Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Can The Twins Fill a Rotation for 2022?

Right now, the Minnesota Twins starting rotation is completely turned over. The group that started the 2021 season is gone, and the anchors intended for 2022 are no longer realistic options. So where does the team go from here?

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine already had their work cut out for them going into the winter. The bullpen was nothing short of a disaster this season, and the starting rotation has been lackluster in plenty of different instances. Now faced with the reality that Jose Berrios is gone, and Kenta Maeda is injured, the uphill battle has grown substantially.

Of course, dollars have to, and will be, spent. Before considering the options on the open market, and they are relatively plentiful, looking at who can be an option internally on Opening Day is where we should start. Unfortunately, the names are more plentiful than the logical options you’d hope to ink in.

Bailey Ober

If there’s a guy that’s earned a role among the five openings to kick off 2022 it’s Ober. He’s been lights out of late and now has a sub-4.00 ERA. Ober owns a 2.45 ERA over his last seven starts and he’s posted a 9.3 K/9. The home run bit him hard early, and a 1.8 HR/9 still isn’t great, but that only leaves further opportunity for heightened levels of success. He’s not an ace but pitching himself into the top half of a rotation would hardly be a shock.

Joe Ryan

It’s still surprising the Twins got this type of return for Nelson Cruz, but Ryan has seemed every bit as exciting as you’d hope. Across 66.0 IP at Triple-A this season Ryan owns a 3.41 ERA and has punched out 12.5 K/9. He needs to make his next turn in Minnesota, but regardless, you could do a lot worse than this type of arm as a 5th starter to open the next campaign.

Randy Dobnak

Dobnak has put himself in an interesting situation given the lack of effectiveness and injury issues he’s dealt with this season. Still probably a 4th starter at best, the ceiling really isn’t there in comparison to the two aforementioned arms, and the prospects behind him could close the gap quickly. He’s a great depth guy, but Minnesota can’t afford to fill the rotation with options of this caliber.

Lewis Thorpe

There’s probably a decent chance that Thorpe is dropped from the 40-man roster this offseason. The Twins were granted an additional year of control, but the Aussie hasn’t done anything with it. The velocity has continued to be lackluster, and nothing about the upside that was once there has reappeared. It’s been a disappointing fall through health and personal complications. Either way, this isn’t a viable option.

Griffin Jax

A really great story this season, and one worth keeping in the organization, Jax is a rotational depth piece in my mind. He’s shown that there’s a capable level of stuff to get big leaguers out but relying on him for 30 turns a season could expose Minnesota in a bad way. Jax doesn’t have the high end velocity or strikeout stuff to dominate, but he is a big league arm that can eat innings when necessary.

Charlie Barnes

Of the fringe arms to debut this season for Minnesota, Barnes has been the most underwhelming. His strikeout numbers have never really been anything to write home about and that makes the margin for error at the highest level very slight. Barnes is 25 and hasn’t ever had much in the form of prospect status, but that doesn’t negate the fact he could be a nice depth piece. That’s probably still to be determined, but it won’t be realized in an Opening Day rotation.

The Prospects (Jordan Balazovic, Jhoan Duran, Matt Canterino, Simeon Woods-Richardson, Drew Strotman, Josh Winder)

Outside of the Ober and Ryan pairing at the top, this is the group the Twins are dreaming on developing some high level arms from. Unfortunately, the majority have either been hurt or are not yet in a place where they’re kicking down the door for a big league promotion. Getting each back to health has to be the chief concern, but beyond that, they’ll need to force their way in. Assuming Minnesota wants to compete, or at the very least be respectable next season, they’ll need to sign a starter for the top of the rotation. Hoping one or more of these arms can then challenge that status sooner rather than later would be the goal.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Believing in Ober


The Minnesota Twins have slogged through a dismal 2021 in large part due to an inability to find consistent pitching. With a starting rotation now entirely flipped on its head, finding a silver lining may seem difficult, but I encourage you to dream on Bailey Ober.

During his first Major League Baseball draft as the Twins President of Baseball Operations, Derek Falvey’s club selected Ober in the 12th round. Ober was a 21-year-old pitching for the College of Charleston and threw 28 innings for Elizabethton during the summer of 2017. In 2018-19, Ober rose the ranks from Single-A to Double-A and finished with a 0.38 ERA across 24.0 IP for Pensacola. The strikeout numbers were gaudy, and the walk rate was stingy.

At 6’9” Ober has the uncanny ability to get on an opposing batter with quickness. His average fastball velocity this season has been just 92 mph, but with such a long stride the pitch is being delivered much closer to 50 feet from home plate. The year with no minor league action certainly didn’t help a guy needing innings due to injury, but it’s clear that he’s put in work.

Despite the Twins needing to call on Ober sooner than they may have liked; he also forced their hand by owning a 2.81 ERA across his first 16 innings of work for Triple-A St. Paul. What we can easily see in the track record is that there’s never been a point at which Ober wasn’t a dominant force on the farm. The only knock on him thus far has been his availability, or more succinctly, his injury history.

Now over 63 innings into his Major League career, we’re seeing the same type of results that have become the expectation thus far. A 4.38 ERA through 14 starts is hardly anything to scoff at, but it’s an even more impressive 3.46 through his last eight turns (39.0 IP). Ober’s bugaboo thus far has been the longball, giving up 14 in his time with the Twins, and a 2.0 HR/9 that seems certain to normalize. He has maintained the strong strikeout rate (9.2 K/9) and continued to limit free passes (2.3 BB/9).

Understanding that this is Ober’s initial run through a big league gambit, it’s fair to assume we haven’t seen the best of him yet. He’s still learning the opposition, and of course the league will be given a chance to adjust to him as well. Although the Twins have been dealt multiple blows in the rotation this year, allowing Ober to showcase his stuff is something that should provide plenty of excitement for Minnesota fans.

As has been the case over the course of his career to this point, keeping Ober healthy and on the mound is the next must for the organization. Maybe he gets shut down soon having now reached a career high in professional innings pitched during a single season. That isn’t a bad idea given where the season currently stands, and it still allows the heightened hurler plenty to build off of for 2022. It’d be hard to see a scenario where Ober isn’t in the rotation on Opening Day next year, and that should be cause for more excitement than concern.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Can Someone Find Tyler Duffey?

The first few seasons of Tyler Duffey in a Minnesota Twins uniform were not good. The former Rice closer had an undefined role and owned a 5.46 ERA across his first 287 innings. Then it happened, he became one of the best relievers in baseball. But, where did he go?

The Twins have long been working to develop their own internal pitching pipeline. Finding relievers is typically an easier venture given the ability to convert failed starters. Taylor Rogers has become one of the best closers and lefties in baseball, but he was joined by the likes of Trevor May and Tyler Duffey. The past two seasons saw Duffey post a 2.31 ERA in more than 80 innings while punching out 12.5 per nine and walking just 2.2 per nine.

Fast forward to 2021.

This season the starting rotation has not been good.and unfortunately neither has the bullpen. Duffey owns a fine 3.63 ERA but that’s backed by a 4.10 FIP and lackluster peripherals including a 7.7 K/9 and 5.0 BB/9. His strikeout rate has dropped from 33% the past two seasons down to a dismal 19%.

Fortunately for Duffey, the stuff hasn’t resulted in more damage. The batted ball profile remains largely unchanged, and he’s not giving up an additional amount of hard contact. His velocity has held steady at 92 mph, which is down from 2019, but not the worrisome mark that appeared in Spring Training.

The largest issue for Duffey is that he’s no longer forcing batters to play into his hands. As a fastball and curveball pitcher, he thrived off setting batters up for a bender they simply couldn’t touch. This season he’s generating just a 27.7% chase rate which is down 13% from 2020, and 5% below his career average. He’s also halved his whiff rate going from 16% a year ago to just 8% this season. The stuff isn’t generating any desire to expand the zone, and isn’t sharp enough to compile swings and misses.

Derek Falvey decided to pull the plug on Jose Berrios being extended by the Minnesota Twins and flipped him before the trade deadline. For a team needing pitching help, that signifies a belief in internal development and a desire to supplement externally. Whether in the rotation or the bullpen, efforts will need to come from holdovers. Duffey will again be relatively cheap in 2022 and enters his final year of team control. If the Minnesota Twins are going to be competitive, they’ll need him to again contribute at a high level in key spots.

Seeing Duffey emerge as an arm that took time to develop but transformed into an incredible asset, it’s been difficult to watch him take such a stark step backwards this season. We’ve seen the ability play at the highest level, and Rocco Baldelli will need an opportunity to rely on that sort of production once again. It may take an offseason of going back to the drawing board, but for both Duffey and the Twins, each party needs things to revert back to where they were.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Making the Most of Miguel


Early on this season Miguel Sano might have been the biggest mess he’s even been during his big league career. There was an inability to time a fastball, and he was a detriment to the Twins lineup. That has changed, and he’s back to being who he’s always been.

Rewind to the Twins slog through April and May to find a slumping Miguel Sano. The team was bad, and Sano owned a .675 OPS at that point. His playing time was reduced as he was splitting reps with Alex Kirilloff at first base. Eventually he’d begin to ride the pine even more often, and there was clamoring from fans to DFA him and pass him down to the St. Paul Saints.

Fast forward to where we are now. Sano isn’t having some sort of revolutionary resurgence, but since June 4 he’s posted an .815 OPS with 22 extra-base hits (including nine home runs) in 47 games. The batting average is respectable (.256) for a power hitter, and while the on-base percentage isn’t where he’d like it (.321) the number is passable.

All season long the problem has been timing more than anything else. His strikeout rate is 35.6%, or below his career average, and substantially below the 43.9% he posted in 2020. Sano’s hard hit rate is above his career average, and basically in line with some of his best seasons. Unfortunately, his barrel rate is at a three-year low, and that again is indicative of point of contact. Sano has dropped his whiff rate back to 2019 levels however, and his CSW% is right below his career norm.

What we’re seeing is the same player that Minnesota paid $30 million over three years for. The problem is that the peaks and valleys have been more pronounced, but at this point you’d have hoped the organization had a better idea as to the player they have. Sano is a former top prospect, but not in the vein of a Guerrero Jr. or even Buxton. Miguel’s tools have always been plus-plus power and a plus-plus arm. Yes, he was a young Dominican shortstop, but it quickly became apparent he wouldn’t stick there. He’s passable at third base, but the frame has always profiled better at first base, a position he’s actually adequate at.

The .923 OPS Sano posted in 2019 is very likely a mirage given his tendency to be inconsistent. His .859 OPS as an All-Star in 2017 makes a lot more sense. The average will always lag behind, but he actually commands the zone well and his hard contact output will always trend towards a slugging outcome. Given the run, he’s a good bet for 25-30 homers a year, and as a guy you can put in the bottom half of a lineup, that seems like a decent asset.

It’s very clear that Miguel Sano isn’t a foundational cornerstone. He can absolutely be worth what the Twins front office decided to pay him though. Committing to him on a regular basis rather than second guessing what he is through slumps doesn’t make a ton of sense. He’s the type of player that isn’t going to benefit from extended time off. Not all prospects pan out the same way, and while this isn’t the 99th percentile of where you’d like development to be, that might not be the worst thing any ways. If Sano was the best version of himself, paying him $30 million might not have happened in order to send him elsewhere for another hopeful return.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Assessing the Twins Trade Deadline


It’s been a few days since the Minnesota Twins allowed the dust to settle on their 2021 Trade Deadline moves. With some big names leaving the organization, and some big prospects entering, it’s time to take a look at the talent that moved places.

The headliner was obviously the Jose Berrios move. As a fan, this one was always going to be hard to stomach. Berrios was drafted by the organization, developed, and became one of the best pitchers in Twins history. As it became increasingly evident that he would not sign a long-term extension with the club, moving him made more and more sense.

Derek Falvey had to maximize the return on Berrios is there was going to be a deal, and he did absolutely that. I noted Austin Martin being my desired target should a swap with the Blue Jays be the plan of action. Still though, getting controllable pitching needed to happen considering Minnesota was moving an ace. To get both Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson was an absolute coup, and it was the strongest return any swap generated during the deadline.

I wrote up the Cruz swap last week and getting Joe Ryan looks like a very strong return for a guy that’s an impending free agent and had limited suitors. While Nelson Cruz is great, there was never a point in which I thought he’d bring back much to work with. Instead, the Twins got Team USA’s game one starter in Ryan, and a flier that’s close to major league ready in Drew Strotman. No matter how Falvey organized this one, he did incredibly well.

Flipping J.A. Happ to the Cardinals was impressive as well. I’ve kicked the notion that he could be seen as valuable to someone for weeks. That always was tongue in cheek with how poorly he’s pitched but leave it to St. Louis to make me look smart. John Gant is under team control in 2022, and that gives the Twins a veteran arm with a longer runway to decide a future on. He can both start and relieve, although he’s currently in Rocco Baldelli’s pen. Gant has pitched well above expectations this year, and his FIP suggests some massive regression is coming. That said, if the Twins can unlock another tier, they may have something to work with down the line.

It wasn’t unexpected to see Hansel Robles moved, although I did think that Alex Colome may wind up being the more coveted reliever. Boston sent back a non-top 30 arm in Alex Scherff, but the 23-year-old has big strikeout numbers and is already at Double-A. Although he’s a reliever, that’s still a useful arm to add for an organization needing to develop pitchers for the highest level. 

There has to be some criticism directed at Falvey and Thad Levine, although none of it should be for what they did. Instead, not trading Michael Pineda or Andrelton Simmons looks like a missed opportunity. Both are impending free agents and serve no purpose to this club down the stretch. I’d like to see Pineda back next season, but that could happen on the open market anyways. There’s no reason for this team to hold onto any semblance of respectability and turning the results over to youth makes more sense than ever. Simmons has been fine defensively, but he’s non-existent at the plate and some contender could’ve parted with a bag of balls for a shortstop upgrade.

When the bell run on July 31, we had seen the most exciting trade deadline in Major League Baseball history come to an end. The Minnesota Twins bettered their future, and made some high impact moves that both Falvey and Levine should be praised for. Now it’ll be up to the organizational infrastructure to develop and best position these talents in an opportunity to bear fruit and turn the tides of the big-league club.