What is going on with the bullpen?

Coming off of back-to-back 90+ loss seasons, the Twins, predictably  have a lot of holes in their roster.  Most noticeably, the Twins went into this winter with as many as four holes in their starting rotation, then traded away two center fielders, creating another hole, and there is still no real answer in the middle infield.  With all those other needs to address, the bullpen has become something of an afterthought, but even with a breakout year from Jared Burton and another strong year from Glen Perkins, the Twins still ranked just 9th in the American League in bullpen ERA (3.77).  Of the five teams with worse bullpen ERAs than the Twins in 2012, only the Tigers earned a postseason birth.

So with a below average bullpen in 2012, what will be relieving corps look like in 2013?  Glen Perkins will remain the closer and Jared Burton will be the primary 8th inning set-up guy.  Beyond those two, Brian Duensing is really the only other player with a firm spot in the pen, serving as the team’s primary left-handed specialist.  The Twins commonly work with a seven man bullpen, so that leaves four spots left to fill.  Ryan Pressly was the Twins’ Rule 5 draft pick earlier this winter, so he’ll need to be on the 25-man roster, but I do not think he’s a realistic candidate to stick, so he’ll either need to be returned to the Red Sox or the Twins will need to work out a trade to keep him.  Casey Fien put together a nice season a year ago in 35 innings of relief, so he’s likely to have a leg up on the competition for one of the four remaining spots.  Tyler Robertson is a guy that I really like, and if he can become a little more consistent strike thrower, he could slot in as the Twins’ second left-handed specialist.  That’d give the Twins three left-handers in the bullpen, but with Perkins serving as the closer, I think the Twins would be willing to go that route.  Alex Burnett, while he does not have great peripherals (and outside of 2012 has been a 5+ERA type reliever), probably did enough last year to earn a spot in the bullpen to start the year, but if he struggles, expect him to be one of the first players to go.

Anthony Swarzak gave up 1 run on 6 hits with no walks and 6 Ks in six full innings of work for the Twins

“Big Game Tony Swarz”

That really just leaves the Twins with one additional opening, long relief.  Over the past couple of seasons that role has been filled by Anthony Swarzak.  He’s performed adequately in this position, eating up innings, mopping up blow-outs, and has the arm strength to give the Twins an occasional spot start.  Swarzak is 27 years-old and owns a career 5.03 ERA in more than 200 major league innings, so he is not likely to make any major improvements in 2013, and with the Twins building for the future, they may want to look elsewhere.  Josh Roenicke, Tim Wood, Michael Tonkin and Caleb Thielbar are all other options on the 40-man roster that the Twins may look at during Spring Training.  Roenicke started last year for the Rockies, but because the Rockies limited their starters to about 75 pitches per start, he pitched just over 88 innings last season, and could be a guy the Twins want to have on-hand as a long reliever who can be relied upon to make a spot start, especailly early in the season as Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey are both coming of Tommy John surgery and may not be with the MLB club to start the year. Tim Wood pitched in AAA last season, and had good numbers for the Pirates’ affiliate, so could have a shot here as well and Terry Ryan recently said on a Rochester radio program that Tim Wood will not pitch in Rochester, so he will either be with the Twins or, as he is out of options, waived.  Michael Tonkin hasn’t pitched above A-ball, and the Twins are not likely to jump him all he way to Minneapolis, so while he has a spot on the 40-man roster, Twins fans shouldn’t expect to see him any time soon.  Caleb Thielbar could be an interesting option here, especially if the Twins want to see what Thielbar can do with the Twins.  He split time last season between AA-New Britain and AAA-Rochester, so the Twins have a pretty good idea of what he can do against high-level talent.  I’d still give the edge to Swarzak or Roenicke in this long-relief roll, but if the Twins open the year with a 4-man pitching rotation and an extra bullpen arm, Thielbar could very well be the beneficiary of that extra spot.

Not a lot to be excited about in the bullpen, but there may be some addition by subtraction as the Twins jettisoned Jeff Gray, Matt Capps and Jeff Manship from the bullpen.  There should be a couple of fun battles left for Spring Training and I expect the bullpen to be better as a unit. But if the starters don’t give the bullpen a little more rest in 2013, the relievers will be over used, worn out, and ineffective before the All-Star game.

-ERolfPleiss

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 21

Episode 21 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

The OTHER (cooler?) Greg Gagne

Once again the Pleiss brothers get together to talk Twins baseball. Continuing their look around the AL Central division they are joined by Lewie Pollis (@LewsOnFirst) from Wahoos On First and Beyond The Box Score to talk about what’s been happening with the Cleveland Indians since the end of their season and what we can expect from the Tribe in 2013. Later in the podcast Seth Stohs (@SethTweets) joins the podcast to talk about the recent release of his Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2013. By the end of the podcast you will have learned something about the Heart of Darkness, Greg Gagne, Josmil Pinto and a whole slough of other Twins news and notes.

 

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 us become more like the Red Power Ranger.)

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 19

Episode 19 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

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Drew Butera, Boat Anchor

Eric and Paul have returned from their winter hiatus to bring you more witty banter about the Minnesota Twins. This week they are joined by listener of the week, Mark Smith, to predict opening day lineups and discuss spring training battles that will have to be won. After Mark’s departure the twins discuss Kent Hrbek‘s place in the Twins Hall of Fame, Eddie Rosario‘s future as a second basemen and, of course, what type of beer they’re drinking.

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 us become mini-versions of Keith Richards.)

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 17

Episode 17 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

 
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Once again the Twins’ twins get together to talk Twins baseball. This week Eric and Paul discuss the Kevin Correia signing (yuck), a look at the 2013 starting pitching rotation and the outfield, and the quick escalation of MLB player salaries. Later in the podcast they take a look at Rick Aguilera‘s career in Minnesota, what the offseason moves so far mean to the balance of power in the AL Central and they go Down on the Pond to take a closer look at Niko Goodrum before finishing off with a debate about the places each of them would like to be season ticket holders. Arguably the best 90 minutes ever recorded.

 

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 us become warlocks.)

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 16

Episode 16 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Ben Revere rides to Philadelphia!

This week the Pleiss Twins discuss happenings from the winter meetings and are joined by Alex Kienholz of www.BeyondTheBoxscore.com to discuss the Twins/Phillies trade that sent Ben Revere to Philly in exchange for Vance Worley and prospect Trevor May, the Rule 5 draft and about his interested in sabermetrics. After Alex departs Eric and Paul get into the Jared Burton extension, Tom Kelly‘s Twins career, beer, prospects and a whole bunch of questions from the interwebs.

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 us become warlocks.)

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

Winter Meetings Day Two: Twins Face Stiff Competition for Starting Pitchers

It is a tough time to be looking for starting pitchers.  According to Jon Heyman, at least 15 teams are actively seeking starting pitching:

The reality is that the other 15 teams are not going to pass up an opportunity to sign starting pitching either, as evidenced by the Nationals’ Day 2 signing of Dan Haren on a one-year $13 million dollar deal.

Unless the Twins are willing to spend dollars and years (a notion promoted by our own Jim Crikket), they’re going to have trouble finding free agents that want to sign with a ball club that doesn’t have an immediate opportunity to contend for a postseason birth.  The Twins likely have an edge on some low-end free agent pitchers looking to rebuild their value on a one year deal, as the Twins play in a pitcher friendly park and generally face lesser offensive opponents (playing each AL Central opponent 18 times) than many of the other teams mentioned in Heyman’s tweet.  But low-end free agent pitchers are easily had (Carl Pavano, John Lannan, etc.). With each passing hour it becomes less and less likely that the Twins make a move before the end of the Winter Meetings, but after talking with just about every free agent pitcher with a pulse, they should have at least laid the groundwork for a signing or two later this winter.

After a day of rumors and meetings, this is what Terry Ryan had to say at his end of day presser regarding making a move at the Winter Meetings, “That’s always a tough question. You never know. We could. We may not.”   Don’t hold your breath, Twins fans.

PhotoCredit: NBC Sports, Hardball Talk

Other Notable Rumors/Deals/Signings from Day Two:

And of course, these, any many other, Winter Meetings happenings are all nicely chronicled over at MLB Trade Rumors, should you desire to fully immerse yourself in Winter Meetings maddness.

-ERolfPleis

OVERNIGHT UPDATE: Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports tweeted overnight that Ben Revere’s name is coming up as a possible trade target. He also speculates that, because they traded Denard Span, the Twins may need a CF in return.

First, if indeed CFs are in high demand right now, the Twins have to be willing to listen when teams call. It wouldn’t be ideal for someone like Aaron Hicks to have to skip AAA and be baptized under fire at the Big League level, but if he can’t hack it Darin Mastroianni could probably fill in at CF until Hicks or someone else steps up.

I’ve always figured Revere was probably a short term bridge in CF to get to Hicks or one of the other stud OFs coming up through the organization. If the Twins think the same thing, then you trade Revere whenever you feel his value is at its highest, even if that is one week after you’ve traded Span.

I think the idea of the Twins needing a CF in return is pure speculation on Morosi’s part. That makes no sense at all. You get the best starting pitcher you can and you don’t take a lesser pitcher in order to get a stopgap CF, as well.

In other Twins news, LaVelle E. Neal III of the StarTribune tells us that the team doesn’t see Ian Stewart as a fit to provide the competition at 3B for Trevor Plouffe. I find that odd. To me, that’s exactly the kind of player that would fit that role. Maybe they just want to push Plouffe, not really threaten him.

Stay tuned… maybe Day 3 will be more exciting than the first two days. Then again, because Zack Greinke’s indecision is keeping the rest of the free agent pitching dominoes from falling, I’m not counting on much for excitement today.

- JC

Quick Hit: Drew Butera and Twins Catchnig

Drew Butera loves puppies, is indifferent to hitting.

This past Friday was the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players (also for non-arbitration eligible players, as Twins declined to offer a contract to Lester Oliveros, effectively removing him from the 40-man roster). The Twins had three arbitration eligible players and offered contracts to all three, including catcher Drew Butera. That means that all five catchers currently on the 40-man roster are likely to remain with the Twins heading into 2013.  What else does this move say about the Twins 25-man roster (We already know that Josmil Pinto is not a viable candidate to make the 25-man roster, so we’ll omit him from the discussion going forward)?

  1. The Twins are NOT going to carry four catchers on the 25-man roster. With Mauer and Doumit locks to make the 25-man roster, and the Twins unlikely to carry FOUR catchers in 2013, when the Twins tendered a contract to Butera that puts Chris Herrmann on the outside looking in.
  2. The Twins like having a defensive specialist as their third catcher. Chris Herrmann would give the Twins a third catcher that has the ability to play multiple positions and pinch hit if needed, but he hasn’t yet developed into a great defensive backstop.  Butera, on the other hand, is a defense first catcher.  Butera’s BEST offensive season was 2012, and he hit just .198/.270/.279.  Pitchers rave about Butera’s ability to call a game and he has had success throwing out runners (33% career caught stealing rate).  Having a defensive, likable   third catcher probably also helps the team between games when pitchers are throwing bullpens or side sesssions, but on a game to game basis, Butera is only called into action about once every four games.
  3. The Twins do not believe that Chris Herrmann is ready to compete for a Major League job. Herrmann played briefly with the Twins after a September call-up in 2012, but otherwise has yet to play above AA.  Herrmann could be the heir to Joe Mauer‘s throne if/when Mauer is eventually forced to move to 1B or DH full time.  The Twins will likely give Herrmann development time in Rochester in 2013.
  4. Drew Butera will continue stealing a roster spot, despite playing only occasionally, and having value ONLY as defensive specialist.  Drew Butera cannot hit, so he has no value as a pinch hitter.  He doesn’t play any other defensive positions (even as a Minor Leaguer Butera only played 3/450 games away from catcher), so he provides no additional roster flexibility when he isn’t catching, even if the Twins wanted to put him into the lineup.  Even for catchers, he isn’t fast, so he can’t be used as a pinch runner (Butera has never attempted a stolen base in the Big Leagues, and has been thrown out 3 times in 5 attempts in the Minors). So he can’t hit, he can only catch (where he’s 3rd in line behind Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit), he isn’t fast, and only gets into games about 1/4 of the time.  And yet the Twins want to keep him on the 25-man roster.

I’m not sure that another team could have claimed Butera if the removed him from the 40-man roster.  Which means that the Twins could easily sign him to a Minor League contract and stash him at Rochester.  Then, if the Twins needed an emergency catcher they could add him back to the 40-man roster and call him up AND he’d be available at Triple-A to help mentor and teach Chris Herrmann.

It was just a simple transaction, handing a 2013 contact to Drew Butera, but it has an impact on the upcoming season and gives fans a little more insight into the line up the Twins are likely to use to start the season.

-ERolfPleiss

Watching the World Series With the Kernels & BJ Hermsen

UPDATE: Click here to check out the local Cedar Rapids CBS affiliate’s video report on Thursday’s event!

It wasn’t a big crowd Thursday night at Veterans Stadium for the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ World Series party, but those of us who showed up had a good time! It was a bit too chilly to sit outside and watch the game on the stadium’s video bard, but there were plenty of televisions inside.

I confess to having a $2.00 “Thirsty Thursday” beer or two (or five) and the brat was very good, but the company was even better. It was a great opportunity to meet and talk to some fellow Kernels fans, as well as make several new acquaintances among the fans in Twins gear that showed up.

The “guest of honor,” though, was Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year and fellow Iowan, BJ Hermsen. After spending an hour or so in an adjacent suite signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans, he joined the rest of the crowd, including several members of his family, in the main “Grand Slam Suite” to watch the Tigers and Giants do battle in San Francisco. Even then, he was more than gracious about continuing to sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans (and even the occasional old blogger).

Thanks to the Kernels, as well as the Hermsen family, for a very enjoyable evening!

BJ Hermsen signs an autograph for a young fan

Hermsen, along with friends, family and a mixture of Kernels and Twins fans enjoy food, drink and World Series baseball

BJ Hermsen and a blogger to be named later

 

 

 

 

Enjoy the World Series With the… Kernels?

Yes, you read that right.

If you live in Eastern Iowa or have been thinking about making a trip to Cedar Rapids to check out the home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Twins’ new Class A Midwest League affiliate, the Kernels are inviting you to watch a World Series game with them.

Thursday, October 25, is the date and we’re all invited to Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium to watch the World Series game that night.

Doors open at 6:00 pm and admission is FREE!

Not only will we have the opportunity to rub elbows with fellow Twins/Kernels fans, but the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, BJ Hermsen, will be on hand, as well!

Hermsen will be signing autographs and standing for pictures with fans from 6:30 until 8:00 pm.

Not only that, but if you’re new to the Kernels’ “family,” it will be your first opportunity to share in a traditional “Thirsty Thursday” event, where you can purchase 12 ounce draft beers, sodas and bottled water for $2.00 each. Of course, other standard ballpark food will be available throughout the evening, as well.

You’ll also find brand new Kernels/Twins affiliation gear on sale at the event.

So give it some thought and if you’re in the area, let’s Party at the Park!

– JC

 

More Thoughts on the Twins/Kernels Affiliation

The Cedar Rapids Kernels held a press conference Wednesday to introduce their new Major League affiliate, the Minnesota Twins. It was actually more of a public introduction to which the press was invited, but that was certainly the right approach by the Kernels. Affiliation changes are big deals in the local communities and when your organization hasn’t had a change in 20 years, it’s an even bigger deal.

(Image: Kernels.com)

I would have liked to attend, dressed head to toe in Twins gear like many of the crowd gathered in the Kernels’ conference room, but my schedule didn’t really allow for it yesterday. My conflicting meeting did end early enough for me to tune in to the live streaming feed being broadcast online by one of the local media outlets, so I did get to see some of the comments from the Twins’ Bill Smith and then most of the questions being fielded from media and the public by Smith and Jim Rantz.

For a good sense of how the press conference went and the enthusiasm expressed by pretty much all in attendance, from the Kernels, the Twins and the public, check out Jeff Johnson’s report  at the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s website. There’s a video clip, as well. Jeff covers the Kernels beat for the Gazette (as well as the local Junior Hockey League team, the RoughRiders), so some of you might want to start following Jeff via the usual social media outlets.

I admit that I have reasons for being happy about this affiliation that go beyond the obvious advantages for the Kernels and 99% of the baseball fans in the area. Yes, the Twins farm system is stronger than the Angels right now and probably will be so for quite a while. The Twins build their MLB team from within, while the Angels have become one of the richest teams in baseball and will likely continue to build by buying free agents and supplement them with the occasional super-prospect they uncover, such as Mike Trout.

If you run a minor league team, you’re better off with a MLB affiliate committed to drafting and developing talent. of course, we could debate how well the Twins have been doing that the past few years, but let’s do that another time. The fact is, that’s their model. So make no mistake, this is a huge “win” for the Kernels and we congratulate their Board and GM Doug Nelson for getting this deal done.

The Twins have a good fan base in the area and this deal clearly makes those of us who are members of that base happy. That should translate in to a few more butts in the seats at the local ballpark, but not nearly as many more as having a competitive team on the field would account for. From that standpoint, the Twins’ timing couldn’t be better. It would be almost impossible for them to send a team to Cedar Rapids next season that would lose more games than the team the Angels sent this season. Their 53-86 record was by far the worst in the Midwest League.

There’s been a lot said and written about how much better next year’s team is likely to be and the Twins brass certainly has brought up the success that their Appy League team in Elizabethton had in 2012 as evidence that expectations should be high in Cedar Rapids next year. That’s fair and I, too, believe the team has the potential to be very good.

But before we order MWL championship rings quite yet, Kernels fans (and Twins fans, too) need to keep one often-overlooked fact in mind. There’s a reason Elizabethton wins a lot and that players who move from E’town to Class A sometimes don’t look as good as hoped right away.

Those players are skipping a level of competition in the process.

No, they aren’t skipping a level within the Twins organization, but there is a whole level of minor league ball that the Twins have elected not to have an affiliate in and that’s “Class A-short season.” Many of the players that Max Kepler, Byron Buxton and their friends were up against this year will be sticking around extended spring training for their respective clubs and then playing in the NY-Penn League or Northwest League next summer, while many of the Elizabethton players are skipping straight to Cedar Rapids in April.

I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with the Twins’ approach, but I’d point out that it does fly in the face a bit of the perception among many fans that the Twins don’t push their players through the system quickly. That case might be made for some guys after they reach the full-season minor league level, but not so much before that. Of course, we also know that guys do stick around E’town for more than one season at times, too, but that still means those players have faced somewhat lesser competition levels by the time they reach the MWL.

Just sayin’ there’s more to the issue than what we see on the surface sometimes and while I’m anxious and excited to see the team the Twins put on the field in Cedar Rapids next season, I’m not expecting them to go undefeated or anything.

But, as I said, I have other reasons for liking this match-up between Minnesota and my home town team and they are admittedly very selfish reasons.

First, obviously, it gives me more stuff to write about here at Knuckleballs. Don’t worry, this will not become an “all Kernels, all the time” blog. It has been, is, and will continue to be primarily a Twins blog. But we’ve always reserved the right to write about whatever we darn well please, Twins-related or not. That’s why you’ve had to put up with me writing about the Kernels before… and the Hawkeyes… and Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” But, yeah, I’ll clearly have a much better excuse to write more about the Kernels next season now that they’re part of the Twins family. How much more remains to be seen, but I’ll certainly mention them from time to time (that’s me… the king of understatements).

But, speaking of my Alice’s Restaurant rant from a ways back, here’s my REAL selfish reason for wanting this relationship: I have come to believe that this affiliation is my last-best hope of ever seeing Twins baseball on cable television in Cedar Rapids. In fact, if I HAD been at the press conference Wednesday, I probably would have asked the Twins crew if there was any chance this deal might nudge Fox Sports North and Mediacom together to the point where FSN would at least be an option on the local cable system.

So, imagine my pleasure when someone in the crowd asked pretty much that exact question.

Of course, I was less impressed with the Twins response, but hey… I’m not giving up hope. Rome wasn’t built in a day and signing an affiliation agreement won’t make Eastern Iowa a full-fledged member of “Twins Territory” overnight. I’m a patient man. (Stop that laughing, right now!)

While the Twins people did give the same standard, “that’s out of our control,” response to the television question that their President, Dave St. Peter gave to me last winter, they did mention a few other ways that they plan to work on as initial steps to make us all feel like part of the Twins family.

For instance, it sounds like Cedar Rapids may well get a stop on the Twins Caravan in January. That’ll be nice. I’ve never made the effort to drive a couple hours north to Mason City or whatever border community the Twins have ventured in to previously, but they do sound like fun events. I would expect a very big crowd in CR for that if/when it comes to pass.

By the way, I believe Kernels staff will also be set up at Twinsfest in January, so if you attend, make sure you stop by and say hi. Doug and his folks are a great group of hard-working people that I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting to know. (Tell them I said that, will ya? I could use the brownie points.)

The Twins reps also alluded to making efforts to find a local radio affiliate to carry Twins games on the radio. They mentioned also that they’re excited about the fact that all of the Kernels games are carried on the radio and that Twins fans everywhere will be able to catch those games online. In addition, those of you who are blessed to be in an area that does carry FSN, it sounds like you may actually get to watch a few Kernels games on FSN next summer.

Honestly… I think that’s great. Good for all of you. But you have to admit that it’s ironic (or, to my mind, moronic) that you folks in Minneapolis may well have more opportunities to see Kernels games on your televisions than I’ll have to watch Twins games here in Cedar Rapids, because of the MLB blackout of the Twins on MLB.tv, etc. But that’s all I’ll say about that… today.

For now, I’ll just say it feels good to be at least one step closer to having my home town become a real part of Twins Territory. Thank you and congratulations again to the Kernels organization, as well as the Twins.

I’m ready for spring training to begin.

– JC