Episode 57: The Hot Stove, and Other Wives Tales

Episode 57 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

hotstove

This week Eric and Paul are joined by Jay Corn (@jay__corn, that’s right, two underscores!) to talk Twins baseball. This will be our fist dive into the post-season hot stove, and this week we talked about available starting pitching and which pitchers we thought, if any, made sense in Minnesota. Pedro Hernandez was removed from the 40-man roster and signed a AAA deal, Terry Ryan is putting the band back together, so to speak, and the AFL continues down in the “Valley of the Sun.” All that and more on this week’s Talk to Contact podcast.

Thanks for listening!

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

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 Paul Molitor use the infield shift in 2014.

-ERolf

Molitor is a Good Addition to Twins Staff

The Twins used the off-day today before the 2013 World Series gets going and MLB reimposes its “don’t make news on any day we play a post-season game” gag order to announce that Hall of Famer Paul Molitor has been added to manager Ron Gardenhire’s coaching staff.

Tom Kelly and Paul Molitor on the Minor League spring training fields

Tom Kelly and Paul Molitor on the Minor League spring training fields

MLB has begun allowing teams to dress seven coaches and while the Twins did not take advantage of that option in 2013, Gardy will have a full contingent of coaches in the dugout next season.

When the Twins announced a year ago that some of the coaching staff would not be retained, Molitor told the media he’d be open to interviewing for a coaching job with the big league staff. However, at that time, General Manager Terry Ryan said, “At this time he is not going to be a fit. I’ve talked to him about it. We had the discussion. And I know he has interest.”

What a difference a year (and another 96 losses) makes, apparently.

But what exactly has changed?

I think we can begin and end that discussion with the obvious: A year ago, the Twins had announced that Gardenhire would not be getting what had become a near-automatic contract extension and would therefore be managing through 2013 without any assurance he’d be around beyond that.

Paul Molitor (4) observing CR Kernels batting practice

Paul Molitor (4) observing CR Kernels batting practice

Having Molitor lurking in the dugout would arguably just feed media and fan speculation that Gardy’s replacement was already on board and looking over his shoulder if (when) the Twins started losing.

Now, however, the manager has a new two-year extension so, in theory, there should be no speculation about Gardenhire being inevitably replaced by his high-profile coach.

I think that theory held for all of about 20 seconds after the announcement of Molitor’s hiring. The speculation will become even louder the first time the Twins get swept in a 2014 series (which shouldn’t take long next season unless the roster gets an uncharacteristic off-season overhaul).

Personally, I don’t think Molitor is the heir apparent as Twins manager. I have another favorite in that race, but I certainly could see Molitor serving as an “interim manager” in a worst-case scenario involving a mid-season change at the top. Then again, every worst-case scenario involving the Twins these days seems to come to pass, so don’t bet against this one.

Despite the drama it will inevitably lead to next summer, I like the hiring of Molitor. I would have been fine with the Twins bringing in someone with no prior ties to the organization, too. I’d have liked it even more if they had added a qualified Latin American coach.

But having someone with Molitor’s baseball IQ in the dugout certainly is not a bad thing.

I had some opportunities to talk to Molitor this summer when he spent the better part of a week in Cedar Rapids working with Kernels playes in his role as a roving minor league instructor focusing on baserunning and infield play (you can click here for my interview Molitor) I came away with a very positive impression of him personally, but more importantly, as someone who knows the game and knows how to communicate that knowledge.

Molitor has established coach/pupil relationships with most of the players the Twins will be relying on to bring the franchise back to relevancy. he has worked with Byron Buxton on baserunning. He’s worked with Miguel Sano and virtually every other minor league infielder on improving their defensive skills.

And, oh yeah, he’s someone who knows a little something about winning.

Rochester Red Wings (AAA) manager Gene Glynn was rumored to be another leading candidate for the coaching job with the Twins. With Molitor getting that gig, it would seem likely that Glynn will be assigned to manage the Red Wings again in 2014.

Had Glynn joined the Twins’ staff, we may have seen some shifting in assignments among the other minor league managers in the organization. Now, it would seem logical to assume that Jeff Smith will return to AA New Britain, Doug Mientkiewicz to high-A Fort Myers and Jake Mauer to Class A Cedar Rapids.

Last year, it seems like the Twins waited until December to announce their minor league coaching assignments, but if things will remain pretty much the status quo, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to delay those announcements.

I suppose, though, that the Twins may, once again, wait until the World Series is over or at least for the next off-day in the Series rather than endure the “wrath of Bud” for breaking news on a World Series game day.

I’m not sure what the chances are that anyone who cares about the Twins minor league managing/coaching assignments still gives a damn about the Red Sox and Cardinals or whether those that do have minds that are incapable of absorbing Twins news AND remembering to watch World Series games, but who are we to question Bud’s edicts, right?

Anyway, this final thought concerning the Molitor hiring: The Twins won’t suddenly become champions because Paul Molitor has been added to their coaching staff unless they can run him through a time machine and put him in the batting order and on the field. But by adding him to two of last season’s coaching additions, Tom Brunansky and Terry Steinbach, does bring more credibility to the staff.

That may not translate in to immediate success in the win column, but I believe it will pay dividends long-term.

JC

Sickels’ “Twins Top 20″ Features Past/Future Kernels

The 2013 season was, by almost all measures, a successful maiden season for the affiliation between the Cedar Rapids Kernels and their new Major League parent, the Minnesota Twins. Now, fall is bringing out the first of what will be many published organizational “top prospect” lists, signaling that it’s not too early to begin looking at what kind of talent the Twins will be sending to Cedar Rapids in 2014.

John Sickels publishes The Baseball Prospect Book yearly and is one of the more respected minor league experts in the business. This week, he released his list of the Twins’ Top Twenty Prospects at his minorleagueball.com website.

A peek at that list not only confirms for Kernels fans that they had the opportunity to watch a number of future Major Leaguers on Perfect Game Field this year, but also gives a clue as to what Cedar Rapids fans can expect to see next summer.

Sickels wrote that the “Twins system is among the elite in the game,” and a number of recent Kernels are among the reasons for that high praise. He also believes that, “there are some lively arms of promise at the lower levels,” in the Twins organization, which should tip off Kernels fans to what they can expect to see in 2014.

Sickels uses a grading system (A, B, C, etc.) to rank the prospect status of minor leaguers and he is not an easy grader. As he writes, “Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.” Of the hundreds of minor league players in the Twins organization, 24 attained that C+ grade, or better, from Sickels this fall. That may not sound like many, but it’s actually a high number for one organization.

Byron Buxton, who patrolled centerfield for the Kernels during the first half of the 2013 campaign, was one of two Twins prospects (along with Class AA slugger Miguel Sano) to attain Grade A prospect status from Sickels. Wrote Sickels, “Few organizations can boast a pair of potential superstar Grade A talents like Buxton and Sano, and the Twins have good depth beyond them…”

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Buxton ranks as the number one prospect in the organization, on Sickels’ list, but five other Kernels alumni also rank in his Top Twenty.

Right handed pitcher Jose Berrios gets a B grade from Sickels and ranks sixth among Twins prospects. Both infielder Jorge Polanco (B) and outfielder/first baseman Max Kepler (B) make the organizational Top Ten, coming in at numbers nine and ten, respectively, in Sickels’ rankings.

Third baseman Travis Harrison earns a B-/C+ from Sickels and the number 11 ranking, while outfielder Adam Brett Walker’s C+/B- grade placed him at number 13.

Four additional Kernels, infielder Niko Goodrum and pitchers Mason Melotakis, Taylor Rogers and Miguel Sulbaran pulled C+ grades from Sickels and fell just outside the Top Twenty. In essence, this means ten members of the 2013 Kernels are among Sickels’ Top 24 Twins Prospects going in to the offseason.

Travis Harrison and Niko Goodrum

Travis Harrison and Niko Goodrum

As for the future, grading recently signed or drafted ballplayers that haven’t yet competed in a full season of professional baseball is a tricky business, but Sickels placed five such Twins prospects among his organizational Top Twenty. All five are pitchers.

Kohl Stewart, a right hander who was the Twins top draft pick in last summer, leads that list with a B+ grade from Sickels and his number three ranking in the organization. Sickels’ wrote that Stewart, “was the best high school pitcher in the draft and showed good command of plus stuff in his pro debut.”

Lefty Lewis Thorpe, an Australian 17-year-old, reportedly grew an inch and added something close to 50 pounds and several miles per hour to his fastball this past summer. Sickels grades him at a B- and places him seventh among Twins’ prospects. Thorpe pitched in the Gulf Coast League (the lowest US rookie league team among Twins affiliates) in 2013 making it highly unlikely that he starts 2014 in Cedar Rapids and may not arrive until the following summer.

Felix Jorge (number 17), Stephen Gonsalves (19) and Ryan Eades (20) slip in to Sickels’ Top Twenty, as well, all with C+ grades.

Jorge is a righthander from the Dominican Republic who had a very good year for Elizabethton in 2013, striking out 72 hitters in just 61 innings covering his 12 starts.

Gonsalves, a lefty and the Twins’ fourth round pick last June, only threw 28 innings combined during time with both Twins rookie league teams in 2013 but was a strike out machine and posted a 0.95 Earned Run Average.

Eades, another righthander, was the Twins’ second round pick in 2013 out of LSU. He accumulated just 15 2/3 innings of work for Elizabethton this summer but will be 22 years old by opening day in 2014, making it possible the Twins would try to accelerate his movement through the organization.

It could be years before Cedar Rapids fans see another collection of hitters in Kernels uniforms the likes of the group that the Twins sent through town in 2013. Buxton could well be wearing a Minnesota Twins uniform and calling Target Field in Minneapolis his home by the end of the coming season. By 2016, several of his Kernels teammates could join him with the Twins.

While Kernels hitters in 2014 are not likely to measure up to what fans saw this year, a pitching staff that could include Stewart, Jorge, Gonsalves, Eades and, possibly by the end of the season Thorpe as well, has the potential to be among the best in the Midwest League.

– JC

Getting Out of a Hole (a Parable)

A guy falls in to an eight foot deep hole while at work. His boss comes along and the guy says, “hey boss can you get me out of here?”

The boss says, “Things are pretty tight around here so we can’t afford to buy a ladder, but we have this old shovel sitting around. I’ll throw it down and you can dig yourself out.”

It takes a long time, but after a lot of trial and error (sometimes even digging in the wrong place and making the hole deeper) our guy manages to dig himself out of the hole. And of course, he’s damn proud of himself for that accomplishment. It certainly wasn’t easy. He’s recognized far and wide for his perseverance.

The boss is so impressed that, not long after, the guy gets a promotion. And, while everyone thinks it’s a bit odd, the guy never goes anywhere without that old shovel.

A couple of years later, company revenues have grown significantly but, alas, holes still happen and one day the guy’s replacement in his old job falls into another eight foot hole. Sure enough, our guy is the first person to walk by and he hears, “Hey, can you get me out of here?”

Still holding on to that old shovel, the guy jumps down in to the hole, too.

“What the hell, man? Why didn’t you just reach down and pull me out?”

“Don’t worry,” our guy answers, “I’ve been down here before and I know how to dig us out.”

HoleLadderAfter a couple hours of digging, the boss comes by. He looks down in to the hole and shakes his head. “Hold on a minute, guys, we can afford a ladder now. I’ll be right back.” He walks in to a nearby hardware store and returns a few minutes later with an extension ladder and lowers it in to the hole.

The new guy climbs up the ladder and walks away.

But our guy looks distrustfully at the ladder and keeps on digging.

A couple of days later, the boss walks by the hole again and, to his surprise, the guy is still down there digging, only now the hole is 12 feet deep. The boss kind of shakes his head and laughs, but when customers question why the hole is getting deeper, he just tells them this guy has done this before and knows what he’s doing.

Days later, a crowd has gathered and they’re all exasperatedly trying to tell the guy that all he has to do is extend the ladder and climb out. Pretty soon, a reporter shows up and asks the guy why he won’t use the ladder.

“We’ve got a lot different revenue streams now,” says the guy, “but if you’ve got to try to get out using a ladder, you’re probably going to fall. It just doesn’t work.”

Soon after, the boss walks by again and he doesn’t seem as amused now. These people gathered around are all potential customers and the guy in the hole is making him and his company look foolish or like they’re too cheap to give the guy the right tools to get out of the hole.

The reporter asks the boss to comment on the guy digging in the hole and the boss replies, “We have to acknowledge we probably have to use that ladder to get out of that hole.  Our guy is committed to using the ladder. He can speak for himself, but I believe he’s enthusiastic about doing that.”

Of course, the guy continues to dig.

Eventually, the crowd turns angry because the hole just keeps getting bigger and the police have to clear the area until the only people left are the guy in the hole and his boss.

When he’s certain nobody but the guy in the hole can hear what he says, the boss looks down in to the hole and says firmly, “Enough with the digging. Use the damn ladder to get out of that hole. Now!”

Of course, since there was nobody else around to hear it, we can’t be 100% positive that’s what the boss finally said.

But I sure hope it is.

– JC

FOXsports Reports Gardy Will Be Back

FOX reporter Ken Rosenthal reported Monday morning via Twitter that the Twins will be announce later in the day that manager Ron Gardenhire will remain the club’s manager.

There was no immediate word concerning how much of his coaching staff would be returning in 2014 with him.

EDIT: Mike Berardino of the Pioneer-Press has Tweeted that source tells him Gardy’s entire coaching staff will be back, as well.

Earlier Monday, the Twins announced there would be a press conference at 2:30.

Rosenthal also stated, again via Twitter, “Gardenhire would not have stayed with #Twins on one-year deal. Presumably wanted assurances that team plans to increase payroll as well.”

Gardenhire1Hopefully, Gardy got that assurance and it didn’t just mean Ryan would pay the current collection of AAAA players more money.

Honestly, if I were Gardenhire, I would not have come back to the Twins. This team is not likely to be much, if any, better in 2014, which means he’s going to spend all of next summer catching the same grief he’s getting right now. Why would he want that?

I’ve contended since forever that Gardy got more credit for the winning years than he deserved and more blame for the losing years than is warranted. He’s not a baseball genius, but he handles a clubhouse pretty well and that’s a huge part of being a successful manager.

Had he walked away from the Twins, he’d have been unemployed about two weeks, if that long. He’d have been one of the most sought after managers on the open market and wherever he landed would have been a better situation than he finds himself in by staying with the Twins.

I hope he got the assurances he needed from Ryan concerning roster improvement and didn’t settle for a vague, “we’ve got talent in the pipeline.”

– JC

Free Agent Pitching: 20/20 Hindsight

By the end of the coming weekend, the Twins will have reached the one-quarter mark of the season with 40+ games under their belts. It’s as good a time as any to reflect upon how some of the decisions made by General Manager Terry Ryan in building the team’s roster have turned out.

As a team, the Twins have been hovering over the .500 mark most of the season and, after Monday night’s win over the White Sox, they are one game over the break-even point. Over the weekend, Ryan told 1500ESPN that .500 wasn’t what he was looking for out of this team, that he wanted them to be contenders. It’s great, of course, for your team’s GM to say that kind of thing, but I think most fans would have been pretty satisfied with the prospects of a .500 year out of this Twins team.

Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan

You also have to consider that those words were coming out of the same mouth that, last November, told TwinsDaily’s John Bonnes that the Twins would be pursuing one of the “pretty darn good” pitchers on the free agent market last season and then went out and made Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey the cornerstones of the team’s free agent class.

In that same interview, Ryan also told Bonnes that he felt the free agent pitching market was, “thin,” when most of us felt there was a pretty solid group of middle-to-upper-half of the rotation arms available.

Now, looking back over the first six weeks of the season, is it possible Terry Ryan was right?

Back on November 20, I posted an article here at Knuckleballs in which I shared my wish list of free agent pitchers for Ryan and the Twins to pursue. Other fans and writers were naturally sharing their own advice for the Twins GM about the same time. Let’s see how our suggestions have been panning out compared to the guys Ryan actually signed for the Twins.

Not many of us were suggesting the Twins should (or even could) sign Zack Greinke, who eventually signed a six-year deal for $159 million with the Dodgers. Greinke was actually off to a decent start until he broke his collarbone (or rather, Carlos Quentin broke Greinke’s collarbone). Maybe Greinke will bounce back and pay dividends on his deal with the Dodgers, but I’m not sorry the Twins didn’t try to outbid the Dodgers for his services.

I argued in my post that the Twins should go ahead and pursue not one, but two of the other big dogs among the free agent pitching class, Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson.

Sanchez is one guy who is putting up the kind of numbers you would hope for, so far, as his 2.05 ERA , 1.082 WHIP and 66 strikeouts in 52.2 innings would attest. However, he eventually re-signed with the Tigers (5 years/$88 million), so there’s certainly doubt as to whether he and his agent would ever have even considered a move to Target Field.

Jackson, on the other hand, is not exactly earning his 4 year/$52 million contract with the Cubs. Yes, he’s striking out almost one batter per inning pitched, but otherwise, his 6.02 ERA and 1.569 WHIP are pretty close to what the Twins are getting out of Mike Pelfrey (6.03/1.689)… and Ryan is on the hook for about $48 million less than Theo Epstein owes Jackson.

The third pitcher on my wish list was Joe Saunders. I felt the Twins needed another lefty in the rotation and while he wasn’t likely to be a headliner, Saunders looked to me like a good bet to be a solid middle of the rotation pitcher for the next couple of years. When he eventually signed with the Mariners for just one year and $6.5 million, I was pretty certain the Twins would regret not outbidding the M’s for Saunders’ services (though I recall there was some talk about Saunders not being interested in pitching for the Twins, regardless).

Saunders has pieced together a 3-4 record despite a 5.51 ERA and a 1.521 WHIP. He’s struck out exactly as many hitters (20) as Correia has for the Twins, but has walked more than twice as many batters. Correia’s ERA (3.09) and WHIP (1.200) are certainly looking better than Saunders’.

So maybe my ideas, outside of Sanchez, weren’t as good as I thought they were (and apparently not as good as the ideas Ryan and his staff were having at the time).

But what about the other pitchers on the market last off season? With all of the talent we thought was out there, surely there must have been several pitchers that have turned out to make the GMs who signed them look smart.

Many of the best options, like Sanchez, were re-signed by their 2012 clubs or, in some cases, had options picked up by their teams. But there were still a number of pitchers generating buzz among the Twins faithful.

There was some chatter about Dan Haren, who ended up with the Nationals on a one-year deal for $13 million. He’s put up a 5.17 ERA and a 1.487 WHIP while striking out 27 batters in 38.1 innings over seven starts. That’s not real impressive to me, but hey, he does have a 4-3 record if that’s what you’re in to.

Brandon McCarthy was also a hot commodity in the blogging world. He got a two-year deal from the D’Backs totaling $18 million. For that, he’s accumulated a 5.63 ERA, a 1.542 WHIP, and has gone winless. I’ve read that McCarthy has been “unlucky,” as reflected in a higher than average batting average on balls in play (BABIP). That’s fine. But if you buy that, you need to also give a couple of the Twins (such as Pelfrey and, to an even greater degree, Vance Worley) pitchers the benefit of the same doubt for their “bad luck.”

Ryan Dempster got beat up a bit by the Blue Jays on Sunday, but I don’t think the Red Sox are doubting their two-year/$26.5 million investment too much, so far. He’s got a 3.75 ERA, even after giving up six earned runs to the Jays in five innings of work. His 1.146 WHIP is certainly competitive, but it’s his 61 strike outs in 48 innings that’s perhaps more impressive. Again, I don’t think there was ever any chance Dempster would sign with the Twins since he likely had more than enough suitors from among contending teams.

Shawn Marcum, though, was certainly a guy that a number of Twins fans thought might be obtainable by the club. Marcum signed a one-year deal with the Mets for just $4 million. It turns out the Mets may have overpaid. Marcum has put up a nasty looking 8.59 ERA to go with a 2.045 WHIP. He’s thrown only 14.2 innings covering three starts and one relief appearance.

Were you one of the fans touting Joe Blanton as a possible Twins rotation addition? If so, you might want to keep it to yourself. Blanton signed with the Angels for $15 million over two years and has repaid them with a 0-7 record covering eight starts. His 6.46 ERA and 1.870 WHIP would indicate his record is not terribly misleading.

It’s starting to look like Terry Ryan’s assessment of the pitching market as “thin” might have actually been pretty accurate, isn’t it?

But certainly there must be some success stories, right? Of course there are.

If, while the rest of us were laughing at the absurdity of the Royals signing Jeremy Guthrie to a 3 year/$25 million contract, you were actually going on the record saying it was a shrewd move certain to pay dividends, give yourself a pat on the back.

Guthrie is 5-0 with the Royals and while he’s not striking a ton of hitters out (30 Ks in 47.1 innings), he’s put up a 2.28 ERA and a 1.183 WHIP in his seven starts for the Royals. He’s gone at least six innings in every start and has one complete game shutout of the White Sox to his credit. Oh yeah, and the Royals are three games above .500 going in to Tuesday night’s games, 1 ½ games behind Division leading Detroit.

Of course, Guthrie isn’t the only free agent pitcher making his GM look wise.

Carlos Villanueva and Scott Feldman were among the pitchers Epstein added to the Cubs and it’s pretty clear that neither of them are primarily responsible for the Cubs being six games under .500. Villanueva sports a 3.02 ERA and a 1.007 WHIP, but has only one win in seven starts to show for his efforts. Feldman’s ERA is even lower, at 2.53 and his WHIP is a very respectable 1.148. He’s actually gotten enough support to put up a 3-3 record.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t recall a lot of wailing about Terry Ryan allowing Villanueva and Feldman to slip through his fingers. And before you credit Theo Epstein for being so much more brilliant than Terry Ryan, take a look at what Epstein and the Cubs are getting in return for outbidding Ryan for the services of Scott Baker this season. Baker’s next pitch in a Cubs uniform (if he ever makes one) will be his first.

There are probably a few more pitchers worth checking in on that are escaping me at the moment. But from the looks of things, I’m starting to think Correia and Pelfrey weren’t such bad ideas after all. I’m not convinced Correia will continue to perform at the levels of his first few starts, but I do think that as Pelfrey continues to work out the post-TJ-surgery kinks, he may actually improve as the year goes on.

Even with the benefit of perfect hindsight, I’m not 100% sure I’d jump for joy at those free agent signings, but I certainly like the way they’ve turned out so far a whole lot better than most of the other options.

– JC

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 30

Episode 30 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

JOEMAUER

 

This week on Talk to Contact Paul and Eric (And Cody Christie) talk about the future of Joe Mauer, and the 25-Man roster on Opening Day.  They then bring in Cody Christie to talk about prospect Rory Rhodes, Eddie Guardado, and the rest to the stories around Major League Baseball.  Join us for two hours of fun!

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 Samuel Deduno limit his walks).

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

– ERolfPleiss

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 29

Episode 29 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

World Baseball Classic

World Baseball Classic

This week on the Talk to Contact Podcast, the brothers Pleiss discusss, among other things, their plans for the weekend, Anthony SlamaHudson BoydBob Allison and Roy Halladay, among other Twins related topics, to include Aaron HicksJamey Carroll and some dude named Eduardo Escobar. Paul gets drunk early in the podcast, Eric tries to remain competent and everyone has a good time. Happy St Patrick’s Day everyone!

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 Liam Hendriks find the strike zone).

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

– ERolfPleiss

 

 

The End of Anthony Slama

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.

DSC_0558

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 1Matt 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 3Jordy 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 4Drew 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 5Felix 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.

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Batter 6Brad 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.

-ERolfPleiss

*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