Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Thank you, Brian!

The year was 2012, and a 25 year old Brian Dozier had finally burst onto the scene. No, this wasn't the big leagues, but it was close enough. Spring Training had commenced down in Fort Myers, and the scrappy Southern Mississippi kid had taken the narratives by storm. He was getting hits on a daily basis, and fans were looking for a long term answer at short. The 8th round senior sign from 2009 had put his name in the hat and wasn't going away quietly.

Although he didn't go north with the club that year, it didn't take long for them to come calling either. On May 7, 2012 Brian Dozier would make his Major League debut. He tallied his first hit in that game, and his first home run came five games later. Largely however, 2012 was a season to forget. It became quickly apparent that Dozier wasn't suited to play shortstop at the big league level and the reset button was pushed.

Fast forward to 2013 and a positional move to second base. Marking his first full season with the Twins, Dozier would play in 147 games. It has since become customary over the course of his seven year career, but Minnesotans were put on notice that season; this man would simply not be held out of the game.

In 2014 Brian began to establish himself as a power threat. His 23 longballs followed up a solid 18 in the year prior. While not being the hulking corner infield type, this man helped to wear out the left field bleachers at Target Field. Despite being a snub for the game itself, Brian was able to participate in the hometown 2014 Home Run Derby. Although his efforts fell short, it was a great moment for the entirety of Twins Territory.

Not to be denied in 2015, Brian captured his first All Star game nod. A season that saw him come up just shy of 30 homers (28 in total), he received MVP votes for the first time in his career. By this point, it was apparent that the Minnesota Twins had one of the best second basemen in all of baseball. Then, 2016 happened...

Harmon Killebrew is still, and will forever be, revered as the best Twins home run hitter of all time. In 2016, Dozier put himself among that rare company. With 42 homers to his credit, he again received MVP votes and further cementer his ability in comparison with the Jose Altuve's and Robinson Cano's of his position. At just 5'11" this was a relatively short man that had an ability at the plate to wear out Minnie and Paulie's hands.

Having now become known as a player that gets hot down the stretch, Dozier simply followed status quo in 2017. Although he didn't repeat and eclipse the 40 mark, his 34 homers were the second highest total of his career. Thanks to his offensive accolades, he vaulted himself into Gold Glove consideration and ended up taking home the award. At this point, the self-made slugger had turned a late blooming career into one for the storybooks.

Although Brian would've liked it to go differently this season, Minnesota simply couldn't keep up with all of the roadblocks in their way. Another trip to the postseason wasn't going to happen in Twins Territory, but that doesn't mean it won't for Brian. Now on his way to Los Angeles to join the Dodgers, a team he had been tied to in the past, Dozier gets to join a front-runner. He'll make a great up the middle partner for Manny Machado, and many Twins fans will only have to change their shade of blue come October.

As the sun sets on this chapter, Dozier leaves the Twins with 167 home runs, 202 doubles, and 491 RBI to his credit. He's a testament to the player that never stops working, and more importantly, the man that always wants more. Both he and his wife Renee have made an impact far greater than what's seen on the diamond, and they'll be sorely missed around Target Field. It's the nature of the business that players come and go, but this is one that left his mark here forever. Thank you Brian, and go Dodgers.

Deadline Deals Do Wonders for Twins

The Minnesota Twins came into the 2018 Major League Baseball season with postseason aspirations. Coming off of a Wild Card berth a year ago, it was fair to expect this club to challenge the Indians for the American League Central Division title. For a multitude of reasons, things didn't pan out as expected, and that left the club as sellers when it came to the trade deadline. As has often been the case, the front office positioned and executed the endeavor near flawlessly.

Having lots of money to spend this offseason, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine bolstered the organization with talent. At the time, all of the acquisitions made a ton of sense, and looked nothing short of great on paper. We know that across the board plenty of players fell flat for Minnesota, and that allowed more shrewd decision making to come into play. Thanks to the short term commitment, and multiple one-year deals handed out, the Twins found themselves with assets able to be moved when their direction took a turn.

It's always tough to see a player like Eduardo Escobar leave the organization he broke out in, but the reality is that the Twins maximized his value. Zach Duke and Lance Lynn were set to depart at season's end for nothing, and getting a return helps to stretch their effectiveness for the club into the future. Now a handful of trades in, there's reason to like every one of them.

Eduardo Escobar to Arizona for SP Jhoan Duran, OF Gabriel Maciel, and OF Ernie De La Trinidad

It's Duran that highlights this package for the Twins. All three prospects are current in Single-A, and given the depth in the Diamondbacks system (or lack thereof), these are three relative lottery tickets. That said, Maciel was highly touted as an International signee and stockpiling some talent that Minnesota may have missed out on when each was available as an amateur is hardly a bad get. Escobar was set to be a free agent at season's end, and now he gets to go be a part of a pennant race. Minnesota could bring him back this offseason (and if they can do so at the right dollar figure, it'd be very appealing), but getting some tangible return for him while they could is a very good move.

Ryan Pressly to Houston for SP Jorge Alcala and OF Gilberto Celestino

Flipping Pressly stings a bit, as I've been vocal about how good of a pitcher he is for quite some time. In 2018, he truly emerged as one of the best relievers in all of baseball. With another year of team control, it's unfortunate he won't be around to help what should be a competitive Twins team in 2019. That said, the reality is that he's a reliever. With pen arms being fickle, it made sense to flip him for a healthy return at a time when Minnesota had plenty of suitors. Getting a prospect with triple digit velocity in return is a nice piece, and it opens the door for Minnesota to explore some internal options in hops of backfilling Ryan's role.

Zach Duke to Seattle for SP Chase De Jong and IF Ryan Costello

Here is the first move in which the Twins front office continues to make a one-year deal work for them. Duke was signed for just $2.15 million this offseason and was handed a one-year deal. Having just two months left on his contract and not in a position to provide Minnesota value, the two prospects continue to do so. Although neither piece is a blue chip talent, there's little reason to scoff at the ability to develop and potentially drive major league talent out of players that will be around long after Duke would have left the organization. The Mariners get a lefty killer in return, and Duke's time with the Twins was an effective one.

Lance Lynn to New York for 1B Tyler Austin and SP Luis Rijo

If you'd ask who among the Twins free agent acquisitions underperformed the most this season, it'd have to be a tossup between Lynn and Logan Morrison. Being able to send the former Cardinals hurler out for a respectable return only highlights the importance of a track record. After missing virtually all of spring training, Lynn has been better since being awful his first month or so. He was striking out batters (and walking them) at career high rates, but there's too much leash there to believe he's cooked. In going to the Yankees, Lynn represents another one-year deal that plays future dividends for the Twins. Austin is out of options, so it would make sense that Minnesota give him ample opportunity to stick down the stretch. Rijo is a lottery ticket that you'd never be wise to turn down.

Trade in Your Traditional Drinkware

With the trade deadline upon us in Major League Baseball, I thought it as good of a time as any to talk about an exciting company making waves on and off the diamond. Young Bat Company was established in 1993, and has been making quality lumber for more than two decades. One of their exciting newer products drew me in, but there's plenty more to like here.

Young Bat Company has become a household name when it comes to lumber for the dish. They offer six different types of custom bats, with a seventh variation in development. On top of crafting the right bat for each individual, they also have a line of team bats. Whether you're looking to outfit yourself or the whole squad, there's something here for everyone.

Off the diamond, Young Bat Company makes there mark with much more than the typical T-Shirt merchandise. Although you can proudly display their logo across your chest, it's the drinkware novelties that set this company apart.

Transforming baseball bats into other usable tools is far from a new practice. Young Bat Company offers everything from bottle openers to keychains and cutting boards. What takes them above the competition in this space however, is their bat mugs. Designed from the barrel of a baseball bat, the Young Bat Mug is not just a drinking utensil. Thanks to creative designs and top notch quality, representing your love for the game while having a cold drink has never been easier.

With the Young Bat Mug you've got options. The traditional option allows for customization. Pick your colors, engraving, and wood types to create your perfect souvenir. If you'd like to go the predetermined route, the Legend Bat Mug is for you. Pick from a handful of Hall of Famers to be intricately displayed on the heart of your new go to mug.

Whether looking for your next piece of lumber, a gift for yourself or someone special, or simply taking a second to browse, check out Young Bat Company's website today!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Clearing Room Helps Twins

The Minnesota Twins moved Eduardo Escobar and Ryan Pressly over the weekend. One transaction involved a free agent to be, and the other focused around a return that likely was too good to pass up. With the trade deadline quickly approaching, clearing some extra space should be the goal for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine.

As things stand currently Minnesota has a handful of guys capable of being flipped to another team. The names include Brian Dozier, Zach Duke, Fernado Rodney, and Lance Lynn. If they really wanted to, and were presented with a solid return, Kyle Gibson could also enter this list. It's hard to see Minnesota being able to move Ervin Santana after just one or two healthy starts, but he could be an August trade candidate through the waiver process.

Looking at the list of candidates having a potential to be moved, there's something that should jump out as an opportunity. All of them are impending free agents, and there's a relatively small likelihood that any of them return to the Twins in 2019. With that in mind, it's time to start planning for the year ahead. Giving those innings to players that will be around is a must, and it's something that Paul Molitor only has two months left to capitalize on.

While it's uncertain as to whether or not Nick Gordon can start at the big league level a year from now, or if Stephen Gonsalves can continue to limit free passes, it's become time to find out some of those answers. Guys like Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss, and Jake Reed deserve some real run in the Twins pen, while Zack Littell and Adalberto Mejia could benefit from a couple of starts being strung together in succession.

When the Twins constructed the 2018 roster each of the pieces now available on the block made sense to bring in. This club was expected to be competitive, and without a lack of production across the board (combined with untimely injuries and bad luck), that was a reasonable expectation. Now with the narrative of the season having changed, the goal should be getting a jumpstart on the 2019 season.

It's hard to decipher whether or not Minnesota will be able to move all of their expiring pieces. Duke and Rodney have performed well this season, and should have appeal to some contenders. Dozier hasn't looked like himself, but a late season spark is all he'd need to supply in order to provide value to a postseason run. Lynn has been the worst of the bunch, but he's trended better of late and has a strong track record of success in his corner. What may be most interesting is what Minnesota decides to do if they can't move some of the pieces.

Looking at the roster construction as it currently stands, there's plenty of reason to question where the front office is prioritizing playing time. A guy like Matt Belisle has been both bad and ineffective for multiple organizations this season. Unfortunately, he's been given ample opportunity with Minnesota and that's to the detriment of the multiple more viable pen arms for the year ahead. A decision like that would suggest there isn't much care when it comes to preparing for what's next. Lynn could be DFA'd and the leftovers could see themselves passed through the waiver process, but we don't really have much evidence to suggest that's what lies ahead.

By my estimation, the most unfortunate way for the final two months of the season to play out would be to see all of these players stick around and no one get any real opportunity from the farm. You can't just cut bait on big league guys that are producing, but clearing the way for those you'll need to rely upon next season has to be of the utmost importance. We should have more clarity in the coming days, but the hope should be that the front office is on board with the train of thought as well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Trade Tea Leaves Telling for Twins

The Minnesota Twins are fully expected to be sellers at this point, and with just under a week until the July 31 trade deadline there's moves to be made. As a few teams have already started to swap assets, the hope would be that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have taken notice. Specifically, there seems to be real value when dealing controllable pieces and the Twins have two of the best out there.

Today, the Tampa Bay Rays flipped Nathan Eovaldi to the Boston Red Sox for LHP Jalen Beeks. Beeks comes in as the Red Sox 6th best prospect per Baseball America, and Tampa netting him after just 10 starts from Eovaldi post Tommy John surgery seems like some sort of sorcery. At 28, Eovaldi has always been a guy to push the radar gun. He's sitting at 97.4 mph on his fastball this year, and appears to have regained his pre-surgery form just fine. The 4.26 ERA is backed by a 4.28 FIP while his 8.4 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 are plenty solid. If this is the return Eovaldi commands though, what could Minnesota get for Kyle Gibson?

Still arbitration eligible for another season, Gibson doesn't hit the open market until 2020. Eovaldi checks in as a rental, and will only be with Boston for the remainder of 2018. After coming on strong in the second half of 2017, Gibson has continued to prove that he's truly turned a corner. With a 3.57 ERA and a 3.85 FIP in 2018 the former first round pick has been nothing short of a solid arm. He's also amped up his strikeout rate, posting a career best 8.9 K/9 mark while staying on pace with career norms in the walks department.

It's fair to wonder whether or not the Twins should hang onto Gibson given the likelihood that they turn things around in 2019. Despite having decent pitching depth, Minnesota would be just fine penciling the former Missouri Tiger into the top half of the rotation next season. Ideally this club is making a postseason push in 2019, and getting another strong performance out of Gibson could be integral to that taking place.

The Mets would have the two best arms on the market if either deGrom or Syndergaard were made available. I can't see either of them being moved however, and that means other organizations have an opportunity. If Falvey and Levine are fielding calls on Gibson, a significant haul doesn't appear to be out of the question.

In the bullpen, Minnesota finds another premiere asset. Ryan Pressly has been one of the best relievers in all of baseball this season. He owns a 3.45 ERA with a 2.99 FIP. Jumping up his strikeout total each season, he's at a career best 13.0 K/9 in 2018. That mark puts him 9th among MLB relievers, and above guys like Brad Hand, Felipe Vasquez, and Sean Doolittle.

Much like Gibson, there could be little incentive for Minnesota to deal Pressly. The former Rule 5 pick has another year of arbitration eligibility and also hits the market in 2020. A focus this offseason was to revamp the bullpen, and removing Ryan from it would hurt big time. That said, Jon Morosi recently reported that the Marlins told Boston neither Jay Groome or Michael Chavis along would be enough to acquire their reliever Drew Steckenrider. While Steckenrider has more team control than that of Pressly, they're very comparable pitchers.

At the end of the day I'd be relatively surprised if either Pressly or Gibson was moved. Given the expectation to compete next season, having both of those players on the roster would be beneficial. Moving assets like Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar makes much more sense, and should be the focal point of the next few days. Then again if a team comes calling on Gibson or Pressly, ask for the farm and remain grounded in that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Kepler Looking for Next Step

The Minnesota Twins came into the 2018 season with postseason expectations. After appearing in the Wild Card game a season ago, that result was viewed as a worst case scenario this time around. Fast forward to where we are now, and nothing has gone according to plan. For the Twins to exceed expectations, optimal performance from home grown stars was going to be a must. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano have drawn the headlines, but where does Max Kepler fall into all of this?

During the 2017 campaign, Kepler posted a career best .737 OPS. It was a very slight improvement over his 2016 season, and the thought was that he could be a prime candidate for a breakout in the year ahead. Through 96 games this season, he owns just a .731 OPS and hasn't taken the step forward that was imagined for him. That's the bad news. The good news is this story is still being written.

On the surface, it seems that Kepler is simply repeating the same level of production he's had over the course of his big league career. Diving a bit deeper however, we see some narratives that suggest much more could be coming.

Before diving into any underlying stats, Kepler's slash line this year is interesting in its own right. His .226 batting average is a career worst, but the .314 OBP is a career best. With 44 walks already, he's going to easily set a career high in that category. The German born outfielder also already has 13 longballs to his credit, and reaching 20 for the first time in his career seems like a foregone conclusion. Striking out less, walking more, and leaving the yard at a higher rate are all avenues for success.

Unquestionably, the biggest development for Kepler has been his regained ability to hit left-handed pitching. After posting a .453 OPS against southpaws last season, he now owns an .831 OPS against those same pitchers in the current campaign. Oddly he's fallen off a bit against righties, owning just a .689 OPS, but eight of his 13 homers have come against opposite armed pitchers. Being able to even out the splits, or more desirably mash righties again, would significantly raise Kepler's water level across the board.

Looking at the quality of balls Max is putting in play we can see signs of a potential breakthrough ready to happen. Although his average sits at .226 on the year, Kepler is generating an unreasonably low .239 BABIP. That mark is significantly below the .276 tally from 2017, and given the career high 38.6 hard hit rate, there's plenty of room for growth.

In previous interviews Kepler has turned his nose at the launch angle revolution. He's actually been goal in saying that it was his goal to put the ball on the ground. By now we know that isn't a viable path to success in the big leagues, and Kepler's numbers have begun to turn away from that. In 2018 he owns a career low 37.9% ground ball rate, and a 45.5% fly ball rate. If there's missed opportunity here, it comes in the form of a HR/FB ratio sitting at 10.3%. Right now Kepler may be getting too far under the ball, and staying within career norms at a 16.6% line drive rate, he's got a bit of room to flatten out the balls he's elevating.

Earlier I touched on the heightened level of plate discipline that Kepler has shown this season, and that's obviously a direct results of his efforts as well. In 2018 he's dropped his swinging strike rate all the way down to 7.4%. That new number is nearly a 2% decrease from a season ago, and a full percent lower than his career average. On top of missing the ball less, he's also chasing pitches out of the zone at a career low 24.9%. In short, it adds up to the perfect storm.

Right now the sum of Kepler's parts has plenty of room for growth. What's a very encouraging sign is that he's hardly defined as the player with a .226 batting average. Continuing to sting the ball while working to optimize his launch angle should only help to drive the BABIP north. As he's able to settle in more against righties, the damage only has an opportunity to become universal. There's been a lot asked of Kepler in a season where Byron Buxton has been nonexistent, but the growth opportunity for a player that's just 25 can do wonders down the road.

No matter what it currently seems like, the best is yet to come for Max Kepler and the Minnesota Twins.

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Dish of the Waiting Game

The Minnesota Twins employed the best catcher in baseball up until 2013, and over his tenure behind the plate, Joe Mauer proved to be one of the five or ten best to ever play the position. Since then however, the role has become somewhat of a black hole for the organization. With Jason Castro shelved in 2018 more question marks have surfaced. The biggest unknown going forward is what do Derek Falvey and Thad Levine do now?

Castro will return in 2019 on the final year of a three-year, $24.5 million deal. He'll be coming off a knee surgery that allowed him to play in just 19 games this season. At 32 years old he'll have spent 699 games behind the dish, and the likelihood that his best days are behind him remains real.

Initially billed as a framing wizard behind the dish, Castro ranked just 15th in baseball per Baseball Prospectus' Framing Runs metric for 2017. While not awful, that's hardly what the Twins had hoped given the hype around that being his best asset. Castro's .720 OPS last season was 29th among major league catchers with at least 130 plate appearances. To summarize, there was plenty to be desired on both sides of the game even before the injury.

Fast forward to 2018, and the Twins catchers have combined to post a .607 OPS. That number comes in 6th worst in all of baseball. Bobby Wilson, who has been the main starter behind the plate in Castro's absence, owns the 6th worst OPS among 55 catchers with at least 100 plate appearances (.507). Mitch Garver has been a significantly better bat, and Willians Astudillo profiles as such also, but neither have been trusted with the gear on.

The lack of belief behind the plate really points to the crux of the Twins issues.

Regardless of what form Castro is in when he returns, Minnesota has virtually no one else they're willing to turn to. Astudillo has posted strong framing numbers at Triple-A, and held his own throwing out 35% of would be base stealers. In seven games with the Twins (and nearly a month on the roster), he never once drew time behind the plate. Garver has been on the 25 man for the balance of the season, yet has been called upon to start at catcher just 45 times.

There's plenty of reason to believe that the Twins should compete immediately in 2019. Projecting another year of virtually everything going wrong seems like a poor bet, and the division should remain plenty open with the only other talented team being the Cleveland Indians. Before they get there however, the Minnesota front office needs to figure out a better blueprint at catcher.

Down the stretch, Garver should be prioritized over Wilson. Whether or not he's deemed an acceptable catcher shouldn't matter in a lost season. Figuring out to what degree he can be counted upon is a must. Astudillo seems like a career minor leaguer, and probably isn't the answer either. Should the results point towards a different direction than Garver, the Twins will need to get creative over the winter.

Castro could be presumed the starter out of the gate again, but a free agent could be brought in to take away those duties. Potential names on the open market include Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos, and Devin Mesoraco. Should the Twins decide not to supplant Castro, another Chris Gimenez type might make sense in place of Garver.

Stepping further away from the situation, the reality is there's a ton of moving pieces and very few certainties for Minnesota. Catcher isn't a position rich in value across the big leagues right now, and while the Twins have two intriguing prospects in Ben Rortvedt and Ryan Jeffers, neither are close enough to make a difference any time soon. The role can't continue to be a revolving door for a team with postseason aspirations however, and driving towards a real answer needs to be a goal sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Twins Top Two Progress Report

The Minnesota Twins came into the 2018 Major League Baseball season expecting to compete for a second straight postseason berth. Unfortunately, the offense has been nonexistent for the bulk of the schedule, and that's led to a situation where the club looks like it will sell off assets prior to the trade deadline. The immediate success of the organization lies on the backs of its former top prospects; chief among them are Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton.

Sano and Buxton have had nothing short of disastrous seasons. They both find themselves down in the minors right now, and the latter is on the shelf with a hand injury. Whether or not Minnesota gets anything of substance out of either this season is largely unimportant at this point. What does matter however, is that both players are trending in a direction to be difference makers out of the gate in 2019.

Now having spent a substantial amount of time down on the farm, it's worth checking on each to see where they're at.

Miguel Sano

After looking like an uncommitted shell of the player he both could and should be for the Twins, Sano was sent to High-A Fort Myers. Rather than scripting it like a punishment, Minnesota's front office communicated that this was a reinvestment in the player. Everyone in the organization wants more from Sano, they all believe it's possible, and the goal is to get the player on that same page as well.

Although High-A is a drastic drop in surroundings, the idea is that Fort Myers essentially serves as the Twins hub. There's a training center and support staff there that is unrivaled across the rest of the minor league system. While performance is part of the equation, conditioning and support are arguably the greater piece of the pie. Expecting this to be best handled in South Florida, it made the most sense as a destination.

Now through 19 games with the Miracle, Sano owns a .328/.442/.453 slash line. He's contributed four extra-base hits (two homers), and owns a 21/13 K/BB ratio. Looking at the numbers, there's some things to like and others to be skeptical about.

Firstly, it's disappointing not seeing a higher power output from a guy who should be feasting on High-A pitching. Just two home runs in 77 plate appearances is a rather paltry display. It's fair to reserve judgement however, as the goal may be working on specific outputs in game situations as opposed to simply letting it fly. On the flip side, the strikeout to walk ratio is something that has to please Minnesota brass. Again, Sano should be much better than this level, but drawing walks at a higher rate is something he must do in the big leagues. As a power hitter, strikeouts will never be a significant problem so long as the longballs and free passes even them out.

From my vantage point, I'm unable to evaluate Sano's off the field progress. Reports have all suggested he's been very committed to his conditioning program and is invested in the plan set forth for him. I've been vocal about Miguel's weight not ever being the real issue, and instead believing that it all revolves around a work ethic that strives for more. If the Twins are happy with the desire and drive they see from their promising slugger, that's as valuable as anything Miguel can bring back to the big leagues with him.

It's hard to evaluate whether or not Sano should have any sort of timetable for a return to the Twins. Again, I don't think the numbers are the true barometer that should inform fans of an impending promotion. The talent and ability is all there for Sano; it simply comes down to whether or not he wants to get the most from it.

Byron Buxton

Nearly a polar opposite from the Twins first basemen, Buxton's issue has never been that he isn't committed or willing to work. Taken off the field due to injuries and ineffectiveness, it's all about whether or not Buxton can harness all of his abilities in conjunction with one another.

Minnesota handled Buxton's injury situation rather oddly this year. There was time missed due to migraines, and then a skipped rehab assignment. Then there was a broken toe, and the blessing to play through an injury that hampered any real ability to be effective at the plate. Following a necessary rehab stint, the organization the decided Buxton's bat wasn't where it needed to be, and optioned him to Rochester for good. Fast forward to today, and a hand ailment has the talented outfielder on the shelf yet again.

On the season, Buxton has played in just 47 games across all levels. He owns an MLB worst .383 OPS and has slashed .232/.303/.377 in 18 games with Triple-A Rochester. There's two trains of thought when it comes to the production, and it's either a result of inability at the current time, or there's the question as to whether lack of consistency has hampered any ability to settle in.

Faults of both injuries and the Twins handling of them, Buxton hasn't found any sort of stability in 2018. It's been nothing short of a lost season, and right now it's a waiting game to see if that narrative can be corrected. There's significantly too much talent in the superstar outfielder for this to go on forever. Right now though, there has to be a strive towards getting him back on the field and keeping him there.

After he heals from this wrist sprain, my hope would be that there's a few games at Triple-A used as a rehab assignment. From there, I'd like to see him sent back up to the Twins to compete in the big leagues. No matter how much he's currently scuffling at Triple-A, we've already seen him master that level. What Byron needs is the ability to adapt and compete at the plate in the majors. In a lost season for the club as a whole, the continued development at the dish needs to take place where it matters. Sparking his bat on the farm, only to then have him start over following a promotion, does no good.

The Twins need to allow Buxton to settle into the level he appears destined to compete at for a long time. Developing consistency in a season that's had very little for him is a must. There's significant opportunity left to be had in 2018, and capitalizing on that would be best for Buxton as well as the Twins.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Future Twins and What's Ahead

Over the past week or so, the Minnesota Twins have certainly brought a higher level of intrigue to their 2018 season. Despite getting so little out of their offense for so long, they've at least made the idea of being sellers, one worth questioning. Ultimately I'm not sure 2018 is salvageable, but expecting them to again be competitive in 2019 is a very real proposition. For those wondering about what's even further out, this one is for you.

I have been sitting on this question from "twins dude" on Twitter for over a month now. Wondering what the Twins lineup might look like in five years, I was waiting for a good opportunity to take a look. Immediately following the Futures Game and during this lull of Twins baseball, it seemed as good of a time as any.

So, with all of that out of the way, who takes the field where in 2023? This is my stab at that answer:

C- Ryan Jeffers

The 2018 2nd round pick has gotten off to a hot start over his first 20+ professional games. While there were questions about whether he could stick behind the plate, Minnesota believes the answer is yes. The bat will play, and he's got a decent shot to race ahead of Ben Rortvedt in getting to the big leagues.

1B- Miguel Sano

For this to be accurate, a few factors would come into play. First and foremost, Sano would need to truly dedicate himself to his craft. Even in sliding over to first from third, staying in better shape and being committed to giving the Twins more than just a shell of himself is a must. He'll be eligible for free agency in 2022, so staying with Minnesota behind that point would be reflective of a renewed belief in his ability and work ethic.

2B- Nick Gordon

We should see Gordon as soon as 2018, and immediately taking over for Brian Dozier makes a ton of sense. He's probably not quite ready to step in as an above-average big leaguer, but he's still developing. Nick has a completely different skillset than that of Brian, but it's one that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine could safely deploy at the top or bottom of the lineup.

SS- Royce Lewis

Superstar, that's really the only word I'm coming up with when trying to describe Lewis. He's an incredible athlete, top tier baseball player, and an even better person. I'd be far from shocked if we don't see him in the big leagues by 2020. He could slide to the outfield, but Minnesota would obviously be better suited if he stays at short. He's not going to be the best fielder, but from an all around standpoint, he could be the next Carlos Correa.

3B- Jorge Polanco

I think Polanco remains in the Twins long term plans. He's been fine as a shortstop, and has really worked at improving himself defensively. That said, it's probably more likely he moves off than position than Lewis. Not the typical slugging corner infielder, Polanco has plenty of pop to be an asset offensively as well.

LF- Eddie Rosario

Having gone from a free winging question mark to one of the best outfielders in the game, Eddie Rosario has absolutely broken out in 2018. This isn't some flash in the pan, as we've seen it substantiated for nearly a full year now. The Twins should be looking to extend him through arbitration and into free agency.

CF- Byron Buxton

At 24, it's still way too early to give up on one of the best defenders baseball has ever seen. Buxton is incredible in center field, and I believe the bat is legit too. We've had to practice a significant amount of patience with him, but in the not-so-distant future I think we see it pay off. He needs to do a better job of staying healthy, but there's a big time breakout waiting to happen here.

RF- Alex Kirilloff

Shooting up prospect lists this season, you'd hardly remember that Kirilloff missed a full year due to Tommy John surgery. Seen as a bat only prospect coming out of high school, the offensive upside has been through the roof. He crushed Low-A, and has started off well at High-A Fort Myers. I'd imagine we could see him in the big leagues by 2020, and that thump from the left side of the plate would be incredibly welcomed. Max Kepler is going to be in the mix here, but he'll need to flash more consistency than we've seen thus far.

DH- Brent Rooker/Trevor Larnach

Larnach is probably the better outfielder of this duo, but Rooker can slot in at first base in the big leagues. Rotating through some of those defensive positions while being focused on hitting first, both of these bats have an opportunity to do some serious damage at the highest level. Rooker needs to cut down on the strikeouts, and work more walks, but the power is absolutely real. We've yet to see what Larnach can do professionally, but his collegiate approach was a very good one, and there's plenty of thump off his bat as well. These two would be among the better athletes cast as DH's in the majors.

If I were to construct a lineup out of this group, it might look something like this:

Buxton CF
Lewis SS
Kirilloff RF
Sano 1B
Rosario LF
Rooker DH
Polanco 3B
Jeffers C
Gordon 2B

Five years is a long time out, and there's so much that can happen prior to any of this actually taking place. It's fun to look at what's ahead, but given the immediate future of this club and the opportunity within the division, it's also best to not miss what is right around the corner.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Rodney Defying Odds for Twins

A season ago, the Minnesota Twins welcomed Bartolo Colon to the 25 man roster. Big Sexy was 44 years old, and he was determined to pitch at least until he was 45. Paul Molitor got good results from the journeyman a year ago, and the front office went back to the fountain of youth this winter. Fernando Rodney was signed as the club's closer, and at the age of 41 he's been nothing short of a revelation.

Long gone are the days that the Twins could immediately pencil in a holdover in the 9th inning. Glen Perkins was an All Star closer that was a well known commodity. Taking the torch from Joe Nathan, the Twins had gone from one 9th inning stalwart to another. As age and ineffectiveness caught up with Perkins however, the cupboard seemed to be bare. Without a "proven closer" waiting in the wings, Minnesota needed to get creative.

After Perkins began to find himself on the disabled list, the Twins turned to former scrap heap pickup Brandon Kintzler. It took just a year, and the 32 year old found himself in the All Star Game for the first time in his career. Recording 28 saves along with a 2.78 ERA for Minnesota a year ago, Kintzler was nothing short of a revelation.

Having turned to a more established 9th inning presence, Rodney was guaranteed the 9th inning gig from the get go. Following along with a trend, April was a tough month for the 41 year old. Rodney posted a 5.87 ERA and had as many blown saves (3) as he did successful ones (3). At the end of that first month, I found myself as the voice of reason preaching caution. This narrative has played out before, and it's one that bears significant fruit going forward.

Since May 1, Rodney owns a 2.19 ERA for the Twins and has allowed opposing batters to compile just a .514 OPS against him. He's 17/19 in save opportunities, and has been the lockdown presence any team would hope for in the late innings. What's maybe most impressive, is that Rodney is putting up numbers that rival some of his best season, despite his advanced age. The 3.3 BB/9 is the second lowest tally of his career, and over a full free pass better than his career average. He's still setting down batters at a 10.0 K/9 rate, and he's kept hitters in check.

Across the board, there's really nothing exceptional about the totals that the Twins closer is putting up. What's more important however, is that there's no areas for concern either. Rodney is 41 years old, and still competing at a level that many of his contemporaries would strive for. His velocity still averages out above 95 mph, and he remains virtually the same pitcher he's always been. For the gamble that Minnesota placed in acquiring his services, this is definitely a success story for all parties involved.

Time will tell, but the expectation should be that Rodney is moved before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Having worked almost entirely in the closer role, it would stand to reason that a team needing a 9th inning arm would make the most sense. No matter where he goes however, the 41 year old will probably end up being superior to many of the younger arms surrounding him. Whether it be his workout regimen or dedication to the game, continuing to be this good for this long is nothing short of exceptional.

This narrative has played out in Twins Territory before. From Jim Thome, to Colon, and now Rodney, seeing guys well past their prime competing at such a high level is something of a marvel. There's no reason for Rodney to be considering calling it quits any time soon, and at this stage in his career, that's something to hang his hat on.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Flip Side of Selling

Right now, the Minnesota Twins own a 1.7% probability when it comes to making the postseason per Fangraphs. I recently wrote about how Minnesota can utilize their remaining schedule if and when they decide to sell off. Should the losing continue, things become very clear for this squad. What makes things interesting however, is the slate that lies ahead.

So far, the Twins have found themselves playing a significant amount of games outside of the AL Central. While divisional matchups are all bound to get in eventually, it's of note for Minnesota given the poor quality of competition. Obviously the Cleveland Indians have the same opportunity to beat bad teams, but the Twins schedule sets up favorably. In September, 17 of the 28 games come against the White Sox, Royals and Tigers. In August, the club plays more than their fair share of games against Cleveland, as well as Kansas City.

What that means for Paul Molitor's squad is somewhat of an unknown at this point. Having recently faced both the White Sox and Royals, Minnesota is enjoying a nice five game winning streak. On the year, the Twins are just 12-10 against the three "poor" teams in the division, while owning a 6-3 record against Cleveland.

Beating bad teams, or the ones that you should beat, is what good teams make a habit of. Sitting eight games below .500 at the moment, Minnesota can't say they've capitalized on opportunities thus far. What makes things somewhat interesting, is that there's plenty of opportunity ahead.

I don't know that I believe this club can turn it around. On paper coming into the year, this should've been a very good team. The pitching has been there, but seeing very little from players like Dozier, Morrison, Sano, Buxton, and Kepler has crippled the offense. Should they all turn it around, we're talking about a much different outlook down the stretch. The Indians have their warts, and a clicking Twins team is more than capable of holding serve.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are stuck in the position of deciding whether or not they're willing to bet on their expected producers to turn things around. They've got roughly two more weeks to evaluate the progress, and while they could end up being sellers, don't really have a big trade chip of note.

Given what we've seen thus far, it's hard to bet on a group of five or six guys all turning things around and competing at a high level. If half of those players become assets however, we could be in for a bit of interesting baseball slightly longer than anticipated. The unfortunate flip side to this however, is that the middle ground seems to be where this is all trending, and that's hardly an enviable place to be. Not bad enough to grab a top third draft pick, but not good enough to make the playoffs, the success would then need to be measured on what you learned or the evaluation that took place.

While not dead, the Twins are on life support. They have a few key contributors that could help them to pull through, and if that takes place in even the slightest fashion, the opponents that wait down the road may be of assistance as well.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Twins Can Capitalize on Remaining Schedule

Entering play on July 9, the Minnesota Twins playoff odds sit at just 1.1%. With the sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, the numbers have jumped up from the 0.4% entering the series. At this point of the season however, the writing is on the wall. Paul Molitor's squad is going nowhere, and the focus should turn to process more significantly than results. While the win total may be meaningless at the end, using the slate of games ahead for good is a must.

Going into 2018, there was plenty of optimism surrounding this Twins team. They were coming off a Wild Card game, added more talent, and had another year of development for their young stars. What was also apparent, is that the amount of one-year deals and expiring contracts would allow the club to retool again in 2019. This version won't have a postseason berth to jump off of next year, but the window for opportunity remains open. For the Twins to capitalize on it, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine need to do a much better job utilizing the 25 man roster than they have thus far.

For starters, the lineup should begin to reflect players with a future being prioritized. It took far too long for a superior player in Jake Cave to get real run over a retread like Ryan LaMarre. Mitch Garver clearly has a capable bat, but he's still sitting far too often behind the inept Bobby Wilson. Cave is a 25 year old fringe prospect that could be a nice 4th outfielder and take over Robbie Grossman's role. Garver has concerns behind the plate, but if the feeling is that he can't catch, opportunities should be found at first base. Going into 2019 without a clear idea of what sort of contributions these two are capable of would be a mistake.

Despite the Twins pitching staff having been a significant area of improvement this season, there's going to be a good deal of turnover next year. Zach Duke and Fernando Rodney are on one year deals, while Lance Lynn is an expiring contract as well. Those guys are all trade candidates, but even if they aren't moved, it's a decent assumption they won't be back. Instead of letting someone like Matt Belisle eat innings, relievers such as John Curtiss, Alan Busenitz, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, and Jake Reed should all make major league appearances.

In the rotation, the Twins will return Jose Berrios and Fernando Romero for certain. Ervin Santana has a year left on his deal, but at this point, can't be counted on. Minnesota can offer Jake Odorizzi arbitration, and Kyle Gibson falls in that group as well. The depth in the rotation remains strong, but finding out who else can rise to the top should be a goal. Zack Littell should return for some consecutive starts that allow him to be comfortable rather than nervous, and Stephen Gonsalves should make his debut for an extended period as well. Getting the jitters out and accomplishing the acclimation process now would be a good idea.

At some point, the Twins should promote Nick Gordon. The 22 year old put up a .906 OPS this season for Double-A Chattanooga. Since moving up to Triple-A Rochester, he's posted just a .609 mark in 45 games. The next level has seen pretty poor results, and that should provide plenty of reason for caution. That said, the Twins are almost certainly going to let Brian Dozier walk this offseason, and Gordon would be expected to then take over. He may not win the job out of spring training, but I'd assume the goal is to have him in the big leagues by June 2019. Using a month of games that don't matter could be a very good way for him to get his feet wet.

Really what it all boils down to is that the front office learn something from what's left. While trying to stay in it, many of the roster moves have trended towards lower ability players that bring an off the field aspect to the clubhouse. With poor performance and injuries having mounted, it's hard to suggest that a different story could have been told even with the most optimal roster decisions. At this point however, the Twins are presented with a desirable situation for future performance.

No one should be expecting a rebuild in Minnesota any time soon, and the division sets up nicely to go for it again next year. Bringing in new parts from the free agent market, and pairing them with internal talent could very likely produce optimal results. As we've seen this season however, there's no guarantees from players within your organization, and even less so with fresh faces. Figuring out who you may be able to promote and count on now, could save a lot of face down the road.

It's common sense that Minnesota will win plenty more games in 2018. It's also a fair suggestion that when the dust settles they won't matter at all. What level of development, process, and groundwork is laid for the future will be the takeaway from this year. It's time to shift the focus to that level of thinking, and hopefully we see the decisions from the top to mimic that sentiment.