Friday, August 31, 2012

Pitchers Who can Contribute to a Future Twins' Playoff Team

Last week, I investigated which position players on the current 40-man roster can help a potential Twins playoff team.  If you want to read it, click here.  In my mind, the first possible contending season is 2014, although I feel that could be a bit of a stretch.  For the purposes of this post, I am going to look at 2014 as the first year of the turnaround, which might be putting too much faith in the rebuilding process.  There are some very interesting position players on the 40-man roster.  

Pitchers, not so much.

Again, we will start at the bottom and work our way up.

First, there are a few minor leaguers who are not on the 40-man roster, who likely will be a part of the 2013 and 2014 teams.  Pitchers can really come and go, especially cheap pitchers.  However, I don't see these arms as huge contributors, beyond potential middle relievers or spot starters.  There are also a few AAA starters who could get a shot, but none really interest me long term.  There is one exception:

Kyle Gibson

John Sickels of SB Nation wrote extensively about Gibson this past week.  You should read it.  In this piece, he states that Gibson still has the ceiling of a number 2 starter, if all things click.  Gibson was drafted as a low ceiling, low floor pitcher.  The fact that he will be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2013 will give us a good idea of how close he gets to that ceiling.  I see him as a mainstay in the Twins rotation starting in 2014 and I think he can contribute significantly as a young, cheap command specialist.  I am very high on Gibson.

Luis Perdomo, Jeff Manship,  and Kyle Waldrop

To save your time and mine, let's lump these three together.  Nothing to see here, let's just move along.

Lester Oliveros

Oliveros has actually pitched well in AAA this year.  He is young enough (24) to get a shot.  If he can maintain his AAA strikeout and walk ratios, he could be an effective reliever.  He hasn't maintained those rations when in the MLB in the past, but he is worth a look.  I doubt he is pitching high-leverage innings on any playoff team though.  He also had Tommy John surgery this week, so he won't be doing much of anything in 2013.

Pedro Hernandez

He has really good minor league walk rates and really poor minor league strikeout rates.  I'll go out on a limb and say he has about zero upside.  He could spot start here and there, but lots of spot starts don't typically equate to fantastic team success. 

Carlos Gutierrez

According to Wikipedia, Carlos Gutierrez is an American former CEO and former U.S. Cabinet Member who is currently a Vice Chairman of Citigroup's Institutional Clients Group. He has previously served as the 35th U.S. Secretary of Commerce from 2005 to 2009.  I don't remember any of this.  He lost most of this season to injury and he will be 26 next season.  His business skills must be pretty good though.    

Deolis Guerra

Ah, the Crown Jewel!   The most intriguing piece in the Johan Santana trade might finally be MLB ready.  He is actually posting his highest walk rate since he was 19 years old and his strikeout rate is not good enough to mask it.  It seems like we have been hearing about him for 50 years, but he is only 23 years old.  If he can get his control in order a bit, he might be able to help in the bullpen.  Of course, you can say that about quite a few pitchers and sometimes, it still doesn't work out. 

Alex Burnett

Speaking of not working out; zing!  That is unfair.  His walk rate has dropped each of his three MLB seasons.  But, his strikeout rate has dropped as well.  In fact, he currently sports a nifty 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio.  Nifty is the wrong word, I think I was looking for terrible.  His ERA and WHIP aren't bad though.  I do not know what to think of Alex Burnett.  I think there have to be better options. 

Tyler Robertson

Man, Robertson is a hoss.  He is left-handed, doesn't throw all that hard, but has a good strikeout rate since being called up.  Currently, he is walking too many batters to have long term success.  If Glen Perkins closes next year, having a second lefty to go with Brian Duensing could be useful.  The thing with all these bullpen guys is that they are so interchangeable.  Many are so much the same that you can use just about anyone and get similar results.  In 2012, the Twins drafted a bunch of college relievers.  These guys could move fast and take the place of these mediocre relievers that are currently playing for the Twins.  Most of these draftees throw a lot harder too. 

PJ Walters

6.47 ERA in 87 MLB innings over 4 different seasons.  The best thing that ever happened to his 2013 chances of playing with the Twins was the long term injury he is almost over.  Oh, he also has an ERA over 4.5 in over 500 AAA innings.  That seems like a big enough sample.

Anthony Swarzak

Swarzak isn't a bad guy to have around.  A long man/spot starter can have value, if used properly.  Instead of having a 13 man pitching staff, a properly used long man/spot starter can help increase the bench players on the offensive side.  Ideally, an 11 man pitching staff would be used.  This doesn't seem likely though.  Times have changed and the long man/spot starter has a lot less value these days.  Swarzak isn't terrible, but he can't start long term.  So, he doesn't really have much value. 

Matt Capps

Capps was once a useful reliever.  Back when he was young and cheap, the Pirates used him as a closer and he had success.  Washington signed him to a short term deal, he had success as a closer there and they parlayed him into a young, promising catcher.  Let's not discuss that.  Now that he is free agency eligible, he has not been a useful reliever.  However, some team is going to sign him to a super cheap contract next year and he could pay off.  He has good control to go with a decent strikeout rate.  It isn't crazy to think that he could help a playoff team as early as next year.  He will only be 29 and if he was just injured the last two years, he might return to the pitcher he basically was from 2006-2010. 

Carl Pavano

I think Pavano is done with Minnesota.  He might not retire, but he has been injury prone almost his entire career and will be 37 next year.  I actually forgot how well he pitched in 2010, but that magic is almost certainly gone.  Oh well, at least he had a mustache.

Cole De Vries

I have devoted a decent amount of words to Cole De Vries in my weekly notes.  I am not a fan.  He nibbles and he has no out pitch.  As a AAA starter who can come up in a pinch, he's fine.  On a playoff team, you really don't want a guy like this in your rotation.  A team like the Yankees could use him I guess, since they can score a million runs and they are pretty much a lock for the playoffs every year.  The degree of difficulty is just a touch higher here in Minnesota.

Samuel Deduno

I plan to spend a lot more time discussing why I have no faith in Sam Deduno, but not here.  Let's just say that it is better for everyone involved if he regresses to the mean during September.  His strikeout to walk ratio is below 1.  I realize this isn't the only stat that matters, but come on.  He isn't going to have long term success, based on the history of well, baseball.  He was compared to R.A. Dickey and Justin Verlander during a recent Twins broadcast though.  Not bad company.

Casey Fien

He's fien.  Well, that was irresistible.  Actually, he has been more than fine since getting called up.  His minor league track record is actually pretty good, although he didn't start pro ball until age 22.  He didn't have any MLB success in the past, but his minor league peripherals seem to have come with him to the MLB this time around.  His hit rate is super low and he hasn't thrown a lot of innings, so he could certainly come back to Earth a bit.  It seems like giving him a chance in 2013 wouldn't hurt too much.  The point I made about younger relievers coming up does affect his long-term value a bit though. 

Brian Duensing

Now we get to the "two players" portion of the roster.  In this case, Duensing is one player in the rotation and one player in the bullpen.  That one player in the bullpen is a lot better than that one player in the rotation.  He likely was only put in the rotation this year because there were so many injuries.  He is clearly better off as a lefty specialist.  I made a crude Carlos Beltran reference in my weekly notes column on Monday, but basically Duensing vs. right handed batters = nonstop Carlos Beltrans.  It is best to leave him where there are not nonstop borderline hall of famers facing him.  As a lefty middle reliever, he can have some value. 

Liam Hendriks

Liam Hendriks seems to be two different players as well.  AAA Hendriks is dominant, MLB Hendriks loves home runs.  He is still young and promising enough to figure it out.  If he does, he can be a 3 or a 4 in a good rotation.  I hope he doesn't have to ever masquerade as a 1 or a 2 though.  A playoff Twins team in 2014 likely depends on Hendriks at the end of the rotation.

Scott Baker

There are two Scott Bakers as well, because I love this gimmick.  Scott Baker healthy is great.  Scott Baker injured is injured.  Unfortunately, Scott Baker injured seems to be more common.  It is a shame because his season last year was really fantastic.  He was finally getting good results to go with his excellent peripheral stats.  Scott Baker injured showed up and then stuck around through the offseason.  Hopefully, he can come back from Tommy John and pick up where he left off.  I am a huge advocate for finding out if he can as a Twin.  I hope they sign him to a one or even two year deal and see what he has.  He will only be 31 next year, so he could still have 4-5 good years left.  At this point, given his injury history, it is very hard to rely on him as an impact player going forward.  If anyone on this list can exceed expectations, it is Baker. 

Scott Diamond

Every statistical bone in my body says that his success cannot be sustained.  His strikeout rate is just way too low.  Throw in the fact that he wasn't much of a prospect at any point and the fact that he was taken in the rule 5 draft, and it just doesn't add up.  However, I have a hard time arguing with his results.  He just doesn't walk anyone, ever.  He basically is the left-handed Brad Radke (or at least he has been for half a season).  I want to see it repeated at least once.  If he has a comparable season in 2013, then I will be ready to admit that he is a statistical anomaly.  Anomalies exist, so it is certainly possible.  I still don't think a good Twins team is relying on Scott Diamond to pitch a Game 1 or Game 2 in the playoffs, but maybe Game 3?  A pretty decent statistical comparison for Diamond is Mark Buehrle.  Although, Diamond actually gets more ground balls and has a lower walk rate.  Again, he has to repeat it, but it's possible. 

Jared Burton

Jared Burton was a really nice find.  He has cut his walks down significantly since his days in Cincinnati and it has made him into a really good pitcher.  His surface stats are fully supported by the peripheral stats.  Having a good, cheap set-up man or closer is very valuable.  He does hit free agency in 2014, which is worrisome.  It is especially worrisome if he closes next year.  Saves are expensive.  It is possible that he falls victim to the young relievers that are coming down the line as well.  If he pitches like he has this year, he can help any team.  If he gets expensive, I hope it happens elsewhere.  

Glen Perkins

The brightest star in the Twins pitching sky just happens to be a failed starter.  This is not entirely unique, as a lot of relievers are failed starters.  Not all failed starters take to the bullpen as easily and dominantly as Perkins has.  He has good stuff, a good strikeout rate and a good walk rate.  I also think he has something that some would argue does not exist:  the closer mentality.  I will always believe that some pitchers just can't handle the 9th inning, regardless of the numbers not supporting that claim.  Arguing against the concept of a closer mentality argues against the concept of human psychology, in my opinion.  Ok, that is a separate subject for another day.  Perkins is great though.  There really isn't much more to say.  He looks calm on the mound, he throws a good fastball and he isn't afraid to go right at hitters.  I really like him and I am glad they locked him up cheaply for a few years. 

In summary

In my opinion, the following players will play a significant role on a future Twins playoff team:

Glen Perkins, Kyle Gibson, Scott Baker (if resigned)

The following players could play a significant role, if the Twins contend in 2014:

Jared Burton

The following players could play a smaller but maybe not significant role on a good Twins team:

Brian Duensing, Liam Hendriks, Scott Diamond

It is too early to tell, but these young players are exciting and could contribute:


The remaining players either will not be around, or will not contribute positively. 

What do you think of this list?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Twin of the Future? - Niko Goodrum

Niko Goodrum is far from an elite prospect.  He was a 2nd round pick in 2010 out of a high school in Georgia.  Baseball America and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus both listed Goodrum as the 19th best prospect in what is generally considered a weak Twins farm system.  Aaron Gleeman listed him 16th and Seth Stohs listed him 19th.  Jonathan Mayo of did not have him in his top 20 and Keith Law did not have him in his top 10 (which really should not surprise you if you read the previous few sentences). The rankings are not exciting, but at the same time, I can't help but have an interest in this particular player. 

I am not going to pretend that I have seen any more of Goodrum than a few YouTube clips, but I will say that what I have read about him has me intrigued.  He is listed at 6' 3" and 175 lbs.  He is only 20 years old, so he will likely add some size.  If he can, the height could help produce some powerful swings.  He has a very strong arm and according to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, he is a hard worker, which we all know goes a lot way in this organization (probably all others too).  The fact that he runs well could result in a player that plays up the middle, can steal some bases and hit for some power.  That kind of player has immense value.

However, his projectable size could work against him as well.  If he fills out too much, he may slow down and lose range.  If that happens, he may have to move off of short.  There is also the possibility that he never fills out and doesn't hit enough to play any position.  In addition, Goodrum is somewhat old for rookie ball, and his stats aren't eye-popping for a player repeating a level.  Frankly, his numbers aren't that exciting for a player in his first year at that level.  His numbers point toward decent to good on-base skills, with little power.  His K:BB ratio is good, but it is hard for me to know how much that represents a more patient hitter or an inexperienced set of pitching staffs.  His walk rate has increased from last year, and he deserves credit for that.

I have read that some think he may be a future centerfielder, which could be great.  Personally, I think that third base could be a landing spot, especially if he does add some power to his game.  He clearly has the arm strength for that position and working hard to learn the position seems like something he would be willing to do.  The nice thing is that he does seem to be a player who will be versatile enough in the field to find a home, as he was working a bit at second base last year as well.

I would think that Goodrum would go to Beloit next year, as a 21 year old entering his third full pro season.  The odds of seeing Goodrum in Minnesota before 2015 are pretty small.  In fact, there are pretty good odds that he never gets to Minnesota at all.  That is just the way of the minor league world though.  Most minor leaguers don't get to the Majors.  In fact, most minor leaguers aren't prospects at all, for this very reason.  As far as I am concerned, there are two types of minor league players.  There are guys with upside and guys without upside.  Niko Goodrum has upside, which makes him a prospect and makes him interesting to me.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mondayne Notes - 8/27/2012

Here is a fun 14 minute version of You Can't Quit Me Baby by Queens of the Stone Age to accompany the notes.

The Games

Monday - Win over Oakland - 7-2

WHOOO!  Monday wins count double right?  Oh, they don't.  Well, at least they stopped the losing streak.  Brandon McCarthy was awful in this game.  He didn't command any of his pitches and he looked to be nibbling a lot.  The Twins took advantage and Brian Duensing gave them a good start.

Tuesday - Loss to Oakland -4-1

Cole DeVries does not have an out pitch, in my opinion.  That is likely why he wasn't a prospect and why he isn't long for the big leagues.  He is a nice story, and he comes from the state that I come from, but I don't see him being successful for multiple years.  He isn't efficient with his pitches and while he can get hitters down 0-2 in counts, he doesn't have a pitch that can put them away.  This leads to high pitch counts and short starts.

Wednesday - Loss to Oakland - 5-1

Liam Hendriks is back and he didn't give up a home run!  He also didn't pitch well.  The offense couldn't get anything going against Tommy Milone.  Did you guys know that there is a lot of foul territory in Oakland?

Thursday - Loss to Texas - 10-6

I am not a fan of the "eye for an eye" code of baseball.  I don't like things that are done just because "that's the way things have always been done."  Diamond likely was tossed because the ball was too close to Hamilton's head.  I think that if he connected in the back or ribs, he would have stayed in the game.  The ump really had no choice when he missed high like that.  It was good that the fireworks stopped after that.  That 8th inning was hard to watch.

Friday - Loss to Texas - 8-0

Well, the Twins were nearly no-hit and gave up a cycle to Adrian Beltre.  It would have been interesting had both happened, instead it was just the 4th straight loss for a team that is starting to look like it might lose 99 games again.  Sam Deduno regressed before our very eyes, although he only walked one batter.  He also did not strike anyone out.  This game could have been worse, as Deduno had 2 double plays turned behind him and a runner picked off of first base.  His WHIP is now 1.667 for the season.  A pitcher cannot be successful when putting 5 batters on base every three innings, just ask Nick Blackburn.

Saturday - Loss to Texas - 9-3

Brian Duensing was not effective at all.  It does seem that in a perfect world, he would be a lefty specialist.  He just doesn't get right handed hitters out.  His OPS against vs. righty handed batters is .856.  That is roughly Carlos Beltran's OPS for his career.  So Duensing basically faces Carlos Beltran every time he faces a right handed batter.  Or something like that (it's actually nothing like that).  He is still better off in the bullpen long term.

Sunday - Win over Texas - 6-5

Cole De Vries was fine.  He really was nothing more than that.  He pitched poorly in the first inning and then settled down.  It took him 98 pitches to get through 19 batters though.  Denard Span and Ben Revere did a great job of setting the table in this game.  Ah, Jeff Gray...  Jeff Gray won't be a Twin much longer, so that is something.  Glen Perkins was great.  His emergence is one of the few obvious bright spots from these past two years.

The Transactions

8/20 - Outrighted Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Nick Blackburn to  AAA.

I covered this in an emergency blog last week.  If you want, check it out

8/21 - Called up Liam Hendriks from AAA.

With the injuries to the starting pitching, and Hendriks' great pitching at AAA, this was a no brainer.  He didn't pitch all that well on Wednesday, but he should be given a shot to work out his MLB struggles when it really doesn't matter much for the team.  He does seem to be the one promising, young starter in the system without major injury issues.  His good control and semi-decent strikeout potential could make him a reasonable 4th or 5th starter down the line. 

8/24 - Optioned Matt Carson to AAA, Recalled Kyle Waldrop

This was done because Scott Diamond was ejected after 2+ innings the previous night.  Waldrop pitched Friday night.  Carson will be back soon, although I don't expect his "good" hitting to continue.

The Injuries

There are no new injuries to report this week, but there are a few updates.

Carl Pavano - out for the season

Pavano has a bone bruise and now will not pitch again this season.  He is almost certainly done with the Twins, unless he will accept a very cheap one-year contract.  He also kind of ripped the Twins' medical staff when asked about this news, which would put him in a non-exclusive club of people who have (perhaps justifiably) questioned the competence of this team's medical experts. 

Denard Span - Back!

Span returned to the lineup on Thursday.  He missed about 10 days with a day-to-day injury.  I guess as long as they measure in days, all injuries are day-to-day.

P.J. Walters - Rehabbing in AAA

Walters pitched his 4th and 5th rehab starts this week.  It seems he should join the rotation sometime in September.  Who do you take out of this historic rotation though?

The Standings
Games Back
Last 10
Chicago Cubs
Kansas City

Well, the Twins are still in line for the 4th pick in next year's draft.  Colorado made some progress toward passing the Twins too.  Cleveland looks awful right now, so they seem like the best bet to knock the Twins out of the bottom 4.  Hopefully next year we can look at the standings the right way.

The Future

Kyle Gibson is back in AAA!  This is actually pretty exciting news.  His rehab has gone well and he should be ready to start next year at AAA.  If he can show the good command that he had before his injury, he should force his way into the rotation by the middle of next year.  It is easy to forget how bright Gibson's future was just a little over a year ago.  Baseball America had him listed as the 34th best prospect in all of baseball before 2011.  He has had a strikeout to walk ratio over 3 in the minors and his strikeout rate might be high enough that he won't simply be another Radke-clone.  He has a chance to be a good 3rd starter for a long time, which is something to get excited about.

The Big Picture

This is obviously the second consecutive lost season for the Twins.  There are some positives though.  Trevor Plouffe has been a pleasant surprise.  I worry that he was almost too hot back in June/July and that expectations are higher than they should be for him.  I do think that he could be a 20 HR, .800 OPS player with a good (if only a little wild) 3B arm.  He might even have some upside from there too.  He is cheap right now and will only get expensive down the line if he continues to develop.  I think that would be a pretty good trade-off.  However, he has been awful since returning from the DL.  His thumb might still be bothering him, and eventually shutting him down in September might be a good idea. 

Fantasy Tip of the Week

Get rid of Wins.  Nothing is more frustrating than having a starter give you 8 dominant innings and then have Matt Capps blow the whole game for you.  Wins are lucky.  Try to find a category that captures the value of a starting pitcher without using wins.  If you figure that out, please let me know.

Have a good week everyone!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Twins Hitters Who Could Contribute to a Playoff Team

The Twins are far from contending.  It really is the sad reality.  As much as we may think that adding two starting pitchers to the roster for 2013 will make the Twins contend, the reality is that 2 high quality starting pitchers added to this year's roster might have lead to a .500 finish.  .500 teams are worthless in my mind.  You either want to make the playoffs or rebuild, but you don't want to be in the middle.  Middling teams usually do not compete for the playoffs and have difficulties drafting and developing high-end talent. 

The one caveat is that the Central is a weak division and a .500 team might be close to a playoff spot.  We all know from history that a Central Division Championship is nice, but not a predictor of Twins' success in the playoffs.  In my mind, a few years of rebuilding can really replenish the farm system and lead to a bright future.  The tradeoff is an unpleasant present.  However, reality is reality.  Perhaps the Twins can have a Baltimore Orioles type success next year, but I doubt that would lead to the World Series.  A long term plan is needed.   I am going to look at the players on the current 40 man roster, to see who could help a contending Twins team (likely in 2014 at the earliest).  There are a variety of factors to consider, but each player will be analyzed based more on their future value than their current value.  While a playoff spot in 2014 is certainly possible, 2015 or 2016 seems a lot more reasonable. 
Let's start from the bottom:

Drew Butera - Catcher

Matt Carson - Outfielder
Carson is a 31-year-old outfielder with about 50 games of MLB experience.  He is not a piece to the puzzle and he is not a piece to any team's puzzle.  The fact that he made it back to the big leagues is a cool story, but that is about all it is. 

Alexi Casilla - Infielder
Casilla has been a useful player over the past few years.  Ok, useful might be a stretch, but a guy who can play both middle infield positions well is pretty useful.  He really can't hit at all, but he is fun to watch.  He has some charisma, but that doesn't really help a lot on the field.  I have enjoyed watching Casilla play the infield these past few years, but I don't think he will be in Minnesota next year.  A good team would maybe use him as a late inning defensive replacement/pinch runner, and nothing more.

Oswaldo Arcia - Outfielder
The future looks bright for Arcia.  He is a great hitter, and his AA stats are pretty impressive.  He isn't much of a fielder, and he might have to move to left field, as his arm is not right field quality.  The way he is hitting in AA and the fact that he is already on the 40 man roster, could combine to get him to the Twins' active roster in September at the young age of 21.  If Denard Span needs rest, he could easily get some playing time in right field with Ben Revere moving to center.  He likely will not be a full-time regular until 2014, but he might be a bit of a Jason Kubel (at his peak) type player down the line, and that type of player can definitely contribute on a future playoff team.

Joe Benson - Outfielder
Benson did not leave a good taste in fans' mouths last September and his struggles continued throughout this year in the minors.  He strikes out a ton.  He likely always will.  However, a strikeout is the same as a ground out, fly out, line out, pop out, and any other kind of out in the box score.  If he can be productive around the strikeouts, he has a lot of potential value.  He runs well, fields well, throws well and has power.  Put it this way, he could be what Trevor Plouffe is right now, with the added defensive and speed values.  Benson has a right field arm and potential 20 home run/20 steal ability.  He is still pretty young and I think he can contribute.  Personally,  I hope the Twins can fit him in the lineup next year, regardless of his struggles in 2012.  I would not give up on this player just yet.

Eduardo Escobar - Infielder
Escobar was acquired in the Francisco Liriano trade back in July.  He is already 23 years old, and is likely a utility man at best.  According to what I have read, he is a very good fielder.   He is also versatile enough to play second, third and short.  He could be a better version of Nick Punto, if he hits.  As much as Punto was disliked in Minnesota, his type of player does have some value off the bench. 

Pedro Florimon - Infielder
Florimon has a pretty similar skill set compared with Escobar.  He is a skilled fielder, but not an accomplished minor league hitter.  He could also be a utility player, but likely not one with as much value as Escobar.  I don't think he can contribute to a playoff team. 

Brian Dozier - Infielder
I am not a huge Dozier fan.  He will be 26 for most of next year, and he didn't really impress while in Minnesota.  He didn't hit enough to be valuable, especially when you consider that his defense needs work.  As unexciting as Escobar might be, his glove makes his shortcomings with the bat a bit more tolerable.  Dozier hasn't shown enough in the field or at the plate, and he is 2 years older.  Some have compared him to Jamey Carroll, but he doesn't walk nearly enough for that to be an accurate comparison.

Jamey Carroll - Infielder
More than 10 percent of the Twins' current 40 man roster consists of utility players.  Not all utility players are created the same way.  Carroll is a very valuable utility player.  He can play second, short and third in a pinch.  He gets on base enough to make up for his lack of power.  He is old.  I would not be surprised if he was retired the next time the Twins are contending.

Darin Mastroianni - Outfielder
Mastroianni is exactly the type of player that when used properly, has good value, but might be just good enough to earn more playing time and become an issue.  I know that might not make sense, but to me, Mastroianni is a good 4th outfielder.  When he becomes a regular, he looks a lot less impressive.  He clearly has the glove for any outfield position and he gets on base enough to be valuable.  However, he also appears to be a "gamer" and that worries me.  Gardenhire likes his gamers and a guy like Mastroianni may earn more playing time on that basis.  If he works hard and plays well, he certainly deserves that opportunity.  I just prefer to have players in positions that best emphasize their skill sets.  So, in summary, 4th outfielder Darin Mastroianni good, starting outfielder Darin Mastroianni bad.  Outfield is actually a position of strength here in Minnesota in the present.  Looking to the future, I hope there is never a situation where a guy like Joe Benson or Aaron Hicks is blocked by Mastroianni.  Then again, Matt Carson was getting starts over him the last week, so maybe Gardy doesn't like Mastroianni as much as I thought he would.

Chris Parmelee - 1st Base/Outfield?
I'm not sure Chris Parmelee should play the outfield on a contending team.  I am also not sure he can be productive enough with the bat to play first base on a contending team.  He is down in AAA earning the right for everyone to find out.  If the power translates, like Trevor Plouffe's AAA power surge in 2011, then he could be valuable.  He isn't likely to hit 30 bombs in the Majors, but 20 could be possible.  If he can draw walks and mix in some doubles, he could contribute at first base.  A player like that, under team control and cheap, can really contribute.  Spending a million or so on a starting first baseman can free up a lot of money to spend in other places.  Pitching comes to mind, but that is a story for next week.

Ben Revere - Outfielder
It is almost hard not to think of Juan Pierre when I think of Ben Revere.  Both have tons of speed, good contact, no power whatsoever, great range in the outfield and no arm.  This type of player is very dependent on stolen bases and batting average.  Research shows that batting average can vary significantly from year to year.  Without a .300 batting average, Revere is not a player that can help a good team.  That is my worry.  He makes contact so well and he is so fast, that he could defy variance and be productive for years.  Realistically, he might be best served as a 4th outfielder.  I will say, he is extremely fun to watch in the outfield and that provides some visual value for fans during down years.

Trevor Plouffe - 3rd Base
If Plouffe could just throw, the Twins would have an extremely valuable shortstop.  At third, he still can contribute.  The power surge in June/July was likely somewhat lucky.  His home run to fly ball ratio was very high, but that doesn't take the home runs off the board.  If he can provide an .800 or so OPS and can continue to make the throw from third base, he can be valuable in the same way as Chris Parmelee.  He will be cheap and under team control for awhile.  Corner infielders with average to good power have value and can help on a playoff team.

Ryan Doumit - Catcher/Outfielder
In many ways, Doumit is a perfect backup catcher for this team.  The fact that he could catch 4-5 times per week and put up good numbers, gives him the versatility to move to corner outfield positions and not look out of place offensively.  Catchers simply cannot play every day behind the plate, but having a good offensive player like Doumit to replace Joe Mauer a few days a week is extremely valuable.  Doumit isn't even a good fielder, regardless of where he plays, but his bat is above average and his positional versatility makes him a good piece.  He will be 33 in 2014, so the only way he contributes to a Twins playoff team is if they have success sooner than expected. 

Justin Morneau - 1st Base
I don't see it.  Morneau was a very important part of the Twins' success in the 2000s.  He won an MVP award and may have won another had he not suffered a concussion in 2010.  His season in 2012 has started to look good, but the looming head issues are a concern.  In addition, he will be 32 years old next year.  With Chris Parmelee seemingly ready for a shot and making more than 10 million dollars less in salary, I wouldn't be surprised if Morneau's healthy season earns him a ticket to another team.  I hope he can contribute to another team's success, as he has been a player I have enjoyed watching over the years.

Denard Span - Center Field
I heard Span on the radio and the host asked him who the most underrated player on the Twins is.  He said Jamey Carroll, but the correct answer would have been given had he said "me."  Span is a player that it took me a while to warm up to.  I focused too much on what he couldn't do (power, arm) and didn't see all the good things that he can do (hit, get on base, range in the outfield).  His base running is not great, but he doesn't need to steal bases to have value.  He gets on base at an above-average rate, he plays a good center field, and he has started to hit a lot of doubles this season.  He is a legitimate leadoff hitter and his healthy (head-wise) season is very encouraging.  All that being said, if the Twins can trade him for legitimate pitching prospects, I would do that.  You can't just sign quality pitching prospects as free agents.  You have to give something to get something.  However, iIf Span can't fetch a good return, I wouldn't trade him right now.  Down the line, if the outfield prospects (Arcia, Benson, Hicks) develop, you might trade him just because there are equally attractive options.  Right now, he is still the best all-around outfielder in the organization.   

Josh Willingham - Left Field
Josh Willingham is having a wonderful season.  He is getting on base and hitting for a ton of power.  He might have been the best free agent signing off the offseason in all of baseball.  His contract is reasonable and he is signed at that reasonable rate for two more years.  In addition, he replaced Michael Cuddyer, which earns him a special place in my heart.  On the other hand, Josh Willingham is a terrible outfielder.  He can only play left field, which is unique, but not cool.  He has very little range and his arm isn't great.  He is 33 years old, but if he stays healthy, there is no reason he can't put up similar offensive numbers for the next two years.  I would prefer that he does that as a full-time DH though.  With Joe Mauer on the roster, having a full-time DH is not an option.  So, yes, he can contribute, but he might be too old and not versatile enough to contribute to a Twins playoff team.  He is another candidate to trade for young pitching and after this season, he actually might bring something significant back in return. 

Joe Mauer - Catcher/DH
Joe Mauer is an excellent player.  It is very easy to look at all the things that he does not do and be critical.  To do that would ignore all the things that he does extremely well.  He gets on base as well as any player in baseball.  Only 3 active players have gotten on base at a higher rate than Mauer in his career:  Todd Helton, Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman (4 players if you count Manny Ramirez as active.  He might not have home run power, but he does have good gap power.  He may not be the elite catcher that he once was, but he can still play catcher at a respectable level.  He has played more games this year than any other Twins player with the exception of Josh Willingham.  Joe Mauer is the type of player that every team would want.  Of course, he is almost certainly overpaid, but that was as much a business decision as a baseball decision.  How could the Twins let a MN-born, homegrown player walk with a new ballpark opening.  Plus, he was coming off one of the greatest seasons ever produced by a catcher human.  The Twins had to overpay to keep him and it was the right decision.  While his salary adds a degree of difficulty to the rebuilding process, his talent makes it a lot easier to build a good team.  If the Twins contend in the next 6 years, he will be a positive contributor.

In summary

In my opinion, the following players will play a significant role on a future Twins playoff team:
Joe Mauer, Trevor Plouffe, and Chris Parmelee

The following players could play a significant role, if the Twins contend in 2014:
Josh Willingham, Denard Span, Ryan Doumit

The following players could play a bench role on a good Twins team:
Ben Revere, Eduardo Escobar, Darin Mastroianni

It is too early to tell, but these young players are exciting and could contribute:
Joe Benson, Oswaldo Arcia

The remaining players either will not be around, or will not contribute positively. 

Next week, I will tackle the pitchers. 

What do you think of this list?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What if? Mike Trout over Kyle Gibson

Mike Trout is the toast of the baseball town.  He was called up to the Majors on April 28 and has literally been the most valuable player in either league since that day.  He has hit for power, stolen bases and made some outstanding catches in the outfield.  Any team would be lucky to have a player like Trout, and he just turned 21, in case you needed extra convincing.

Kyle Gibson has a bright future as well.  Odds are, he will not suffer another injury as debilitating as he is recovering from.  He was a top tier prospect for the Twins with great control.  His AAA numbers last year looked bad, but if you looked closer, he did have a good strikeout rate, a great walk rate and a strikeout to walk ratio well above 3.  While many would compare him to Brad Radke, he might have actually had more ability than Radke, who was a Twins mainstay for about a decade.

Every single GM in baseball would take Trout over Gibson right now and going forward.  Gibson still could be a number 3 starter on a good team, but Trout could end up as the best player in the AL for the next 10-15 years.  Trout vs. Gibson is a 1st round knockout.

That is not to say that every GM would have taken Trout over Gibson 3 years ago.  Gibson was taken 22nd by the Twins and Trout was taken 25th by the Angels.  In fact, 21 teams passed on Trout, with Washington and Arizona passing on him twice (imagine Trout with Harper and Strasburg!).  Anaheim even passed on him once, although, they had consecutive picks, so there was no risk in losing him.  That seems crazy now, but Trout came from a part of the country that is not known for baseball.  Therefore, some wondered if he was just a big fish in a small pond. 
Turns out, Trout is a whale shark.  Enough fish puns though.

So, this is not a critique of the Twins' front office.  They had taken Aaron Hicks, a toolsy, slick-fielding, cannon-armed, power projectable outfielder, just one year earlier.  While you should take the best player available in drafts, Gibson also fit the Twins' profile for a starting pitcher.  He flew through the minor leagues, and likely would have been in Minnesota last September, had he not been injured.  He will be only 25 years old next season, and likely will spend at least some time with the Twins in 2013.

So, what if the Twins had drafted Mike Trout in 2009?

First, I doubt Trout would be tearing up MLB pitching in 2012 in a Twins uniform.  The Twins do not rush prospects, although, Trout was obviously not rushed.  However, my gut says that Trout would be in AAA right now, at the highest.  His minor league numbers aren't so insane that he would have forced the Twins' hand.  He was good enough that he would have likely split years at different levels, as he did with the Angels, but he almost certainly would not have been called up in 2011 at age 19 with the Twins.  The Trout Phenomenon would have almost certainly have started later, but I do not think he would be any less a player had the Twins drafted him; it just might have taken longer to find out.  He likely would have debuted in September of this year, or possibly even mid- to late-2013.

Second, Gibson almost certainly would still have all of his original ligaments.  No, that's not true.  Gibson would have been just as likely to get hurt with any other team.  You cannot predict health with pitchers and Gibson could have just as easily blown his arm out pitching with another team.  Although, I do think that he may have done so in the Majors.  Gibson had pitched 3 years at Missouri, and was therefore 21 years old when drafted.  In their 2010 prospect rankings, Baseball America listed his MLB ETA as 2011.  By the way, those same rankings had Gibson rated 61st and Trout 85th as prospects in all of baseball.  So, while Gibson has never reached the majors in real life, in this What If scenario, he may have.

Finally, the Twins would have the number 1 prospect in baseball right now.  As I said before, I think he would be in AAA at the highest, but I also think he would be coming up to the MLB any day.  In fact, he may have been a very recent call-up, as Trout would make Denard Span an even better trade chip for the Twins.  They might have been more willing to trade Span back in July for some pitching help, under this scenario.  They would need even more pitching help, as they never drafted Kyle Gibson, and therefore do not have any sort of starting pitching prospect in the system.  

This type of transaction is not likely one that can change a franchise in the short-term.  The 2012 Twins would likely still be a bad team with terrible starting pitching.  Trout would be an exciting player for the fans, but ultimately would not make them a playoff team.  This can be seen with the current version of the Angels, as they are falling dangerously close to missing out on the playoffs this year, even with Trout. The 2015 Twins might have been another story.  A player like Mike Trout has the ability to be an MVP caliber player for many years.  He has power, speed, and defense, at a premium position.  While he cannot win a World Series on his own, he is a fantastic start for a rebuilding club.

Kyle Gibson is the only actual Twin between the two players.  Pre-surgery Gibson never threw the ball through a wall, and hopefully can reclaim the control and command that he had before his elbow issues.  If he can, he still has the ability to be a number 3 starter in the MLB.  If the Twins knew they would be getting a number 3 starter with the 22nd pick in any draft, they would take that every time.  Gibson is no Trout, but he can still prove to be a good draft pick for the Twins. 

(Note:  As I was writing this, Mike Trout hit a freaking missile out of the park off Felix Hernandez.  I guess he felt I wasn't giving him enough credit.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

EMERGENCY! Post - Blackburn and Nishioka

This is like the mother lode for frustrated Twins fans.  I mean, take both of these guys out in one fell swoop!  I hardly enjoyed these two players as a fan.  Blackburn was a player that I harped on repeatedly, refusing to give him credit for pitching one important game back in the 2008 Game 163 (we lost that game too, no one seems to remember that).  I felt he was living off that reputation for far too long, considering his failures over the past 3 years.  I did not know what to think about Nishioka when he signed, but wow, it did not take long for me to figure it out.  I was not impressed with any part of his game, and I am not surprised he has been removed from the 40 man roster so quickly after his signing. 

I also know that we aren't supposed to feel sorry for millionaires that get to play a child's game for a living.  Each of these men will likely earn more money next year than I will make in my entire life, even if they don't play a single inning.  I know that both of these men will likely get to continue to play baseball for at least a few more years, maybe just not in Major League Baseball.  I also know that their lives have not ended and that both are young men with plenty of life to live.

I try to think about how it would feel to work so hard toward something that you really want, reach the highest level of your field, and then have such public, horrifying failure.  Failure to the point that no organization really wants you around anymore.  It is true that most do not reach this level, but that likely will not put these two at ease.  They have reached the crossroads of their careers.  
There aren't a lot of people that reach that point in their career at such young ages.  The reality is that either man can likely stay with baseball for as long as they want to.  There is really no rational reason to feel badly for them, but I still do feel somewhat badly for them. 

There are plenty of minor leaguers who never get this far.  I certainly don't feel badly for them.  There is clearly some psychological difference here.  With Blackburn, I feel like I have seen his entire career and it seems to be ending really early.  He was an exciting prospect once upon a time, but in my eyes, he never really reached any sort of exciting potential.  At his peak, he was average at best.  At his worst, he might have literally been the worst pitcher in all of Major League Baseball.  How much longer would he even be willing to keep playing at that level? 

Nishioka had some success in Japan, but is unlikely to have any sort of career in MLB.  In fact, his MLB career will likely not be remembered much at all, except by those fans that remember just how poorly he played all parts of the game.  He left his home as a successful player to try to play in the best league in the World.  To fail so mightily and have to go back to those that he left would be extremely humbling.

Who knows, maybe one or both of them will find something in their pasts that made them players that the Twins wanted on their team.  If they both end up on the Twins' roster in September for some reason, please pretend you never read this.  Thanks!  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mondayne Notes: 8/20/2012

Mondayne Notes - 8/20/2012

The Mondayne Notes will be posted either late Sunday night or on Monday.  They are best accompanied by this specific version of "Spinning in Daffodils" by Them Crooked Vultures.

The Games

Monday - Win over Detroit - 9-3
Samuel Deduno walked fewer than he struck out.  Ryan Doumit hit a late bomb to put it away.

Tuesday - Loss to Detroit - 8-4
The Twins scored 4 unearned runs in the 3rd inning, but Doug Fister pretty much shut them down the rest of the way.  If anything will keep the Tigers from success in the regular season and postseason, it will definitely be their infield defense. 

Wednesday - Loss to Detroit - 5-1
Cole DeVries was pretty inefficient and Max Scherzer basically dominated the Twins with 10 strikeouts. 

Thursday - Off Day

Friday - Loss to Seattle - 5-3
A late pair of solo home runs by Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham were not enough as Nick Blackburn gave up 3 runs in the first 2 innings and his season ERA jumped up to 7.39.

Saturday - Loss to Seattle - 3-2
In a wonderful demonstration of how overrated wins and losses are for pitchers, Casey Fein gets the loss by facing one batter and getting him out.  He inherited a based loaded, no outs situation.  He got a sacrifice fly to shallow center, but deep enough to score the run.  He also got the loss for that.  On the other side, Tom Wilhelmsen faced one batter and got the win.  He also got his batter out.

Sunday - Loss to Seattle - 5-1
The game was close until Jeff Gray came in and showed us all how to win.  Deduno had a "quality start" and also walked 6 more batters.  His walk rate is almost historically high and I am planning to investigate just how high sometime in the future.  Ben Revere did return to the lineup after missing the previous two games.   

Week in Review
Not a great week.  The Monday night game was fun, but the Twins' offense was not great the rest of the week.  They scored 9 runs on Monday and then 10 runs the rest of the week.  Unfortunately, they cannot win games without getting good or better offense.  Sam Deduno and Scott Diamond had good results in their 3 combined starts, but the rest of the starting pitching dug holes for the team in the early innings.  Deduno walked 11 guys in his 2 starts and had 4 double plays turned behind him.  There are about 5 reasons (high strand rate, low strikeout rate, high walk rate, low BABIP, lack of any sort of track record) I can think of that point toward some major regression from Deduno, but it is hard to argue with the results right now.  I am not a Nick Blackburn fan at all, but I am honestly starting to feel a bit sorry for him and I hope he has a couple lucky starts in a row because he isn't going to get good results based on his talent anymore.  Pedro Florimon made his Twins debut and made some nice plays on deep pop-ups behind short.   

The Transactions

8/13 - Trevor Plouffe activated, Nishioka send to AAA
The Plouffe is no longer on fire.  I still like him though, and think he can be a cheap third baseman for the next couple years.  Nishioka going back to AAA is probably the best thing for him.  Each MLB game he plays is just more and more embarrassing for him.  I honestly hope the Twins buy him out and let him go back to Japan.  That is likely the best situation for all sides.

8/15 - Brian Dozier to AAA, Pedro Florimon called up
This one surprised me.  Florimon is not a prospect, so there is nothing to get too excited about with him.  I am not super high on Dozier, but I am hopeful he can get some confidence back in AAA.  I refuse to believe that there isn't a psychological element of baseball, as that would make it completely unique to all other human activities.  He seems like the type that could have some good gap power and he isn't a terrible fielder.  Long term, a move to 2B might be best for him though.  He really doesn't have much AAA experience, so this time could be helpful.  He'll be back in September regardless.

8/16 - Luis Perdomo to AAA, Jeff Manship to AAA
Meh and Meh.  Perdomo had a 1.50 ERA in 6 innings, but only 3 strikeouts to 7 walks.  Sam Deduno would scoff at that ratio.  Manship is just a guy.  You can use him as a mop up guy when down by 10 runs.  Otherwise, he actually hurts the team.

8/17 - Activated Anthony Swarzak, Called up Matt Carson, Outrighted Rene Tosoni
Carson isn't a prospect, but can be on the bench if needed without hurting his development.  While many would have liked Parmelee to be called up, it would be wasteful, unless he was going to play every day.  His call-up in June/July pretty much proved that will not happen. 

Tosoni was awful in AA and AAA and with the surprising glut of outfield prospects that the Twins have now (Arcia, Hicks, Rosario and even Benson), they really just don't need a 26 year old corner-only outfielder who really didn't show that he could hit, run, get on base, or even field last year.  He seemed like a nice guy though.

Swarzak is a semi-useful pitcher as a long man out of the bullpen and spot starter.  If nothing else, having a guy like Swarzak should allow the Twins to eventually cut the number of pitchers on the 25 man roster down to a reasonable number (long term of course, this year doesn't really matter much). 

The Injuries

Scott Baker - out for season
It seems that he is throwing more often.  I am an advocate for signing him next year.  He would likely be the ace of the staff, unfortunately.  I mean that in the nicest way possible, as I do like Scott Baker.  But, a number 3 starter coming off of TJ surgery is not a very exciting ace.

Matt Capps - 15 day DL
It sounds like he might be out until September.  It is possible that he has pitched his last game for the Twins.  Which is sad because we never got to give him the standing ovation he deserved as he walked off of Target Field for the last time.  We might just have to settle for serenading him with cheers when he comes back next year with another team.

Carl Pavano - 60 day DL
Another guy who might not pitch for the Twins again, although he is likely to return late August.  I wonder if he will even get a Jason Marquis type deal for next year. 

Ben Revere - day to day
Revere sprained his ankle on first base during Wednesday's game.  He stayed in the game, but the play looked pretty nasty.  It must have been, as he missed the next couple games.  He was back today and should be fine going forward.

Denard Span - day to day
Span last played on August 12, meaning he has missed over a week now.  He can be put on the DL retroactively, but that doesn't really change the fact that this type of injury situation is all too common for the Twins.  While it really doesn't mean a whole lot in a lost season, it is the type of situation you want to have fixed by the time the team is successful again.  Having a two man bench of Drew Butera and Tsuyoshi Nishioka during an August pennant race is means for being disqualified from the playoffs out of principle.

P.J. Walters - 15 day DL
Currently pitching rehab starts in AAA.  I guess it would be good to see what he has in September, just to see if he can be a stopgap starter in 2013.

The Standings

Win Loss
Games Back
Last 10
Chicago Cubs
San Diego

Some are not going to like how I display the standings, but realistically, the best way to look at this season is from the bottom up.  The worse the Twins' record at the end of the year, the better it is for the future.  There isn't a bonus for finishing in 3rd place or getting to .500.  But, finishing in the bottom five means a better draft pick, and more importantly, more draft money.  Under the new system, you can get double punished for winning games you shouldn't or don't need to win.  I am working on a column about losing with dignity that I will have up in a couple weeks.  The team doesn't have to tank to lose, but there are ways improve your draft standing while still keeping the team interesting.  It might not matter much, as the Twins are the worst of these listed teams over the past 10 games. 

The Future

Jose Berrios struck out 11 batters in 5 innings on Friday night.  Berrios is only 18 years old and was quickly promoted to high Rookie ball in Elizabethton.  Berrios is fairly short for a pitcher (listed at 6' 1"), but does have good life on his fastball and is not the Twins' typical soft-tossing strike-thrower.  According to ESPN's scouting page, Berrios might be a bullpen arm long-term or his three pitch arsenal of fastball, curve and change could help him stay in the rotation.  Regardless, getting this guy with the first pick in the 1st supplemental round was a demonstration that the Twins are serious about drafting and developing some power arms with upside. 

The Big Picture

This past year, the Twins drafted quite a few relievers that throw hard, in the hopes that they can turn a few into starters.  Berrios is obviously one of them.  To me, this is a great strategy, as these pitchers are talented enough to profile as good bullpen arms regardless of whether they can develop new pitches in the minors.  Young relievers can be extremely valuable, as they save the club from spending too much on veteran relievers and give flexibility to the club to allocate their resources to other parts of the team.  A young, talented, team-controlled and hard-throwing bullpen sounds to me like a winning formula.  

Fantasy Tip of the Week

Use total bases in place of home runs.  Home runs are fun, but so are triples and doubles.  Plus, I find the higher the numbers, the more fun the category is.  Total bases still give a bonus for home runs, but adds other extra base hits to the party.

Have a great week everyone!