Episode 59 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer
Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
This week’s episode is a bit lonely as Eric is stuck in the backwoods of Minnesota deer hunting and dealing with a septic situation. Paul and Cody go it alone and discuss the Twins news, most notably the announcement that Twins uber-star Joe Mauer will transition to first base for the 2014 season and beyond. Later in the podcast Paul is joined by the radio voice of the Minnesota Twins, Cory Provus (@CoryProvus). We also discuss the news that the Braves are looking to move out of Turner Field, and Cody actually participates in an interview this week while we’re chatting with Twins double-A shortstop AJ Pettersen (@apettersen1), so be sure to give us a listen.
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which helps the Pohlads fight off the ghost of Bill Smith.
If it’s November, it must be “Top Prospect List” season.
Last year, I waited until the end of December to publish my personal “Twins Top 15 Prospects” list, which allowed me to include pitchers Alex Meyer and Trevor May after they were acquired by Twins General Manager Terry Ryan in off-season trades. Waiting also allowed me to get a look at a number of lists published by “experts” far smarter than I am.
All things considered, I should probably wait until closer to year end to put my list out there again. But I’m not going to do that.
If there are deals made that bring in new prospects or send away players on this list, so be it. I feel like writing and throwing a Top Prospects list out here seems to be a better use of my time than trying to come up with an off-season blueprint. And, honestly, it’s a lot easier to rank some prospects than try to figure out how to fix all the problems Terry Ryan’s facing with rebuilding the Twins’ roster.
A year ago, I came down on the side of ranking Byron Buxton as the Twins’ number 1 prospect over Miguel Sano.
I had the good fortune of getting to watch Buxton play almost every home game he suited up for with Cedar Rapids before his promotion to Fort Myers, as well as a number of his road games with the Kernels. I believe he was better than any other ballplayer I’ve seen in a Cedar Rapids uniform and that includes Mike Trout.
So, naturally, I’ll have to rank him ahead of Sano in the number 1 spot again this year, right?
Well… yes and no.
What I wrote last year still holds true for me today. Buxton’s potential to play an extraordinary centerfield defensively makes him a better prospect to me than Sano. Centerfield is just about the most critical position on the field (especially on Target Field) and Buxton is simply an amazing outfielder. In fact, the only position in baseball more important than centerfield is probably that of starting pitcher.
And that’s why my number 1 ranked prospect this year is…
Alex Meyer (RHP) – Meyer had a good first year in the Twins organization after coming over from the Nationals in the trade for Denard Span a year ago, but he has appeared to really step up his game in the Arizona Fall League. His fastball is touching 100 mph and averaging between 97 and 98 on the gun. He’s missing bats. He’s dominating some good hitters. He has the potential to be not only a top of the rotation starting pitcher within the next couple of years for the Twins, but to be a legitimate ace. He looks to be to the pitching staff what Buxton could be to the batting order, but he’s a level higher in the organization and thus, arguably, closer to actually realizing that potential than Buxton is.
Byron Buxton (CF) – Buxton is the real deal, folks. There’s nothing he can’t do on a baseball field. In fact, I honestly believe if you wanted to make him a pitcher, he could give the Twins one heck of a 1-2 rotation punch, with Meyer, for years to come. But he’s just too dang good at everything else to consider that option. When he learns to read pitchers a little better on the bases, he will be almost impossible to keep out of scoring position. That’s good news for guys looking to drive in a lot of runs, like, for example…
Miguel Sano (3B) – The best news of 2013 for Twins fans regarding Sano might have been the reviews of his improvements defensively at the hot corner. Let’s face it, a guy who hits like Sano is going to be in the heart of your batting order. But if he can also play a passable third base, that frees a GM and manager up to put other talented hitters who aren’t strong defensively in the corner outfield spots, at first base and/or at designated hitter. Think about this: if Sano sticks at 3B and Mauer can remain behind the plate most of the time, in a year or two, the Twins three best hitters may be their catcher, centerfielder and third baseman. And there’s no shortage of above average hitting prospects in the pipeline to fill the corner OF, 1B and DH spots.
Eddie Rosario (2B/OF) – Speaking of getting outstanding offensive production out of traditionally unexpected positions, if Rosario remains a second baseman, that’s yet another potentially productive bat from a middle infielder. Of course, with Brian Dozier having a solid year at 2B for the Twins, there’s talk of either moving Rosario back to the outfield or possibly even dangling him as trade bait for much-needed pitching help.
Kohl Stewart (RHP) – As has often been said, it’s risky to rank a prospect this high who hasn’t even played his first year of full-season professional ball. Then again, that didn’t seem to keep any of us from ranking Buxton at or near the top of our prospect lists a year ago and he hasn’t made us regret the faith we placed in him. I tend to think that most first round draft picks warrant a high ranking if they show the expected promise in their first taste of short-season ball. If Stewart dominates Class A hitters in 2014, he’ll be a top 3 prospect next year.
Jose Berrios (RHP) – It was cool to be able to watch Berrios strike out Robinson Cano in the WBC tournament last spring, but part of me wonders what his season might have been like if he hadn’t spent that time in the bullpen of Team Puerto Rico. He had some very impressive starts for Cedar Rapids, but he also had some clunkers. He certainly appeared to tire toward the end of the season. However, I also felt he showed more maturity on the mound as the summer went on.
Josmil Pinto (C) – Pinto has one thing that none of the other guys on this list have and that’s a Major League resume. In fact, none of the other players on this list have even played AAA ball yet. Pinto produced at AA, AAA and in the Big Leagues during his September call-up and he plays a critical defensive position. He’s not a finished product behind the dish, by any means, but the season he had in 2013 has to make him a Top 10 prospect for the Twins. He’s the guy that makes us feel a bit better about the potential move to first base by Joe Mauer.
Jorge Polanco (INF) – While I’m not sure Polanco has the tools to be a starting shortstop at the Major League level, his bat has shown two consecutive years of consistent productivity. He hits the ball hard and if he can turn some of those line drives in to something with a bit more loft, he will hit more home runs. I think his long term position is second base and, that said, if the Twins don’t deal Dozier and don’t move Rosario to the outfield, Polanco could be a guy the Twins start getting some calls about.
Max Kepler (OF/1B) – I’ll admit that Kepler’s continued top-10 ranking is, for me, more reflective of his athleticism than of his on-field performance and that makes me uncomfortable. He killed right handed pitching but struggled against lefties. His defense in the outfield was inconsistent and I just don’t think his throwing elbow was ever 100% in Cedar Rapids. That’s a concern, as well. I thought he did a nice job at first base for a guy who hadn’t played there a ton and with all of the outfield prospects the Twins have, 1B could be Kepler’s ultimate position if he stays in the Twins organization. He hasn’t been on fire in his Arizona Fall League work, but it sounds like he hasn’t been completely overmatched, either, and that’s encouraging.
Adam Brett Walker (OF) – Honestly, in my mind, the Twins have a definite “Top 9” prospects and then seven guys that are all pretty equal that fill out a Top “16” list. I’m giving Walker the nod in to the Top 10 because I saw the way Tony Oliva’s eyes lit up watching him play. When Oliva made an appearance in Cedar Rapids this summer, I found myself in the pressbox alone with him for an inning or so. He wanted to talk about Walker. I told him I thought Walker needed to learn to take that outside pitch to the opposite field and Oliva’s response was something along the lines of, “Noooo, why?! Let him pull the ball!” And you could just see in his eyes and his smile that he really liked Walker as a hitter. With that kind of endorsement, how could I not include Walker in the Top 10?
Lewis Thorpe (LHP) – Not only has Thorpe not had a year of full-season professional ball yet, he hasn’t even made it out of the Gulf Coast League. But a 17 year old lefty who can throw 95 mph and drop a pretty good hammer, as well, is impossible to ignore. The Aussie struck out 64 hitters in just 44 GCL innings in 2013. I know they say you have to ignore GCL stats, but I can’t ignore that one.
Trevor May (RHP) – May, who came over from the Phillies organization a year ago in the Ben Revere trade, missed some time in 2013 and again during the Arizona Fall League. The Twins probably still aren’t sure if he’ll end up in the rotation or bullpen, so he needs a healthy 2014 season to really impress.
Travis Harrison (3B/OF) – I’m wondering if the organization might move Harrison back to his natural corner OF position now that they seem confident Sano can stick as a third baseman. Harrison can hit a baseball very hard. Whether he moves up or down this list by next year will depend somewhat on whether the Twins find a defensive position he can potentially play at the MLB level.
Stephen Gonsalves (LHP) – Ordinarily, you wouldn’t see a 4th round pick from the prior year in your Top 15 list, but Gonsalves was reportedly on track to be a 1st round pick before a disciplinary issue arose during his senior year of HS, allowing the Twins to get a potential steal. If he can add some bulk to his 6’ 5” frame and a couple of ticks on his fastball, he could become very good very quickly.
Miguel Sulbaran (LHP) – Sulbaran largely is flying under the radar among the Twins prospects. Maybe it’s his 5’ 10” stature. Maybe it’s that he only spent a few weeks in the organization after coming over from the Dodgers. Maybe it’s that he was obtained for Drew Butera. Sulbaran may not be tall, but he’s got a pitcher’s lower body and he uses it to get good drive off the mound. He struck out over eight batters per nine innings in 2013 and he has something a lot of other pitchers at his level don’t: an out pitch. His change-up is the real thing.
That final spot was a tough one to decide on as shortstop Danny Santana arguably should be on this list somewhere. In the end, I decided he just made too many errors to project as a defense-first shortstop and didn’t get on base often enough to project as a top of the order hitter. This is going to be a make or break year for Santana, I think.
So that’s my list. I’d like to see a few more guys that are closer to being “Major League-ready,” but I just don’t see a ton of high ceiling guys in the high-minors of the Twins organization right now and high ceilings are what I tend to look for in my rankings.
Episode 56 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
This week we are joined by a couple of special guests including our new producter/media relations guro, Jay Corn (@Jay__Corn) to talk about the pros and cons of being a season ticket holder for 2014. We are also joined by the famous/infamous Andrew Bryz-Gornia of Twinkie Town (@BryzTwinkieTown) to talk all sorts of things Twins (Platoon splits, off-season acquisitions, Ushering). Paul, Eric, Cody, Jay, and Bryz are essentially porno for your ears, but for baseball. We discuss Paul Molitor’s new job with the Twins, minor league acquisitions and the Diamond award winners, among other things (namely Beer, pie and WS predictions). It’s 103 minutes of pure ear awesome. The off-season is fun, you guys.
How many times have we heard someone say, “The Twins need to get back to emphasizing the Twins Way?” Or, perhaps just as often we hear, “the Twins need to forget about the Twins Way crap… it doesn’t work.” Either way, “The Twins Way” has become a cliché and a pretty tired one, at that.
But what is The Twins Way? We have some vague idea that it’s about playing good defense, running the bases intelligently, moving runners effectively and, yes, “pitching to contact” (how’s that for using one tired cliché to define another one?).
But I think it goes much, much deeper than all of that. I think The Twins Way is a philosophy – a culture that is imbedded at every level of the organization.
It is a culture that has led to a fair amount of success for the Twins over the years, as a Major League Baseball team and as a privately owned and operated for-profit business.
It’s also a culture that has driven many Twins fans to such a level of frustration that they’re almost incapable of having any discussion about the ballclub that doesn’t include a loud cry to get rid of the ownership, the front office executives, the manager, the coaches or, quite often, all of the above.
Of course, taking issue with how those in authority run things is almost as ingrained in American culture as baseball, itself. On the other hand, whether the subject is government, business or sports, those with no clue about how to actually run something are often the most vocal critics of those who do.
But if we’re going to have a dialogue about the pros and cons of The Twins Way, I think we should get our arms around what that actually means, so at least we all know what we’re talking about when we hear the term used or, heaven forbid, use the term ourselves.
In my mind, The Twins Way starts with the concept of getting the best possible efforts and results out of whatever level of talent specific players might possess. The 1987 World Champion Twins. The “piranhas.” Brad Radke and Nick Punto.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this concept. It’s what every organization SHOULD strive to achieve, isn’t it?
And if you have a baseball team filled with overachieving mid-level talent, you can occasionally catch lightning in a bottle and accomplish great things. When that happens, the entire community and fan base rightfully takes great pride in the accomplishment.
Sometimes, however, it causes those in charge to conclude that catching that lightning is something that can be repeated consistently or, even worse, that what’s been accomplished is not due to something as random as lightning strikes, but was actually accomplished by intentionally identifying potential new piranhas or the “next Brad Radke.”
In fairness, this aspect of The Twins Way has its roots in necessity. Going back to the near-contraction days, the Carl Pohlad-owned Twins had to find inexpensive ways to compete with the rich clubs. They weren’t going to get Roger Clemens, so they needed to figure out how to win with Radke-types.
Scouts looked for a certain sort of “make-up” in high school and college players, not to mention minor leaguers. “Toolsy” position players and “pitch to contact” pitchers with good “make-up” were perhaps deemed more affordable, short term and long term, than top-tier talents who would not only be more costly to sign initially, but would be more likely to bolt for major market teams as soon as they could escape their serfdom with the Twins.
Shopping the free agent market meant picking through the bargain bins once the teams with real money to spend signed all the best available talent. There was never enough money in the coffers to retain the Twins’ own free agents, much less pay for those hitting the market from other organizations.
The move to the Target Field was supposed to change things and, in many ways, it has. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some of the people running the show and they are smart people. They know baseball and they know they need to put a better product on the field. To their credit, they’ve made some of the necessary cultural changes.
Starting with the draft and international signings, the Twins have begun to spend money. The Twins outbid the Pirates for Dominican Miguel Sano and they’ve used the early draft picks that come with having really bad seasons to select what are arguably the best athletes available, such as Byron Buxton, rather than use “sign-ability” as a code word for spending as little as possible on new talent.
They re-signed the players they deemed the most critical to retain from among their own group of free agents, including a significant extension for Justin Morneau and an eight-year contract for Joe Mauer at $23 million per year.
They’ve dipped their toes in the mid-range levels of free agency, signing players like Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia to multi-year contracts at mid-seven digit levels annually.
As the Twins complete a third consecutive season in which they’re likely to lose at least 90 games, it may not seem like it but The Twins Way is changing.
They’re still teaching the importance of fundamentals at the lower levels of the minor leagues, but they’re teaching those fundamentals to, on balance, a group of ballplayers with more pure talent than used to be the case. In time, we should see these talented players working just as hard as the piranhas did and winning more games, as a result.
As I see it, there’s really one remaining major cultural paradigm within the organization that needs to change and it’s probably the most difficult change for the organization to make. It has to do with being prepared to spend significant money on top-tier free agents from other organizations, even if it means having to risk paying more for their talents than your best judgment tells you they are worth.
Not doing so won’t prevent the Twins from eventually becoming competitive again. Three years from now (maybe even two, if everything falls right), the talent in their minor league pipeline could well have the Twins competing for an AL Central Division title again.
But if they show their historical patience, how many fans will still be showing up at Target Field by then? It’s a lot harder to get fans to come back than it is to keep them, but you need to be willing to give them a reason to keep showing up.
It doesn’t take a baseball genius to figure out what the Twins need to improve significantly next season. It will require the same thing everyone knew it would take a year ago… and the year before that. It will take better starting pitching – much better starting pitching.
Adding the kind of pitching required won’t be easy. They’ll have to outbid teams that have had more recent success for one or more of the best available free agent arms and/or they’ll need to let go of some of their highly coveted young prospects to get pitching help via trade. Either way, they’ll need to be willing to spend money, perhaps a lot of it.
If they add nobody of significance to their roster, they’ll start 2014 with a payroll just slightly more than half of what they had committed to their Opening Day roster in 2011, so there’s no argument to be made that money isn’t available.
The only remaining question is whether General Manager Terry Ryan and others running the organization are prepared to let go of the last remaining tie to the old culture and spend that money.
So last year I opened up a couple spots for the “easy league” I run in fantasy football – and we had a good enough time that I thought I would offer two spots again to any new Knuckleball folk that might want to give it a try.
We have a good time once baseball season has ended and if you have always wanted to give it a try but never felt comfortable in those high pressure competitive leagues or just want to see how things work, you are more than welcome.
But just because we’re low pressure doesn’t mean that we aren’t still a competitive group – after all, the Beverage Bowl is on the line! We have a traveling trophy for the winner each year!
This will be our 7th season playing so we have a lot of names on that trophy now.
If you’re interested in participating, email me at CapitalBabs@gmail.com. Again, I’m offering up 2 spots and I’ll fill them first come, first served.
UPDATE: This morning (3/14/2013) Anthony Slama was reassigned to Minor League camp.
Much has been made of the success enjoyed by Minnesota Twins Minor Leaguer Anthony Slama over the past several years at Triple-A Rochester. Since 2009, when he first arrived in Rochester, Slama has posted a 2.27 ERA over 154.1 innings and has 191 strike outs to go along with just 74 walks. Those 191 strike outs came in 635 plate appearances, meaning that Anothny Slama was striking out more than 30% of the batters he faced. Pretty impressive numbers for a guy that has only two brief Major League auditions, 4.2 innings in 2010 and 2.1 innings in 2011. Despite everything that Slama did in 2012 (1.24 ERA with 56K and just 18BB) and as bad as the Twins were (66-96), Slama was passed over for a September call-up. Slama is entering his 7th year in professional baseball, he’s no longer on the Twins’ 40-man roster, and despite being in Big League camp, he has little chance of making the Twins’ 25-man roster to begin the year.
But he still had a chance entering his March 9 appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. Slama was making his first road appearance of the Spring and even though he’d walked four batters and struk out only two through his first 3.1 innings (including an exhibition appearance against the Puerto Rican WBC team), he’d given up just a single earned run, and that was back in his first appearance of the Spring. Slama pitched poorly, facing six hitters, giving up two hits, two walks, and two runs while recording just two outs.
Anthony Slama throws three pitches. He throws a 4-seam fastball, a curve ball, and a change-up. A pretty regular assortment for a right-handed pitcher. Slama throws his 4-seamer almost three-quarters of the time, with most other offerings coming out of his hand as curve balls and an even smaller number of change-ups. Slama has fringy velocity, sitting in the upper-80s with his fast ball, and throwing both his change and curve about ten miles per hours slower.
Why Slama has not been given a real chance with the Twins despite his Minor League success is anyone’s guess, but the general consensus is that the Twins do not think his game will translate well to the Big Leagues. Specifically, according to 1500 ESPN’s Phil Mackey, that “Slama puts too many runners on base, and his low-90’s fastball lacks the necessary life for late-inning success in the majors.” With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at Slama’s March 9 appearance.*
Batter 1 – Matt Hague (RHB) – Slama retired Hague on four pitches. He started him with three fastballs (all between 87 and 89 mph), and then induced a pop-up in foul territory along the first base line on a 74 mph curve ball.
Batter 2– Lucay May (RHB) – Slama started off May with the same fastball to the top-right hand corner of the strike zone, but this time failed to get the call from the umpire and fell behind 1-0. May was taking all the way on Slama’s second offering, another fastball right down the pipe. Slama then missed the zone with his next two fastballs, bouncing the second one in the dirt. Now behind 3-1, Slama had to throw a strike and May connect on the belt-high fastball and lined a single between the shortstop and third basemen. Slama did a good job mixing locations with his fastball, but all five fastballs came in at 87 mph. Because he was unable to find the edges of the strike zone.
Batter 3 – Jordy Mercer (RHB) – Once again Anothny Slama begins the at-bat with a fastball. Mercer takes the pitch right down the center of the strike zone for a called strike one. Slama then throws back-to-back curve balls that miss down and outside and he’s behind in the count 2-1. Back to the fastball, again Slama misses outside and he’s in his second three-ball count of the inning. Slama misses way outside on his next pitch, which he appeared to overthrow, and now there are runners on first and second with just one out.
Batter 4 – Drew Maggi (RHB) – The game-tying run is now at the plate and Slama again goes to his fastball for an 88 mph called strike that catches the bottom of the zone. Slama drops a curve low and away that misses but comes back with another fastball right down the plate that Maggie fowls down the left field line, out of play. Looking at the video, Maggi might have been looking for another off-speed pitch, but he still put a good swing on the ball and lining it down the left field line, despite being well behind the pitch. Ahead in the count, Slama throws what appears to be a change up and induces another pop-up to foul territory along the first base line. This was Anthony Slama at his best, mixing speeds and hitting his spots on the edges of the zone.
Batter 5 – Felix Pie (LHB) – Slama quickly falls behind 3-0, missing the zone on three straight fastballs between 87 and 89 mph. Pie takes the next two pitches, both strikes, before Slama misses throws wide with his sixth fastball of the at-bat, loading the bases. This was Slama at his worst. He struggles to throw strikes with his fastball and because he had been so erratic with his control, the regularly impatient Pie lets Slama give him the free pass.
At no point through these first five batters has Slama looked particularly confident. He’s managed to get a couple of pop-ups to into foul territory, but he routinely misses the catcher’s target, sometimes by what looks like a foot or more. He has thrown 24 pitches to this point in the inning and has yet to induce a single swing and miss.
Batter 6 – Brad Hawpe (LHB) – First pitch fastball (stop me if you’ve heard this before), high and outside, 1-0. Hawpe then fouls off (up and away from the third base line) two more Anthony Slama fastballs before watching a fourth fastball (and the 10th consecutive fastball that Slama has thrown) get away from Slama for a letter-high ball. Slama throws yet another 88 mph fastball that Hawpe again just misses sending the ball into the seats along the third base line. Slama’s thirtieth pitch of the inning is another fastball that misses high bringing the count full. Anthony Slama now has a three-ball count with the fourth of the six batters he faced. The final pitch of the at-bat is a fastball hit through the gap on the right side of the infield that scores two runs.
Anthony Slama’s appearance ended after that second base hit. He threw thirty-one pitches: 14 strikes, 17 balls, 26 fastballs, 4 curve balls, and what was most likely 1 change up. He finished with thirteen consecutive fastballs, everyone of them between 86 and 89 miles per hour. His fastball looked flat AND he could not locate it. Because he was frequently behind in the count he was unable to get to his curve ball, and when he did, he could not throw that for strikes either. All in all, a pretty dreadful appearance from Anthony Slama.
Unless things change drastically between now and the end of Spring Training, that performance was likely the unofficial end to Anthony Slama’s career with the Minnesota Twins.
*In addition to being Slama’s most recent appearance, the March 9 game was Slama’s first televised appearance so I had an opportunity to review the videotape, approximate pitch locations, and record velocity by way of the on-screen radar gun. Went a little old school to get the pitch data, here is my chart, NotebookFX
Episode 28 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
Eric and Paul are joined this week by not one, but two guests with international flavor. In the first segment the twins are joined by Gary from Italy (@ForzaGemelli) to talk about baseball in Italy and hopes for the Italian team in the WBC (including Drew Butera, the boat anchor). Later in the podcast fellow international traveler Thrylos (@Thrylos98) of tenthinningstretch.blogspot.com to talk about spring training battles and baseball in general. Eric and Paul go on to discuss injury news coming out of spring training, J.T. Chargois, Camile Pascual, the World Baseball Classic in both generalities and specifics before getting sidetracked talking about beer, and other nonsensical things.
Thanks to Mark Smith (@MarkArtSmith) for the new logo!
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help the Twins in games).
Episode 27 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
Eric and Paul discuss the Twins news of the week, ranging from the Oswaldo Arcia injury, the CF competition, Joe Mauer‘s twins to the Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings. They are joined this week by Kristen Brown (kbrobaseball.blogspot.com) to talk about spring training, voodoo paper dolls and being a female sports writer in a male dominated world. After K-Bro the twins take a closer look at Gary Gaetti‘s time in Minnesota, and Deolis Guerra‘s future with the organization before getting into the world of beer and stolen sausages.
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which buy us beers).
Episode 26 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
Thanks to Mark Smith (@MarkArtSmith) for the new logo!
Now more than 6 months into the podcasting experiment the Pleiss brothers tackle the glory and excitement that is the dawn of the 2013 baseball season. Among things discussed are the real value of spring training stats (none), things to watch around the diamond in 2013 for the Twins (infield, outfield, rotation, bullpen) and a discussion of arguably the biggest post MVP flop in baseball history (Zoilo Versalles); toss in some banter about whether or not bigger is actually better, prospect talk (Jorge Polanco and Niko Goodrum) with Seth Stohs (@SethTweets) and some other baseball banter and you’ve got a fine mess for your listening enjoyment.
With the Twins likely done making moves this winter, and with Spring Training games just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to put my predictive powers to the test and try and suss-out the Twins’ plan for the Opening Day starter. With the Twins opening the season at home this year, the Opening Day start has a little more significance than it has the past couple of years when the Twins started the season on the road. The Twins have not started the year at home since 2009, and the last Twins pitcher to win the Opening Day game at home was Livan Hernandez in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels. In fact, the Twins haven’t won an Opening Day game since 2008, working on an 0-4 streak losing 6-1 in 2009 against the Mariners, 6-3 against the Angels in 2010, 11-3 in 2011 against the Blue Jays, and 4-2 a year ago in Camden Yards against the Orioles. An Opening Day win would be a nice change of pace.
Since the Twins moved to Minnesota to start the 1961 season, Opening Day starters are just 14-25, with 12 no decisions. Not exactly a great track record on baseball’s biggest day, but with names like Camilo Pascual, Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Brad Radke, and Johan Santana, the Twins’ Opening Day starter has historically been some of the most beloved players in Twins history.
Looking over the current 40-man roster, and some non-roster invites to Spring Training, there are several players who have a shot at being the Opening Day starter. I’ll rank them from least likely to start to most likely to start on Opening Day.
Rafael Perez (1% chance to start Opening Day) – Perez was just signed to a Minor League deal with the club a week ago. He’s spent his entire big league career working out of the bullpen, and has not had a K/9 above 6 since 2008. He has put up strong ERAs every year except 2009, but with the declining strike out rates and a ballooning walk rate, his ERA has been propped up by an above average strand rate. Perez has an uphill battle to even make the team as a left-handed reliever, and an even tougher climb into the starting rotation.
Rich Harden (4%) – Like Perez, Harden is with the Twins on a Minor League deal. Harden has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011, and while he has had a consistently above average strike out rate, he has not been an above average pitcher since 2009. There is some question as to whether or not Harden’s shoulder can stand up to the high pitch counts associated with starting, so there is a pretty decent chance that if he makes the team at all, the Twins would prefer that he work out of the bullpen to keep him healthy for the entire season. I like him more than Perez because Harden has a track record as a starting pitcher, and because the Twins are so desperately in need of strike outs, but he is still a long shot to even break camp with the Twins.
Mike Pelfrey (7%) – Pelfrey signed a 1-year deal with the Twins this offseason hoping to rebuild his value coming off of Tommy-John surgery. Pelfrey is still not a ful year removed from surgery, so there are concerns about his ability to be ready to start the season in the rotation. Unlike Harden and Perez, if he is healthy, Pelfrey has a guaranteed spot in the rotation. If I was confident that Pelfrey would be healthy when the Twins break camp I would have him higher, but it is early in camp and I anticipate that he will end up needing an extra few weeks go get all the way up to speed.
Liam Hendriks (10%) – Hendriks is a fringe candidate to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, but with questions about health among several of the arms ahead of him on the pecking order, he is likely to be the next man in if any one of the projected five starters are not ready to start the season. Even a healthy Liam Hendriks is a long shot to take the ball for the Twins on Opening Day as Ron Gardenhire usually likes to reward his veterans.
Kevin Correia (12%) – Poor Kevin Correia has been written off since before the ink was dry on his shiny-new 2-year $10 million dollar contract. Correia certainly is not the type of pitcher that would typically get the ball on baseball’s biggest stage, but the Twins seem to like his veteran leadership and clubhouse presence, something that went a long way for Carl Pavano (who started back-to-back Openers in 2011 and 2012). Pavano had almost a year and a half of starts with the Twins under his belt prior to taking the mound on Opening Day, but with no other experienced veterans on the roster, Correia might end up pitching by default.
Kyle Gibson (13%) – The Twins seem dead set on starting the year with Aaron Hicks in center field field despite not having any Major League experience. If the Twins are trying to build excitement in 2013 and invite fans to buy into the Twins future, Gibson could wind up pitching on Opening Day to help build momentum toward 2014 and beyond. But like Pelfry, Gibson is coming off of Tommy-John surgery, and unlike Pelfrey, Gibson figures heavily into the Twins future plans, so they are likely to treat him with kid gloves. The Twins are looking to limit his inning totals in 2013, so putting him on the mound from Day 1 does not do a lot to aid that effort.
Scott Diamond(15%) – After playing the role of savior for the 2012 Twins, Diamond was the overwhelming favorite to take the ball on Opening Day. If Diamond is healthy he will undoubtedly be pitching on April 1st. But Diamond had surgery in December to remove some bone chips from his throwing elbow and is reported to be progressing through his rehab slower than anticipated. There is still an outside chance that Diamond is healthy when the Twins open 2013, but the Twins want Diamond healthy long-term, so if any question marks remain about his health, expect the Twins to take things nice and slow.
Vance Worley (38%) – Vance Worley seems to have become the Twins de facto Opening Day starter because there really is not anyone else with a real shot at keeping him from it. He has a lot of things working in his favor; he is healthy, he is young and exciting, has a chance to be a long-term part of the Twins ballclub, and he is not Kevin Correia (which is to say he is not old, ineffective, and overpaid).
When the Twins traded away Ben Revere for Worley and Trevor May I would not have though Worley had any shot to pitch on Opening Day, but he seems to be the last man standing.