Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Baseball is Back: What Does it Look Like?

Today was finally the day. June 23, 2020 was the day when the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball got on the same page. The announcement was simple, play ball. Now that we have that out of the way, what does it all look like?

We're going to have a 60 game schedule, and that means that each team will play 40 games against their traditional division with another 20 coming against the geographic counterpart from the other league. Minnesota gets the NL Central which included just one team breaking the 90-win plateau in 2019, and two finishing below .500.

There's going to be a significant amount of rule changes or modifications. The regular season will run from July 24 through September 26. Below you can find a bulleted list with a link to each report:
We already know there will be no fans. We already know that this entire thing could go up in flames if safety protocols don't end up keeping the virus in a manageable state. What we also know for the first time since March is that there will be baseball. Despite months of horrible public disparagement from both sides, it's once again the game that will attempt to unite us.

This is a season the Minnesota Twins were looking forward to. Names like Josh Donaldson and Kenta Maeda have made their way onto a roster coming off 101 wins a season ago. Sure this is a difficult calendar to compare statistically across previous years, but every single organization is in the same boat now. The goal is still to win a World Series, no matter how different the journey to get there may be.

There's certainly less nuance in a 60-game sprint than there is in a 162-game marathon, but the importance of every outing just got ratcheted through the roof. If you want the feel of a one-game Wild Card for the next three months you've got it. Buckle up because this is going to be something like we've never seen before.

We've got a week until teams begin Spring Training 2.0 in their home ballparks, but it's official, Play Ball!

Monday, June 22, 2020

Waiting is the Hardest Part: MLB Edition

Despite a global health crisis, it isn’t a pandemic that has ultimately thwarted the resumption of Major League Baseball in 2020, no instead it’s those directly involved with the game. Regardless of fault, fans are on a roller coaster ride they never signed up for, and it’s hurt the sport substantially.

Today the Major League Baseball Players Association will vote on whether they’ll accept or reject Major League Baseball’s proposal for resumption of play. 38 voting members will give a yay or nay with a majority vote needed to cement a decision one way or another. The expectation is that the proposal will be rejected on the grounds of not wanting to lose an opportunity to grieve the circumstances in court.

What we really have is posturing, and it’s what we’ve had during so much of this process, and what baseball labor negotiations have become synonymous with. Owners and players don’t trust each other at all, and it’s why every renewal of the CBA ends up coming with a significant possibility of lockout.

It wasn’t until recently that Rob Manfred and Tony Clark got in a room together to has things out. Both sides came out of that meeting with different understandings of what took place, and it only furthered a battle that has played out with public barbs being fired back and forth. Regardless of the structure imposed by the current deal, it would seem to be a non-starter for players in that acceptance represents failure of sorts.

I’ve long operated with the belief that there will undoubtedly be baseball in 2020 (barring a shift in circumstances regarding the virus), but that I have no idea what it would look like. The initial suggestion of a full season seemed laughable, but so too does the suggestion of an implemented 48-game playthrough. We’re obviously much closer to the latter than former at this point, and it’s because of all the feet dragging that we’re here.

Siding with the players should be an easy choice in this whole battle, but the reality is that both parties have dug in so harshly what we as fans are left with is a bastardized version of what could’ve been. Finances tied directly to games played left us with one side looking to cut down the calendar, and the other trying to recoup as much of their income as possible. It isn’t a matter of what we want to play at this point, but instead what the calendar will allow for.

So again today, when there’s a vote on whether the season should start under a certain set of conditions, we’ll likely be left waiting. One side’s disagreement will shoot down the opportunity for an official announcement, and like the many weeks and days of vast importance before it, the day will again be wasted.

Tomorrow and going forward Rob Manfred, who has failed miserably in providing any direction or leadership while instead allowing his sport to burn, will need to decide whether or not he’ll implement a season. The players agreed to that possibility back in March, and it’s a scenario that makes all too much sense not to fulfill. Then again, we’ve crossed plenty of these bridges already throughout this process and they all still remain smoldering.

I still believe we’ll have baseball in 2020, but the waiting has turned away many future fans forever, and it’s cost the current one’s significant amount of trust for ultimately no necessary reason.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Midseason 2020 Minnesota Twins Top 15 Prospects

It’s really weird to be providing a midseason update on Minnesota Twins prospects when not only has a Major League game not been played, but the Minor League season is all but cancelled as well. There hasn’t been anything of substance to look at, although my thoughts on a few players have shifted.

I can’t say that I derived anything of considerable substance from the week I spent watching back fields action down in Fort Myers, but there’s also been a (very brief) Major League Baseball draft that put some fresh talent into the organization as well. 2020 has been anything but normal, so let’s embrace the goofiness and get underway with the rankings.

15. Wander Javier SS

Losing a full season of Minor League Baseball may hurt no one in the Twins system more than it does Wander Javier. An elite talent who has fallen completely off the map since Rookie Ball, Javier is coming off a dismal .601 OPS with Cedar Rapids in 2019. He’s still just 21, but a year of missed development and wanting to distance himself from a season ago isn’t ideal.

14. Matt Canterino RHP

I really like Canterino and think he can continue to push up these rankings as a relatively high floor prospect. He’ll be 23 next season, but he put in a very impressive showing to start his pro career. Working 25 innings after 99 in college is a nice taste, and clearly the Twins were impressed skipping him over the Appy League. He should start at High-A Fort Myers in 2021.

13. Gilberto Celestino OF

Part of the package returned for Ryan Pressly, Celestino was originally viewed through the lens of being a plus defender. While that remains true, he reached High-A Fort Myers last season and posted a .759 OPS. The 10 home runs were a nice bit of power, and if that comes along with his speed and defensive abilities, he’ll rocket up this board. There’s clearly a reason why Minnesota wanted him on the 40 man this winter.

12. Matt Wallner OF

I’m higher on Wallner than most I think, but he is a bit more than the traditional booming bat the Twins have. There’s athleticism here and he can play on the corners in the outfield. His arm is massive, so right field makes a lot of sense. He was already looking like an advanced hitter, so the wiping out of 2020 may not hurt him as much. There’s always fallback potential here that he could get on the mound.

11. Aaron Sabato 1B

Continuing the mold of targeting thunderous bats, Minnesota went with arguably the best power hitter in the draft during 2020. Sabato can launch the baseball, and he’ll absolutely have to with little to now defensive value. The expectation is a big leaguer at worst here, with some serious thump as a consistent and regular producer.

10. Brent Rooker 1B/OF

Rooker could see time on a taxi-squad for the Twins in 2020, and it’s not hard to wonder on as his bat is ready. There’s uncertainty as to where he’ll play given mixed reports on abilities in the outfield and at first base, but the bat should hold its own. He’s got a different build than Sabato, but all of the same power is there.

9. Keoni Cavaco SS

Keeping Cavaco back for me is just how lost he looked at the plate in his debut season. The K/BB ration was nightmarish, and that’s the bigger story than where his slash line was for me. I think he really needed to get back on the diamond and in the swing of things for some positive steps forward. Obviously, this is still a first round talent, but it’s a wait and see approach for me.

8. Ryan Jeffers C

One of the biggest movers nationally in the Twins system has been Jeffers. He went from a bat first player that may not be able to catch, and now is considered multi-faceted within the organization. The receiving and throwing skills have sharpened, and nothing has slowed down with the bat. Like Rooker, Jeffers could be on the taxi squad for the Twins, and probably is a better option behind Alex Avila in the hole than Willians Astudillo.

7. Blayne Enlow RHP

Minnesota saved money on some earlier picks to grab Enlow given the promise they saw in him. So far that’s been greatly rewarded. He’s been a consistent arm, and while not dominant, has gotten it done at every level. Would like to see a few more strikeouts, but there’s a mid-rotation upside here. Another guy that could factor in depending on how big minor league depth goes for 2020.

6. Lewis Thorpe LHP

2020 was going to be a big year for Thorpe and it’s taken on quite a different shape. He was away from Spring Training getting reset for a couple of weeks and then look ticketed for Triple-A Rochester. With the situation as it is now, he could be an extra long man out of the pen. His stuff was better than the numbers said in 2019, and I think there’s legit stuff to dream on from the Aussie lefty.

5. Jhoan Duran RHP

The way 2020 has gone, and the limited season may actually accelerate Duran’s pro debut. I assumed it would come this year, but that wasn’t a lock. Expanded taxi squads and roster could certainly make an arm this good worthy of a relief look. He’s going to start in a traditional year. The near triple-digit stuff plays from the get-go. Bring him in as a middle reliever might be a nice boost for Rocco Baldelli, however.

4. Trevor Larnach OF

I’d bet heavily on Larnach showing up at the Major League level in 2020. He’s an advanced hitter and works the zone well. He’s held his own during Spring Training action and watching him launch a ball on his first big league at bat was a lot of fun. He’s the most likely of the Twins power prospects to remain in the outfield. Good athleticism, although it will play better on the corners.

3. Jordan Balazovic RHP

This season will present somewhat of a weird spot for Balazovic. I think he’s best utilized as a starter and not sure how much his stuff plays up in the pen. He’s got a legitimate shot to be top half rotation arm and pairing him with Jose Berrios down the road could be lots of fun. The Canadian has received lots of praise in the past calendar year and the stuff absolutely warrants it.

2. Alex Kirilloff OF/1B

Plenty can still make the argument that Minnesota’s top two prospects are interchangeable. I have Kirilloff second because once he moves off an outfield spot (as he already has) first base provides less value. He’s a pure hitter, he’s going to hit for average, and the power will be there as well. He was going to be ready at some point in 2020, and no we’ll likely see it sooner rather than later.

1. Royce Lewis SS

Lots of ups and downs for Lewis on the farm last year, but he ended on fire as the Arizona Fall League MVP. There’s going to be concerns about the leg kick until he consistently puts it together, and plenty still wonder if he’s not better suited for centerfield. Regardless, he’s going to play a premium position and looks the part of a perennial All-Star.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Lemonade Out of the Lemons MLB has Given Us

There’s both good and bad to come in the next couple of days. As has always been my stance, we’re going to see baseball in 2020. The flip side to that is Rob Manfred will impose a bastardized version thanks to the efforts of owners wanting to crush the sport. There has to be some silver lining though right?

Co-director of the IBWAA, Daniel Epstein, did a masterful job of breaking down Major League Baseball’s recent letter and detailing why the negotiations have been nothing short of a steaming pile of dog poop. Because of that reality, the owners will get what they’ve wanted since the get go here, less baseball. In playing a shorter regular season the financial commitments are at the least amount, while Postseason opportunity allows for the largest revenue stream.
As fans, it’s going to be hard to stomach a 50-something game sprint. The Twins hit 307 home runs to set a Major League record in 2019. That’s a gaudy number to look at and is nothing short of eye popping. Dialing that pace back to 50 games, you’re looking at a tally in the 90’s, or something close to the total between two longball leaders.

From a statistical perspective viewing this exercise through any normal lens is going to be a very tough sell. Baseball breathes life year-round because of the historical and numerical importance carried within the game. It’s one thing to argue the validity between a 150 and 160 game season but chopping off triple digits makes this an extreme outlier no matter how you dissect it.

We are going to have baseball, but make no mistake, this won’t be Major League Baseball in any sense of the suggestion. Rather than allowing for the nuance and leveling off that occurs over the course of a traditional 162 game marathon, it will be a sprint on a daily basis. Instead of winning a series and settling for a split in the next one, it will be a game of sweeps and a nightly pedal to the metal.

If we can separate what baseball is, and what this will be, there could be some level of enhanced excitement to it. The one game Wild Card is often torn down because of the length it takes to achieve that opportunity, and then how quickly it is taken away. There’s no denying the level of excitement or pressure placed on those nine innings however, and now we’ll get a version of that for the entirety of the action.

Decisions made by clubs will need to be reflective of opportunity within the next 24 hours as opposed to the next couple of weeks. Teams will need to manage in an attempt to thwart off divisional foes even a game behind right from the word go. In what will likely feel akin to the World Baseball Classic style of play, single game importance is set to be in a place we’ll have never experience during a regular season.

It’s truly unfortunate that a global pandemic was used to further the agenda of billionaire owners. We as fans lose the opportunity to cheer for our teams, and experience anything resembling the sport in its intended set of parameters. If we’re going to do this hack job of a year though, we might as well try to start finding rainbows through the storm.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Keeping Up With Twins Picks: 2020 Edition

On June 10th, 2020 one of the weirdest drafts in Major League Baseball history commenced. Composed of just five rounds, Major League organizations will add the least amount of talent they have in years. For the Minnesota Twins, their selections will start with the 27th overall pick.

In a yearly effort to keep all of the draft picks in one place, here's your "Keeping Up" entry at Off The Baggy, Take a look back at 2018 here, and 2019 here. This article will be updated throughout the draft tomorrow.

The picks:

Round 1, Pick 27: Aaron Sabato, 1B North Carolina (@SabatoAaron)
Round 2, Pick 59: Alerick Soularie, LF Tennessee (@banditos_34)
Round 4, Pick 128: Marco Raya, RHP United South HS (TX) (@markraya_)
Round 5, Pick 158: Kala'i Rosario, OF Waiakea HS (HI) (@KalaiRosario)

Undrafted Free Agent Signees:

John Stankiewicz, RHP Fordham (@JohnStank34)
Lucas Sweany, LHP Pacific (@lucas_sweany11)
Allante Hall, C Pensacola State JC (@hall_allante)
Zarion Sharpe, LHP UNC-Wilmington (@zsharpe01)

Monday, June 8, 2020

Baseball Striking Out in the 9th

We’re now past the point of Major League Baseball earning favor with fans upon its return. The expectation remains that there will be a 2020 season, but it’s looking more likely that it will be a mandated one as opposed to an agreed upon conclusion.

With the latest proposal from ownership across Major League Baseball, the Players Association has been presented another deal that changes wording and says virtually the same thing. Despite an agreement from March regarding full prorated salaries, the billionaire owners are looking for further concessions to stifle the losses they aren’t willing to substantiate.
Because of where we are in negotiations, and what is currently being proposed, a July 4th start date is no longer in play. The league has now moved to July 10, and a 76-game season is what they are suggesting. In reality though, the goal of ownership is to draw these discussions out for as long as necessary. That conclusion ends with a league mandated season in the 50-game territory. Prorated pay will then be granted to players, but only for just under one-third of their agreed upon salary.

In short, these two sides are so dug in against each other that ownership is willing to do nothing and allow the mediator the opportunity to make the deal.

There’s certainly reason to be frustrated as fans here. After all, it’s the consumer of the sport that ultimately loses the most. Players are dealing with precedence, and with this situation playing out just a year prior to CBA expiration it’s understandable wanting to avoid exploitation. Owners are in turn using a global pandemic to stick those CBA negotiation tactics in high gear, and despite having no public record of revenues ever, are now wanting the same public to believe in massive losses.

At the end of the day we’re being strung along on a roller coaster ride with the intended result tracking right towards where ownership groups want it. They’ll be able to claim the Union failed to come to an agreement, despite having never changed or offered a more logical proposal. Major League Baseball’s commissioner can be pointed as the scapegoat having to enact a mandated season, but ultimately, it’s his responsibility to drive labor peace.

Timing for a work stoppage in terms of sport will never be ideal. For Twins fans right now though, we’re losing out on what should be peak years of a World Series caliber club. The uncertainty of what lies ahead, and the competition being skewed with an ever-changing landscape of play is unfortunate at best. On a national scale we lose out on the midst of Mike Trout’s prime, or the final chases of Albert Pujols’ career. No winners can be crowned in all of this, only losers, and it’s yet to be determined who loses most.

Baseball is a sport of passion, and fans are entrenched in the record book and favor of the teams they support. The fallout left by what started as an uncontrollable negative and turned into a self-destructive blaze will be something present for many years to come. Baseball could have been so much different in 2020. It still can take place, but it will never be under the circumstances that were once there for the taking.

Sorry MLB, this time you failed, big.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Thank You and Now for Action

Whether you've been a reader here, at Twins Daily, or through Twitter, this message is a thank you of sorts. I was reading a blog post by a client tonight and it was in reflection of the George Floyd killing. What I realized in reading it is that with a platform or audience comes a responsibility. One phrase in that post prompted me to reflect on how I can best handle said responsibility.

In reflecting on the events that both led to and have come from the death of George Floyd, this post read, "It is not important that you/I am not a racist; what is essential is that I/we become anti-racist." That hit me, hard.

Here's the thing, society has spent the days since that tragic moment putting out statements and unifying behind black squares on social media. It's great to have a common purpose, and it shouldn't be lost on anyone that saying "black lives matter" or "I'm not a racist" has no place being controversial. Those phrases however are hollow in and of themselves.

Reading his words, "what is essential is that I/we become anti-racist" is a call to action. It isn't about what we can say, what conversations we avoid, or how we connect with the world around us. No, those words should push forth the idea that there is opportunity. Black individuals and communities still deal with the same oppression they always have because our actions have often lagged behind our words.

This isn't a situation of systemic negativity that gets fixed simply by talking. By speaking on the topic we're simply putting the key into the ignition. It's by what we do, and how we act, that will eventually push towards a change.

The senseless killing of George Floyd should cause each one of us to think about how our lives may be different than that of our neighbor. What are the true feelings on our hearts? And then when that reflection has taken place, how can we act upon an opportunity to create change. There's never been a more impactful and widespread time for the world to commit to change. We're more connected and plugged in than ever before, but it takes action to get the ball rolling.

I don't know what my action plan is throughout the year, but I absolutely will have one. In this space it will make sense to tie it back to baseball, but I want to be anti-racist and a part of the solution rather than just watching from the sidelines.

Thank you for providing an opportunity, thank you for supporting my hobby, and here's to hoping we'll have baseball again soon to bring us together on a similar playing field.

Monday, June 1, 2020

How Wacky Will a 2020 MLB Season Be?

Here we are again, another critical week in terms of baseball resuming for a 2020 season. The MLB owners sent their non-starter of a proposal to the players, and the players have responded with what ownership describes identically. We need to bridge that gap, and quickly, but if we do what is it all going to look like?

There’s a couple of assumed certainties already in play that, regardless of where all of the chips fall, these thing should take place in some form or fashion.

Universal DH

While it’s long been suggested that the National League brings about a higher level of strategy in having to deal with an incapable batter, the universal DH makes too much sense. It creates 15 more jobs, a better market in free agency for the position, and relieves fans from having to watch a pitcher flail away before becoming an assumed automatic out.

The Twins are well positioned here with Nelson Cruz, and they’ve got a host of other candidates that could cycle through for reps as well. This is going to happen in 2020 if there’s baseball, and it’s likely to be adopted by the new CBA as well.

Season Length

The most economical strategy would be to play more games. However, owners get relief from player salaries should the season be shortened. Ownership proposed an 80-game schedule while the players went with a more aggressive 114 game approach. The former allows for somewhat of a resumption situation while the latter would have teams playing into October with a later Postseason.

At this point it’s expected we see teams play in their home stadiums. There won’t be any fans and the schedules will likely be shuffled to include a significantly higher portion of regional contests. At this point, I don’t believe we’ll see any division re-alignment.

Expanded Postseason

This has been proposed by both sides, and the players took it a step further to suggest doing so in each of the next two seasons. The Postseason is where owners rake in the largest revenues, and this would allow more teams and longer coverage. Players are also talking about competing in these games during November, which would likely mean more neutral site contests in warm weather cities.

Baseball’s schedule being 162 games allows for it to be the ultimate marathon prior to the Postseason. Although the one-game Wild Card is a point of contention, it places a premium on winning your Division. In more of a sprint schedule, it makes sense to open things up a bit and allow the cream of the crop to rise up.

Large Taxi Squads

There’s little reason to expect anything but minor league baseball to be banged this season. The logistics alone are cumbersome, and then there’s the reality that Commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to downsize. Teams are going to have expanded rosters, and then there will be some sort of ready-and-waiting guys capable of taking over.

Organizations could run intrasquad contests at their Spring Training sites, and there may be an opportunity to have a group of players travel near the team. Minnesota’s closest affiliate is Cedar Rapids, but who knows if that will have a factor on future decisions.

At the end of the day I think what we’ll have to remember about Major League Baseball in 2020 is that you still have to catch and hit the ball. The logistics and optics of the game will likely be drastically altered. In a sport tied so tightly to its record book, we’ll have questions about how they all stack up for years to come. Should a World Series happen, and a winner be crowned however, they’ll have taken the trophy on the same uncertain playing field everyone else is dealing with.

Let’s just hope we’ve got a season to worry about. Buckle up.