Whether suggesting Phil Hughes as soft for not pitching through injury requiring surgery, or calling Miguel Sano out prior to him having an All Star caliber season. In both of those occasions however, you could argue the pieces had a level of journalistic integrity. Here however, Souhan comes out looking like more of a clown than he ever has.

In noting Mauer's production, Jim points to Joe's return from the disabled list. While noting his numbers, he fails to mention that's literally an eight game sample size (including Sunday). The .759 OPS and .404 OBP come in a 38 G span to open up the year. Had he been leading off during that stretch, the Twins offense may have benefitted even more (but that's another story). In a game that decides realities over the course of 162 games, cherry picking eight of them (and failing to mention it), is poor at best.

Should the idea that noting statistical production in an lackluster manner not bother you, Souhan then doubled down with his final remarks. Noting that Mauer should give the Twins a break, and not be a financial burden. If the brigade wielding pitchforks at the notion of Mauer's previous contract didn't already have enough poorly derived information, they've just been handed a bit more fuel for the fire.

The horse is so far dead, there's not even reason to beat it at this point. That being said, Mauer's $184 million deal was already a hometown discount. There isn't an organization in baseball that wouldn't have signed on that dotted line in a heartbeat. He was the best catcher in the game, and on pace to be among the best to ever play the position. He took less to stay home, and has been unappreciated by a fanbase that saw a living legend because a brain injury drastically altered his career.

With baseball being an uncapped sport, and the Twins rarely being in a position to land big fish over the course of his deal, spending to supplement Mauer hardly seemed to be the right move. In 2018, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine executed a near flawless offseason to bring in talent while pushing the payroll to an organizational record. The reality is that even the most sensible dollars don't always come together at the right time in terms of the on field product.

Given the current climate of free agents, and the new front office, I'd guess that Falvey and Levine would chuckle at the notion of giving Torii Hunter $10 million for a 2015 season at 39 years old. Veteran leadership is a great thing, but I'll be damned if suggesting it trumps performance on a good team makes any semblance of sense. Hunter was a defensive liability and on his last legs at the plate. It was a fine last hurrah, but the dollars didn't make sense. The beautiful part of it however, was that it didn't make a difference on the bottom line either.

A season ago, Joe Mauer was robbed of a Gold Glove that would've made him the third player to ever win one at multiple positions (and first catcher). At the present time, he's the best defensive first basemen in baseball, and it doesn't really matter if opposing managers are blind to that because of his lack of power numbers. Should Mauer want to return next year, Minnesota should jump at the opportunity. He can help Miguel Sano make that defensive transition, and earning something like $10 million is peanuts for the benefit he'd bring on the diamond.

When the dust settles on his career, Joe Mauer will go down as the best player to ever play in the Minnesota Twins organization not named Harmon Killebrew. Whether you can't come to grips with his contract, or the fact that a season of inflated home runs in the Metrodome didn't transform who he was doesn't really matter. Tonight Jim Souhan tried to summarize what Mauer has been, and can be going forward, while failing to do even a shred of journalistic justice.

It's a sad look for the Star Tribune, it's an expected offering from Souhan, and it's a reminder that Mauer has deserved so much better than what Minnesota has given him for far too long.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Brian Dozier Where Art Thou?

The Minnesota Twins find themselves scratching and clawing through games in order to get back to the .500 mark. This season opened with so much promise, and has taken turns that virtually no one expected. While Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar pace the offense, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton have been non existent commodities. Somewhat of an afterthought at this point, Brian Dozier has given Paul Molitor nothing of substance in 2018.

After garnering MVP votes for the third straight season last year, and winning a Gold Glove on the basis of his offensive performance, Dozier has been a black hole in the Twins lineup. In 2016 and 2017, the Minnesota second basemen posted .886 and .856 OPS totals respectively. As of June 20 this season, he's got a .682 mark. Slow starts aren't uncommon for the Mississippi native, but this level seems a bit unprecedented.

On June 7, 2017 Dozier owned a .748 OPS along with 19 extra base hits (9 longballs). Going back to 2016, he posted just a .694 OPS across 62 games up until June 17. That year he once again had 19 extra base hits, but only seven were homers. Through 68 games in 2018, Dozier has tallied 24 extra base hits and 10 homers. Putting it into that sort of perspective, things feel a bit less bleak.

If there's reason to be optimistic, it's that we've seen Brian make a habit of this. He's traditionally been a slow starter that goes on a tear at some point in the early summer. Right now, he owns a career best hard hit rate, and is spraying the ball consistent with career norms. His fly ball rate is where it has been and he's actually both chasing and whiffing less. If there's an area to point towards in relation to the slide, it's hit 6% dip in line drives, as well as the 6% falloff in HR/FB ratio.

For the Twins, Dozier has been the same player for each of the past handful of seasons. He uses a dead pull approach that allows him to yank homers over the left field fence. There's solid bat speed and whip through the zone, but he's not the hulking power hitter one would stereotype. Despite seasons of 42 and 34 longballs the past two seasons, a projection in the upper 20's seems like a safe bet on an annual basis. You're also going to get that production in lopsided amounts over the course of the season.

In short, I'm not certain Brian Dozier has gone anywhere. In fact, he probably is who he's always been.

To generate a higher level of production, Dozier will absolutely need to get the ball off the ground a bit more. The drop in line drive rate is significant, and putting the baseball on the ground is never going to be his game. As the line drives increase, so too should the HR/FB ratio.

The problem with streaky hitters is that you have to take your lumps through the down times, and unfortunately Dozier's is an annual occurrence. Despite the average being abnormally low, we aren't far off from what would be considered on par with previous outputs. If the Twins offense as a whole hadn't been such an abomination to this point, the second basemen would also have an easier time blending in.

At some point, guys like Dozier fizzle out in extreme fashion. The dead pull power approach decreases in effectiveness as careers get long. I don't think we're there yet (although it's part of the reason I believe Minnesota is right to let him walk this winter), and that's a good thing for the outlook of this lineup going forward. I'd be relatively shocked to see Brian put up 30 homers the rest of the way, but a turnaround shouldn't be anything but expected at this point.

Right now, the Twins need Dozier to start his surge. For the sake of his payday following the conclusion of the season, Brian could use that as well.

Baseball Cards, Charity, and Wax to Crack

Despite being a pastime that has seen its ups and downs, baseball card collecting has been rejuvenated among hobbyists over the past couple of years. With the emergence of premium products from companies like Topps and Panini, as well as strong rookies like Aaron Judge and Mike Trout, the market is alive as it has ever been. When it comes to collecting, there's many different avenues to pursue, but one of the most growing areas is through box breaks.

Enter Crackin Wax.

Over at Crackin Wax, Chris has designed a place for like-minded collectors to come together and both buy and discuss baseball cards. Being known for their charity case breaks, Crackin Wax is absolutely a community first type of environment. While box breaks offer an avenue to acquire cards without footing the entire bill for a product, the Crackin Wax team has also found a way to do good outside of the realm of baseball cards.

If you're unfamiliar with what a box or case break is, the concept is simple. Crackin Wax sells a specific product, and then offers spots for purchase. Whether dividing the item into 30 pick-your-team spots, or doing some other breakdown, the overall cost of the offering as a whole is significantly reduced. Opened live on camera, your purchase then awards you all of the baseball cards pulled for your specific entry. Thanks to their wonderful skunk protection, there's never a chance you'll go home empty handed.

Chris and his wife do a great job to foster a fun collecting environment, are baseball fans themselves, and do a lot of good around Twins Territory by way of the cardboard. Give them a look at CrackinWax.com

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Berrios Beaming for Minnesota

Thus far in 2018, there's been lots of talk surrounding the Minnesota Twins. Paul Molitor's club has provided talking points relating to everything from their up-and-down record, Miguel Sano's slide, and the emergence of guys like Eddie Rosario and Kyle Gibson. Virtually under the radar, Jose Berrios is beginning to round out into a bonafide ace. The crazy thing is, next to no one is talking about it.

A year ago, Berrios owned a 3.89 ERA and put up a 14-8 record across 25 starts (26 games) for the Twins. In 2018, the young Puerto Rican would start on the Opening Day roster for the first time in his career. He's made 14 starts on the season, and has quickly become must watch baseball. Whether going up against an ace or a 5th starter on the other side, the Twins hurler now has a brand of his own.

Through just under 90 innings this season, Berrios has posted a 3.51 ERA. His 9.1 K/9 is indicative of the strikeout stuff that was always expected of him, and he's cut his walk rate down to a truly impressive 1.5 BB/9 mark. With two complete games, one being a shutout, under his belt already, it's hard to quantify this season as anything but his best yet. What's exciting for both Berrios and the Twins, is that we've likely only scratched the surface.

Just recently turning 24 years old, Berrios has just under 300 big league innings to his credit. This season, he's posting career bests across the board, and his 3.33 FIP along with a 0.948 WHIP suggest that there's room for him to be even better. Efficiency has been something he's struggled with in the past, but working two complete tilts already has displayed a further amount of maturity. Walks have also been something Berrios has been plagued by in his early career, but they've become a point of emphasis in 2018, and an avenue of growth that's been significantly exploited.

Diving into his arsenal and surrounding numbers, Berrios' output provides one of the biggest areas for excitement. He's still throwing with the same velocity, and his usage rates across all pitches remains nearly identical to career norms. The results have equated to a career best 11.8% swinging strike rate, and a 35.9% chase rate. His 76.4% contact rate is a career low, and he's still keeping hard hit rates in check. As a summary Berrios really isn't doing anything different with his offerings, but with everything being a bit sharper the results have only continued on an upward trajectory.

The main knock on Jose has always been his stature. Whether or not he would have enough of a downward plane on his fastball to keep it in the park has been a realistic concern. The 1.1 HR/9 mark is a slight increase from a season ago, but it's hardly the 1.9 tally from his big league debut season. Even if there's not much movement made off of that mark, it's hardly a death sentence given the complete formula.

Berrios never got the national love of being an ace, and most projected him as a solid #2 starter. Topping out at 17th on the Baseball Prospectus to prospect list, he saw plenty of fanfare, but not quite enough to put him in elite territory. We don't yet know how this will all play out, but there's little reason to put a ceiling on him anymore. You'll struggle to find anyone willing to outwork the young man, and his abilities are shooting upwards each time he toes the rubber.

Forever, the Twins have needed to develop an impact arm that can shoulder the load of being the guy in the starting rotation. Right now, we're seeing Berrios become not just a premier pitcher for the Twins, but among the best in baseball.

Sota Stick Goes Super Rosario

In Twins Territory, you have plenty of options when it comes to beat writers, bloggers, and baseball coverage. Being focused on the hometown team, I can't speak for other organizations, but what Twins fans are offered seems like some of the best in the business. Fortunately, you can also support your favorite baseball team through shopping with local outfitters. SotaStick Co is one of the best boutique clothing brands to display your Minnesota sports pride.

From their official about us page, SotaStick Co says, "SotaStick Co. was created by a hockey player with a broken wood hockey stick looking for a fun way to open his bottle of beer. The original SotaStick Co. hockey stick bottle opener was created during the winter of 2015 and the brand launched in 2016. The brand name takes the "sota" out of Minnesota and the "stick" out of Hockey Stick. We teamed up with a group of local artists and illustrators when the brand launched in 2016 to create original artwork that is featured on our apparel and man cave artwork." 
With the Twins currently playing up and down baseball, no player has given Paul Molitor's club a spark more than outfielder Eddie Rosario. Now deemed fully powered-up by SotaStick Co, the Super Rosario shirt has hit their online marketplace. As the expected representative for the Twins in the 2018 MLB All Star Game, Rosario's season has been nothing short of exceptional. The premium tee would be an awesome way to show off the Twins star and you can grab yours here.

SotaStick Co should be a must stop shop for all your Minnesota sports apparel needs. You can always click the link here on the main page at Off The Baggy, or check them out on Twitter at @SotaStickCo. Stay tuned to my Twitter @tlschwerz for a giveaway in the not-so-distant future.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Gut Punch, Sano Gone

The Minnesota Twins were in the 9th inning of another lackluster offensive performance today against the Detroit Tigers. Despite a wonderful outing from starter Lance Lynn, Minnesota found themselves trailing 3-1 in the final frame. With 2 outs, a runner on, and Miguel Sano on the bench...Jake Cave hit for himself. It was at that moment the Twins had solidified their decision. Miguel Sano needed to go.

Immediately following the game, it was announced that the slugging third basemen would be sent to High-A Fort Myers. He wasn't going to Triple-A Rochester, or Double-A Chattanooga. Instead, he was headed all the way down to Florida. Both the Red Wings and Lookouts have roster space for the Twins third basemen, so this move is no accident. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have sent the message to Sano that it's time to get right or get gone.

In Fort Myers, Sano will be surrounded by the Twins complex, and monitored and a pretty small microscope. He's going to need to figure out how to ditch the terrible check swinging habit, learn to pick up pitches again, and decide that this shell of a player is not who he wants to be. While the former two issues are big ones, it's the latter that remains the most frustrating for me.

Over the course of his career, Sano has relied on natural talent, casting aside an ability to work hard and elevate himself to heights that a player of his caliber should be reaching. As I've stated in this space before, weight has never been the issue for Sano, but instead the message in regards to what he expects from himself. At some point, and the Twins hope this is it, the Dominican native is going to have to push for more. There's a really, really good ballplayer in there, but he'll need to be the one to find it.

The move surrounding Sano isn't unexpected, and it's likely the correct one. My estimation would be that recently acquired Taylor Motter will come up to take over as the bench utility player. Motter has done little-to-nothing at Triple-A for the Mariners and Twins this year, but with Robbie Grossman and Bobby Wilson on the pine, Paul Molitor needs an infielder. Motter can play all over the diamond, and should be plenty capable of spelling regulars over the next couple of weeks.

If there's a less than ideal wrinkle to the whole situation, it's that Jake Cave was again sent back to Rochester. He's been better than Ryan LaMarre, there's reason to believe his ceiling presents a significantly more appealing skillset, and LaMarre has been relatively awful on his own accord. Minnesota has turned from a contender into a pretender. This team is scuffling at the very least, and keeping LaMarre around for the story he was during spring training is silly. There's no track record to suggest he's anything more than a quad-A type player, and Paul Molitor isn't doing this lackluster lineup any favors by running him out there.

When the dust settles, Minnesota will welcome Mauer back with open arms. He isn't going to cure all the warts this team currently has, but it's definitely a positive to have him back in the fold. Negative as it may be right now, Sano deciding to invest in himself long term is the best development Minnesota could get out of this season. Hopefully Cave will get another shot to prove his worth soon. It was a busy day in Twins Territory to say the least.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Twins Pen is a Problem in More Ways Than One

Prior to the news of the Minnesota Twins re-signing veteran reliever Matt Belisle, I had every intention of writing a piece on the curious usage of Matt Magill. Paul Molitor has routinely been lackluster when it comes to bullpen managment during his time as Twins skipper, but things got even more confusing today. After revamping the relief corps going into the season, Thad Levine, Derek Falvey, and Paul Molitor have found a way to make a relative strength into a revolving door.

Needing a fresh arm at the tail end of April, the Twins turned to Matt Magill. Prior to that point, Magill last pitched in the big leagues during the 2016 season. He had just 32 innings under his belt, and at 28 years old, he was a relative flier. Now having been on the 25 man roster for 40 games, he's been used just 13 times in that stretch. Without knowing his numbers, it may not seem egregious given the lack of history to build off of. The numbers though, well they're very good. In 20.2 IP with Minnesota, Magill has posted a 1.31 ERA with a 7.4 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9.

It wouldn't be a terrible thing to Magill to be largely unused if the Twins found themselves avoiding a need to go to their bullpen. However, in that 40 games timeframe he's been with the club, Ryan Pressly has been ran out to the mound 21 times, while Addison Reed has been called upon on 19 occasions. In the 21 games Pressly has appeared in, he has a 6.11 ERA and is allowing an .886 OPS to opposing hitters. Reed's 19 appearances have equaled out to a 3.38 ERA (compared to a 2.57 mark prior), and an .895 OPS against. To say they are running on fumes is an understatement. It being only June makes matters worse.

Then comes the news of Matt Belisle.

Not only is Paul Molitor not using his full relief corps currently, but he's now been given a veteran arm that the worst bullpen in the big leagues (Cleveland) decided to give up on even at Triple-A. Belisle filled in admirably as the Twins closer down the stretch last season, but his fastball velocity has declined to a career worst 90.9 mph. He's also ceded runs in three of eight appearances at the highest level this season. Molitor hasn't given Magill the opportunity to spell his horses despite Matt proving worthy of a chance, now he'll have an arm that should be utilized in a similar vein to Tyler Kinley or Phil Hughes before him.

Sure, there's a value to clubhouse presence, and that will be a notion disseminated freely when referencing Belisle's signing. That's more a cop out than anything however. Addison Reed, Zach Duke, and Fernando Rodney were intended to be the veteran presence brought in over the offseason. All solid clubhouse guys, they effect Belisle has in the matter should be well represented in the doldrums of Target Field. By spinning an odd fit with the clubhouse tag, Minnesota should and does likely alienate more deserving players toiling away at Triple-A.

Tyler Duffey noted frustration when he was recently optioned back to Triple-A. While he's had poor stints with the Twins this year, he was perfect in his recent opportunity and likely deserved better. Most egregious in all of this is none other than Alan Busenitz. Across 24 Triple-A innings thus far, Busenitz owns a 0.38 ERA, 10.5 K/9, and 1.9 BB/9. There's no other way to put it except that it's a massive mistake to have him be wasting bullets in Rochester. No longer a prospect at nearly 28 years old, Busenitz has proven he's well above the Triple-A level, and he should be working his way into a back-end role with the Twins.

The signing of Matt Belisle on its own isn't some terrible decision. Given the factors at play however, it's one that Thad Levine, Derek Falvey, and Paul Molitor should all be questioned for. The bullpen is currently mismanaged, internal options likely provide a higher impact, and a negative message is sent throughout the organization. While the front office deserves to be commended for how they handled the offseason, the roster moves since the games began are puzzling at best.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Sano's Problems Aren't New, but Are They Fixable?

For better or worse, Miguel Sano has been the same player for much of his big league career. On one hand, that's a hulking slugger that drives baseballs deep into the outer reaches of major league ballparks. On the other, it's a free swinging giant that frustrates both fans and coaches alike. Regardless of which side of the fence he finds himself on during a given day, he's remained largely the same player throughout his career. What's someone comforting is that 2018 is no outlier.

Coming into the season, really at the beginning of spring training, I wrote about how Sano's weight itself isn't the issue. My problem with the big third basemen's size is more in relation to what it says about his level of commitment to both the Twins as well as his own ability to be great. By deciding not to adhere to guidelines suggested by his employer, and turning a bit of the extra baggage into muscle mass, there's a higher tier that goes from reachable to a distant memory.

On the field, and even with as bad as he's been for the Twins in 2018, much of the underlying numbers suggest he's not far off from who he's always been. Sano's .859 OPS in 2017 earned him his first All Star trip, and was in line with the .916 OPS he produced as a rookie in his first 80 major league games. Last season, he posted a 29.1% chase rate, and just a 62% contact rate. He swung through pitches 18.3% of the time, and he made contact on strikes just 73.5% of the time. None of those numbers are great, and especially so combined with a 35.8% strikeout rate. That being said, they combined to provide more than welcomed results.

This is where we get into some of the silver lining that Sano has left for 2018. On the season, he owns a 32.6% chase rate (3% worse), 64.9% contact rate (3% better), and a 16.5% swinging strike rate (2% better). The biggest dip is his 40.6% K rate (5% worse), and his 18.4% HR/FB ratio (9% worse). While the strikeouts and lack of home runs are certainly egregious, none of the other areas in which he's slipped up have been too drastic. On top of that, he's not being attacked in an entirely different fashion. Teams are throwing him nearly 40% fastballs, which is a career high, while it's changeups and curveballs that have been offered to him less.

So where does that leave us? Well if you've observed Twins broadcasts or watched a game in the park, I'm sure you can figure it out. Right now, Miguel Sano's biggest failure is in pitch recognition. For one reason or another he's guessing entirely too often at the plate, and in doing so, he's seen check swinging a crazy amount, while watching otherwise perfect pitches go by. The dip in offspeed offerings may have Sano waiting on pitches that won't ever come, while he's then susceptible to the fastball being blown right by him. He's swinging and missing less, and he's not chasing all the much more. In fact, when he's making contact, it remains at a comparable clip in terms of hard hit rate. Simply put, he just doesn't know what he's swinging at.

When taking a look at his pitch chart, we can see that Sano is being abused by the breaking ball low and away. Pitchers have gotten a ton of swings and misses from Sano on sliders and curveballs that are off the outside corner of the zone. Despite not being a dead pull hitter, those are the balls he's either check swinging on, or shouldn't be offering at whatsoever. Conversely, he's yet to swing through anything up and in, while six of his seven homers have come on pitches in the middle of the zone.

If you've checked out Rob Friedman's GIFs on Twitter (under the handle @PitchingNinja), you'll see how difficult attacking pitches can be. Both sliders and fastballs can get to the zone on the same plane, before one drastically turns away from an opposing batter. With a lacking ability in pitch recognition, spin isn't something Sano is currently picking up, and it leaves him flailing through both types of offerings not fully knowing which is which.

There's plenty of drills that can be executed to help with this sort of deficiency, and while they are simple in practice, application is hard. Big league pitchers are the best in the world for a reason, and even while Sano is always going to be a strikeout machine, the reality is that he can also hit very well. Until he can once again read offerings as opposed to guessing or reacting through them, he's going to struggle.

James Rowson did an incredible job of breaking down Byron Buxton's swing to the bare minimum and rebuilding him at the highest level last season. Sano shouldn't need that level of an overhaul, but the Twins hitting coach has his next big challenge in front of him. Pitch recognition isn't something you can simply use your given ability to get through however, and that's where this could take a tough turn for Miguel. He;s going to need to rededicate himself at the plate, and put in the work to see a different set of results. There's been different times and instances where the Twins have hoped that blueprint would play out for their third basemen and it hasn't.

Miguel Sano has the opportunity to be great, but he could choose to settle for being average. There's another crossroads in his path, and it'll be interesting to see how he attacks this one.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Midseason 2018 Minnesota Twins Top 15 Prospects

With the 2018 Major League Baseball draft in the rearview mirror, the Minnesota Twins have now brought more young talent into the organization. Despite not having the first overall pick this season, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were able to identify a handful of players that could be making an impact at Target Field in years to come. While this class seems catcher and college heavy, there's also a juggle of names already included in the Off The Baggy top 15 prospects.

Before diving into an updated, post draft list, here's a few key areas to check out first:

2016 Top 15 Prospects

2017 Top 15 Prospects

2018 Top 15 Prospects

2018 Draft Picks

Now that we have the foundation laid, here's who I have as the Midseason Top 15 Prospects for the Minnesota Twins:

15. Wander Javier SS

Coming into the season, I found myself incredibly high on Javier, thinking he could end up being the Twins best positional prospect not named Royce Lewis. Unfortunately, he's been handed a season ending injury, and despite the surgery not being on his throwing arm, the biggest setback is missing out on a year of development at 19 years old. By the time he's back on the diamond, Javier will be 20. He's going to need to pick up and go right away to regain his prospect status. There's an incredible amount of talent there, and counting him out would be foolish.

14. Tyler Jay LHP

The Twins 2015 1st round pick is now firmly entrenched as a reliever. After being bounced back and forth between starting and the pen, keeping him healthy has maybe been the largest challenge. In 2017, Jay pitched just 11.2 innings, a mark he's nearly doubled thus far in 2018. He's still at Double-A Chattanooga which is unfortunate, and the strikeouts have dipped to just 7.5 per nine innings. As a lefty, he can bring it, and profiles well in the late innings. He'll need to start putting up numbers indicative of that should he want to jump to Triple-A. At 24, it would be ideal to see him get time with the Twins this year, but that would require a significant breakout in short order.

13. Lewis Thorpe LHP

Starting the season healthy for the first time in more than three years is huge for the Aussie. After a solid display at High-A Fort Myers last season, he was jumped to Chattanooga to begin 2018. The ERA sits at a respectable 3.74, while his 10.2 K/9 is something Minnesota would love to see carry forward. The 1.528 WHIP is a bit out of hand, and it's reflective of a guy that allows a handful of runners to reach base. Thorpe is still just 22, and already at Double-A. If he continues to refine his approach, he'll jump back into the national discussion.

12. Blayne Enlow RHP

The Twins targeted Enlow with some of their early round savings in the 2017 MLB Draft. After appearing in 20.1 innings for the GCL Twins last year, he's spent 2018 with Low-A Cedar Rapids. The 4.46 ERA isn't ideal, but he's another guy giving up too much contact right now. A 1.718 WHIP is buoyed by an 11.5 H/9. He's only 19 and the stuff is still very raw. His bender is impressive, and the velocity probably has a bit of room to grow yet. If nothing else, this is a very good developmental year for the Louisiana native.

11. Akil Baddoo OF

There wasn't a guy I was more impressed with during spring training 2017 than Baddoo when it came to physical body work. He looked as if he'd at half of his 2016 self, and put on a ton of muscle. At E-Town last season, Baddoo posted a great 1.057 OPS across 33 games. Batting as the leadoff guy for the Kernels this year, he owns a .788 OPS. The power continues to play, and while the average has sunk a bit lower than you'd like to see, his plate discipline hasn't fallen off much. He's got a chance to be the breakout type, much like the next guy on this list.

10. LaMonte Wade OF

As a 9th round pick in 2015, Wade hasn't gotten the fanfare he's deserved until recently. Despite posting .840 + OPS numbers in each of his first two pro seasons, he really only began to be a name more commonly known. Now at Double-A Chattanooga, Wade owns an .837 OPS on the year, and has already hit seven longballs. If the Twins really wanted to test him, he could be up filling in for Byron Buxton right now. He's got a tremendous eye at the plate, and controls the zone well. There's a lot to like here, and the ceiling is higher than just a fourth outfielder.

9. Zack Littell RHP

Acquired by the Twins in a shrewd exchange that involved Jaime Garcia, Littell has shown exactly why he was the apple of Falvey and Levine's eyes. He had a strong Twins organization debut at Double-A last year, and had been great in 28 innings with Triple-A Rochester this season. His major league debut didn't go smoothly, but there's little doubt that he'll be back, and that he's a capable arm to count on as a rotation mainstay.

8. Trevor Larnach OF

The 20th overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft, Larnach is of a similar mold to Twins prospect Brent Rooker. The power potential is massive, and he absolutely destroys the baseball when making contact. Swing and miss is a bit less of a worry here, although his position is certainly going to be limited to a corner outfield spot. He used all fields in college, but rarely pulled the ball. Ideally you'd like to see him shorten up a bit, and be able to get around on big league pitching to his drive side. This was a safe pick for Minnesota, and the bat should absolutely play.

7. Brent Rooker OF/1B

I still think Rooker ends up at first base long term, but he's not a liability in the Robbie Grossman sense when it comes to outfield play. After a slow start at Double-A, he's really come around of late. From May 7 through June 6 (29 G), he owns an .890 OPS with seven homers. Rooker's bat was always going to be what drove his promotions, and it's played as expected. The next piece of his game that has to be addressed is the plate discipline. A 66/14 K/BB at Double-A is only going to get wider as he moves upwards.

6. Alex Kirilloff OF

Coming off of Tommy John surgery, it wasn't so much a worry that Kirilloff wouldn't rebound, as much as it was about how the time off would effect him. The short answer has been, not much. While Royce Lewis got the early fanfare as the latest first round pick, it's Kirilloff who's been shining of late as well. His .978 OPS is comprised of 11 homers and 17 doubles through 55 games. It's been a heck of a return to the diamond, and the bat first prospect has been nothing short of exciting.

5. Stephen Gonsalves LHP

After dominating Double-A to the tune of a 1.77 ERA through four starts, Gonsalves was moved up to Triple-A. He owns a 4.13 ERA through seven starts, but the numbers are inflated by a few clunkers. His 10.5 K/9 is more than impressive, but it's the 5.5 BB/9 that still cause the Twins pause. Command has always been the last part of the puzzle for the crafty lefty, and it'll be the piece he needs to hone in before jumping to the big leagues.

4. Brusdar Graterol RHP

Now completely healthy, the Twins next flamethrower has been must see baseball on the mound for the Kernels. His few DL stints this year seem much more roster manipulation than genuine cause for concern. He's gone six trips through the rotation, and owns a 1.95 ERA in 32.1 IP. With a triple-digit fastball in his arsenal, the 11.1 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 suggest he could probably use a new challenge sometime soon.

3. Nick Gordon SS

While shortstop may not be Nick Gordon's longterm home, it probably works out better that way for the Twins roster construction. Yes, he faded down the stretch at Double-A last year, but he's been nothing short of exceptional in 2018. His .906 OPS across 42 games with Chattanooga earned him a bump to Triple-A Rochester. In 16 games since his promotion, he's hitting .350/.371/.467. The five home runs continue to drive home the notion that the nine in 2017 were real, and he could turn into a 15-20 longball guy at the next level. He should be the Twins Opening Day second basemen in 2019, and there's little reason to worry about it.

2. Fernando Romero RHP

It took just 21 innings at Triple-A for the Twins to decide that Romero was ready for the big time. His 2.57 ERA with Rochester came with some walks (4.3 BB/9), but the stuff was absolutely going to play. Since being in the big leagues, he owns a 3.96 ERA over seven starts (36.1 IP). He was lights out against some good teams in the early going, and he's thrown in a clunker or two as well. Long term, he still profiles as an ace, and pairing him with Jose Berrios should give Minnesota a solid one-two punch for quite some time.

1. Royce Lewis SS

After making it to Cedar Rapids to conclude his first season in pro ball, Lewis has torn up the Midwest League this season as well. Currently his OPS is down to .750, but it rested at .799 through 40 games just over a week ago. The power hasn't really shown up yet, but it should come in time. He has plenty of room to fill out and gain muscle, so there isn't much cause for concern. Expect him to hit High-A Fort Myers for the second half of the year, and tracking towards a 2020 MLB debut is very plausible.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Keeping Up With Twins Picks: 2018 Edition

June 4, 2018 kicks off the Major League Baseball draft. With the Minnesota Twins making their first selection at 20th overall, the next crop of future faces to grace Target Field will fill out in the coming days. As players come off the board, the professional careers of hundreds will begin in earnest. Although their impact won't be felt at the highest level for quite some time, this is a big event for Twins fans, the organization, and those now joining it.

Throughout the entirety of the 40 round process, you'll find players selected as well as their pertinent information updated below. Please take a look back at the 2017 class here.

Let's get into it:

Round 1, Pick 20- Trevor Larnach, OF Oregon State @trevorlarnach
Round 2, Pick 59- Ryan Jeffers, C UNC Wilmington @Ryan_Jeffers8
Round 4, Pick 124- DaShawn Keirsey, CF Utah
Round 5, Pick 154- Cole Sands, RHP Florida State @ColeSands
Round 6, Pick 184- Charles Mack, SS Williamsville East HS (NY)
Round 7, Pick 214- Josh Winder, RHP Virginia Military Institue
Round 8, Pick 244- Chris Williams, C Clemson
Round 9, Pick 274- Willie Joe Garry Jr., CF Pascagoula HS
Round 10, Pick 304- Regi Grace, RHP Madison Central HS @rjgrace1
Round 11, Pick 334- Michael Helman, 2B Texas A&M @theHELM_
Round 12, Pick 364- Jon Olsen, RHP UCLA
Round 13, Pick 394- Trevor Casanova, C CSU Northridge @TrevorCasanova
Round 14, Pick 424- Erick Rivera, OF Escuela Superior Urbana
Round 15, Pick 454- Kody Funderburk, LHP Dallas Baptist U @KodyFunderburk
Round 16, Pick 484- Anthony Tuionetoa, RHS Baldwin HS
Round 17, Pick 514- Erik Cha, LHS Cal St. Fullerton @_erikcha
Round 18, Pick 544- Andrew Cabezas, RHP Miami @Andrew35Cabezas
Round 19, Pick 574- Austin Schulfer, RHS UW Milwaukee @FollowSchulfer
Round 20, Pick 604- Seth Pinkerton, RHS U Hartford @S_Pink8
Round 21, Pick 634- Gabe Snyder, 1B Wright State @Gabe_Snyder
Round 22, Pick 674- Jacob Blank, RHS Augustana College @jacob_blank
Round 23, Pick 694- Albee Weiss, C CSU Northridge
Round 24, Pick 724- Michael Davis, 3B Texas Tech
Round 25, Pick 754- Laron Smith, C Foothills Composite
Round 26, Pick 784- Brian Rapp, RHP Boston College @Brapp1327
Round 27, Pick 814- Hunter Lee, RHR High Point @hunterthelee3
Round 28, Pick 844- Austin Hale, C Stetson @halea10
Round 29, Pick 874- J.T. Perez, LHS Cincinnati @JTPerez8
Round 30, Pick 904- Seth Halvorsen, RHP Heritage Christian Academy @HalvorsenSeth
Round 31, Pick 934- Zach Neff P, Miss St. @neffsaid13
Round 32, Pick 964- Ryan Holgate, OF Davis Senior HS @HolgateRyan
Round 33, Pick 994- Denny Bentley, LHP Howard College @denny_bentley33
Round 34, Pick 1024- Dylan Stowell, P California Baptist U @dylanstowell25
Round 35, Pick 1054- Tanner Howell, RHS Dixie St U @T_Howell329
Round 36, Pick 1084- Zac Taylor, CF Illinois @zactaylor15
Round 37, Pick 1114- Luke Ritter, RF Wichita St @RitterLuke
Round 38, Pick 1144- Dylan Thomas, RHS Hawaii
Round 39, Pick 1174- Bryce Collins, RHP Hart HS @Bryce_Collins21
Round 40, Pick 1204- Tyler Webb, SS Memphis @TWEBB8

The 2017 Draft: Where Are They Now?

Tonight, the 2018 Major League Baseball draft gets underway with the first round. As a handful of amateurs begin their professional careers, the event is one of the highlights to take place during the calendar year. After a very good 2017 season, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine won't have the luxury of the first overall pick this time around. Last season, the front office put together what was considered a very strong draft. They'll look to replicate those results this time around.

A year removed from being selected, this day gives us an opportunity to look back on where the players taken in the first 10 rounds are at right now. With plenty of impact talent plucked off the board, Minnesota has been able to bolster the system as a whole by utilizing names from the 2017 class.

With just around a year of pro baseball under their belts, here's where the newest Twins currently find themselves:

Royce Lewis (1-1)

As the number one overall pick a season ago, the Twins hit the nail on the head with Lewis. He's excelled at each level in his young pro career, and should jump to High-A Fort Myers shortly after his 19th birthday. Lewis owns a .312/.359/.422 slash line for the Kernels this year, and has been nothing short of a superstar on and off the field.

Brent Rooker (1-35)

Rooker was going to be put on an aggressive path as a senior sign and bat first player. He was sent to Double-A Chattanooga to begin 2018, and could see time with the Twins as early as next year. The .245/.287/.420 line has room for improvement, but he's been on a tear of late. The power has played plenty for Rooker, and the next hurdle to overcome is plate discipline (59/10 K/BB).

Landon Leach (2-37)

Participating in Extended Spring Training, Leach has not played in 2018. With the GCL Twins last season, he posted a 3.38 ERA across 13.1 IP. He's still settling in on the mound having made the transition from behind the plate.

Blayne Enlow (3-76)

One of the steals of the draft, Enlow has been great in his young career for Minnesota. He's pitching with Low-A Cedar Rapids, and despite dealing with some injury issues, owns a 3.81 ERA across seven starts. He's got room to develop into a more swing and miss pitcher, but the early returns have been plenty promising.

Charlie Barnes (4-106)

Spending all of 2018 thus far at High-A Fort Myers, Barnes has been steady. He owns a 4.42 ERA and has turned in 38.2 IP across eight starts. His offspeed stuff remains some of the best in the organization, and settling in to his other offerings will be key to his development.

Andrew Bechtold (5-136)

Regarded as another savvy pick by the Twins a year ago, the Juco product was seen as a nice bat. He's struggling at Cedar Rapids this year, positing just a .471 OPS across 40 games. Coming off an .829 OPS at Elizabethton last year, there's plenty of reason to believe he'll right the ship. His alma mater Chipola, just repeated as NJCAA National Champs.

Ricardo De La Torre (6-166)

Another EST participant, De La Torre has not yet played in 2018. He turns 19 next month, and will be assigned to another short season team. For the GCL Twins last season, he slashed .268/.341/.359 across 42 games.

Ryley Widell (7-196)

Widell just turned 21 and is currently at EST with the Twins. He played for E-Town last year, and could find his way to Cedar Rapids by the end of the year. He's yet to pitch this season, but posted a 2.43 ERA across 29.2 IP in his first professional season.

Bryan Sammons (8-226)

After making it to Cedar Rapids in his debut season a year ago, Sammons has spent the entirety of 2018 there. He's made eight starts thus far, and owns a very nice 2.70 ERA. Although the strikeouts have dipped to a 7.9 K/9, he's been very good with command, allowing just 2.7 BB/9.

Mark Contreras (9-256)

Spending just seven games in Iowa to start the year, Contreras was quickly promoted to High-A Fort Myers. He owns a .797 OPS in 30 games with the Miracle, and he's continuing to develop in the outfield.

Calvin Faucher (10-286)

Faucher has spent time with both Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers this season. He earned an early promotion, but then scuffled in his first taste of High-A. On the year, he owns a 1.06 ERA with Cedar Rapids in 17.0 IP, and a 7.30 ERA across 12.1 IP with the Miracle. Pushing for more strikeouts and less walks will help him to even things out.