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.

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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

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 28

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).

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

– ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins vs. Red Sox – 6:05pm

We’re back!  Opening Day is just 23 days away and we need to kick off the snow and salt we’ve accumulated on our GameChats all winter.  Tonight marks the first televised Fox Sports North broadcast of the year for the Minnesota Twins (game available locally on FSN+) so that seemed like a pretty good time to pull out the GameChat and get back into the swing of things.  We’re putting the GameChat up an hour early tonight to give folks some time to catch up before the game starts.

If you’re a new reader at Knuckleballs, feel free to stop into the chat and say hello.  We will have a GameChat up for every game of the regular season, so come back often and join us for some Twins chatter.  Many of the regular folks that stop by (and JC and I) live outside of Minnesota’s boarders so the GameChats are an excellent opportunity for us to “talk shop” with other Twins fans.  We’re creating a virtual neighborhood bar, and you can bring your own beverage!

The Twins still have a whole bunch of players off participating in the World Baseball Classic, so we will see some interesting line-ups over the next several days, and tonight is no exception.

 Minnesota Twins

@

 Boston Red Sox
 Hicks, CF  Ellsbury, CF
 Dozier, 2B  Pedroia, 2B
 Willingham, DH  Sweeney, RF
 Doumit, C  Gomes, J, LF
 Plouffe, 3B  Nava, 1B
 Boggs, LF  Middlebrooks, 3B
 Benson, RF  Lavarnway, C
 Clement, 1B  Overbay, DH
 Florimon, SS  Iglesias, SS
    Pelfrey, P     Dempster, P

PLAY BALL!

The first Boyfriend of the Day (BOD, the Knuckleballs version of MVP) award goes to Mike Pelfry for three scoreless inning in which he recorded five strike outs while allowing just two hits and one walk.  The offense did just enough to give the Twins a win and the the boys from Minneapolis escaped with a 2-0 victory over the Red Sox.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 10 0
Boston 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0

Berrios Stock Rising?

In the days following last June’s MLB Amateur Draft, most of the chatter among Twins fans seemed focused on two subjects: Byron Buxton, the high school outfielder that the Twins selected with the second overall pick of the draft; and the number of hard throwing college-age relief pitchers that the team selected in first couple of rounds.

Everyone wanted to discuss just how good Buxton might become and whether or not the Twins would be able to successfully convert any of those strong college arms in to starting pitchers. Almost overlooked in the discussions was Jose Berrios, a young high school pitcher the Twins drafted used a supplemental first round pick to select out of Papa Juan XXIII High School in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

Jose Berrios (Photo: Cliff Welch/Milb.com)

Jose Berrios (Photo: Cliff Welch/Milb.com)

It’s understandable, perhaps. Buxton was the near-consensus “best athlete in the draft” and the college pitchers all seemed to be at least 6′ 4″ 210 pound men with mid 90s fastballs who had proven themselves with some of the premier college baseball programs in the country. Berrios, on the other hand, appeared to have to stretch to reach six feet in height and reportedly packed on about 20 pounds during his senior year of high school just to get up near 185.

Some even suggested that the Twins had reached a bit in selecting Berrios where they did. ESPN’s Keith Law had the young righty pegged as the 73rd best ballplayer available in the draft, but the Twins used the 32nd overall pick to select him. Almost immediately, there was speculation that Berrios’ size and mechanics indicated he’d likely need to convert to a bullpen role.

Berrios pitched at both Rookie League levels in the Twins organization after inking a deal with the Twins for a $1.55 million signing bonus. He threw 30.2 innings across 11 games (four of them starts) and put up a combined 1.17 ERA. That’s nice, but here are the real eye-popping numbers: Berrios struck out 49 batters in those 30.2 innings, while walking just four. No matter what level of minor league ball you’re at, those are impressive stats!

His effort didn’t go unnoticed outside the Twins organization either. In January, Berrios was named to Puerto Rico’s World Baseball Classic pitching staff. That honor also got the young pitcher an invitation to the Twins’ Major League Spring Training, where he would not only get much needed work in preparation for the WBC tournament, but would also have the opportunity to get in front of the eyes of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and the rest of the big club’s coaching staff.

While Berrios has not pitched in any of the Twins’ “official” Spring Training games, he has pitched in the ‘B’ games and intersquad games that the team has scheduled over the past week or so in order to get enough work in for the expanded roster they’ve got in camp this year.

Even without taking the mound for an official Spring Training game, however, he’s made an impression. Gardenhire observed after Berrios took one of his turns throwing live batting practice to the Big Leaguers, “He can throw it. He can wing it.” Star-Tribune Twins beat reporter LaVelle E. Neal III has also been impressed with Berrios, writing, “I can’t believe he’s just 18. His stuff is live and he goes after people.”

In what’s likely to have been his final game experience prior to leaving to join his team mates for the WBC in Puerto Rico, Berrios threw two innings against a team of Red Sox prospects in a ‘B’ game on Thursday and retired all six hitters he faced.

Puerto Rico opens their WBC play against Spain this coming Friday. They’ll have their work cut out for them to advance beyond the first round, however, as traditional powers Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are both also in Puerto Rico’s pool.

It will be interesting to see how the Twins handle Berrios once the WBC wraps up and the minor league season gets underway. The Twins are not an organization known for overtaxing the arms of their young pitching prospects and ordinarily it wouldn’t have been surprising to see an 18 year old like Berrios stay back in extended spring training for a few weeks rather than subjecting him to the chilly Iowa weather in April. But with his early start and the WBC work, they may be more likely to send him north to Cedar Rapids for Opening Day.

In any event, it’s not so much a matter of “if” but “when” we’ll see Berrios on the mound in Cedar Rapids this season. Hopefully, he’ll show fans of the Kernels and Twins in Eastern Iowa a bit of what has been impressing everyone in Ft. Myers this spring.

In parting, click here to take a look at a great, emotional video taken on draft day last June, when Berrios and his family & friends learned he’d been drafted by the Twins.

– JC

News Alert: Is the Universe Really That Obliging??

You may have heard the announcement already – it came out last night.

Our hometown boy, THE Minnesota Twin – yeah, you know who I mean, the newlywed Joe Mauer, announced that he and his new wife, Maddie, are expecting. Congratulations are in order, of course. But here’s the kicker: they are having TWINS.

No, seriously. That girl has some major league talent of her own to get this going – practically a storybook setup. (one that you would find ridiculous, unbelievable and too much of a stretch to make it good writing.) Good for them! (of course, it’s good for them but not exactly something on my wish list – twins are twice the work of one, I hear :) )

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Of course, this kind of makes me wonder what this team puts in the water… I can’t list all the twin births that have occurred in families of this team but my impression is that it’s far above the actual average. Could this be a symptom of having Twins on the mind too much?? [starts thinking very hard: singles, singles, singles..]

Now, back to your regularly scheduled Knuckleballs Keychain Contest!

Who will be the Twins’ Opening Day Starter?

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.

opening day optimism

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.

-ERolfPleiss

A Tale of Two (AL Central) Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

OK, not so much the former, but 2012 certainly would have to be considered among the worst of recent times for the fan bases of both the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians.

Progressive Field, ClevelandThe Tribe lost 94 games in 2012, which was just good enough to allow them to finish two games ahead of the Twins in the final AL Central Division standings. It was a disappointing season after Cleveland came within a couple of games of .500 in 2011. That had given fans some cause for optimism (or at least hope) as it came after a two-year stretch in 2009-2010 in which the Indians lost a total of 190 games.

So, as the Cleveland brass sat down after last season to plot out their offseason strategy, they faced these stark realities: Their team had lost over 90 games in three of the past four seasons, with only the 82-loss season of 2011 breaking up the string. Attendance at Progressive Field was 29th in Major League Baseball, drawing in just 19,797 fans per game.  More fans showed up for Astros games than in Cleveland (not by much, but still). Only the Rays got worse fan support.

In setting their payroll budget over the previous several seasons, Cleveland’s front office had followed a pattern that should sound familiar to Twins fans. After winning the AL Central in 2007 with 96 wins, payroll jumped about 27% heading in to 2008. That season, the Tribe was just a .500 ballclub, but management stayed the course and, in fact, even increased payroll slightly in 2009, when it reached $81,579,166.

But in 2009, Cleveland lost 97 games and attendance dropped by about 18.5%. Of course, conventional small-market (or is that small-minded?) wisdom called for a corresponding slashing of payroll for 2010. In fact, the Indians cut payroll closer to 25%. Despite the payroll cut, the Indians actually improved on the field. Instead of losing 97 games, they only lost 93. Naturally, a second 90+ loss season called for an even greater reduction in payroll (is ANY of this starting to sound familiar to you, Twins fans?) and in 2011, the Tribe opened with a payroll below $50 million.

The 2011 bargain-basement Indians arguably surprised fans on the field, falling just short of reaching the .500 mark. The fans didn’t exactly flock to Progressive Field, but they showed up in enough numbers to result in an attendance increase of over 30% above 2010. That got the front office’s attention and in 2012, they committed to an Opening Day payroll also more than 30% higher than in 2011. As we now know, they were rewarded for their generosity with a 94-loss season, which was witnessed in person by just over 1.6 million Cleveland fans.

Target Field, Minneapolis

You could argue that the Twins are following a similar franchise arc to that which the Indians have been on, just a year or two behind them. Of course, they also have a much newer ballpark (can you believe that 2013 will be the Indians 20th season in their “new” park?!) so the raw dollar amounts they’re dealing with are higher than what the Tribe’s front office has been working with.

But while they may be in slightly different spots on their shared arc, these two organizations found themselves entering this past offseason in very similar positions. They both compete (if you can call 94 and 96 losses “competing”) in one of the weakest divisions in Major League Baseball. Only the Tigers can even be considered anything close to being at the same level as the top teams in other divisions. They were both seeing home attendance sag. Both teams had little for elite prospects ready to bring up and play meaningful Big League roles.

With that in mind, let’s compare the moves the two teams’ front offices have made since the end of last season.

Field Staffs:

Cleveland started making moves even before the end of the 2012 season. On September 27, they fired manager Manny Acta. A couple of weeks later, they made a splash by hiring Terry Francona to manage the team in 2013.

The Twins retained manager Ron Gardenhire, but did not extend his contract beyond the upcoming season. They parted ways with three coaches and reassigned duties of some of the holdovers, while adding Tom Brunansky, Bobby Cuellar and Terry Steinbach.

Player moves:

The first major move by the Twins was to trade highly regarded outfielder Denard Span to the Nationals for highly regarded starting pitching prospect Alex Meyer.

Without Meyer, the Twins’ sole “top 30” prospect this offseason would have been an infielder (3B Miguel Sano) who had not played above Class A yet.

Less than two weeks later, the Indians made their first major move. They participated in a three-team, multi-player trade that saw them saying good-bye to highly regarded outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, in return for highly regarded starting pitching prospect Trevor Bauer (yes, there were other lesser pieces involved, too).

 Without Bauer, the tribe’s sole “top 30” prospect this offseason would have been an infielder (SS Francisco Lindor) who had not played above Class A yet.

Both teams had made a clear signal with their initial deals that they were heading toward an offseason of rebuilding for the future. The Twins took that signal to another level by also trading outfielder Ben Revere to the Phillies for pitcher Vance Worley (who won’t be arbitration eligible until 2014) and pitching prospect Trevor May.

Before the end of the year, however, both teams made moves that could arguably be viewed as efforts to pacify their fan bases by showing they weren’t totally giving up on 2013. The Indians signed Mark Reynolds in December, while the Twins inked veteran pitchers Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Rich Harden before year-end.

Still, as 2013 dawned, it was apparent to most of us that both teams were more interested in setting themselves up to compete a couple of years in the future than in 2013.

Well, we were half right anyway. The Twins front office took a few weeks off, apparently, and made no moves of any significance until signing pitcher Rafael Perez to a minor league contract last week.

The Indians, however, have continued to stay busy… and not just with tweaking their roster around the edges on minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training.

On January 4, they signed Nick Swisher to a four year contract, plus an option, and just for good measure, also inked pitcher Brett Myers to a one year contract.

Over the following couple of weeks, they signed minor league deals with a number of players, such as pitchers Scott Kazmir and Matt Capps.

Then they added pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Finally, they added outfielder Michael Bourn on another four year contract, plus an option.

In all, Cleveland committed to $117 million of guaranteed money to free agents during the offseason.

One could easily argue that the Indians have done pretty much exactly what many of us hoped the Twins would do… make some trades and free agent signings that would make them stronger immediately AND add a pitching prospect that has the potential to grow in to someone that could head a rotation in the future.

As these two teams prepare for 2013 to open, the Twins have the deeper minor league organization, while the Indians have done more to improve the product on their Major League field in 2013.

As a Cedar Rapids Kernels fan, I’m thrilled with the depth of the Twins’ farm system right now. However, as a Twins fan, I’m disappointed that the front office did so little to follow through on their pledge to improve the current Major League product.

I have a difficult time understanding any of the arguments made that the Twins had to choose to either compete now or in the future… that they couldn’t do both… that good players won’t sign with losing teams.

It’s especially difficult to accept that argument when Cleveland did exactly that. Miraculously, the Tribe managed to not only trade for an excellent young starting pitching prospect, but also get some veteran free agents to sign with their 94-loss team! Those free agent signings came with a price, of course. The Indians lost some draft picks, although their first round pick this June was protected. Was that too much to give up in order to try to be more competitive with the Tigers in 2013? None of us can know that, yet.

In fact, it’s impossible to judge right this minute whether the Indians or the Twins had the better offseason. We can’t yet know whether the Tribe’s focus on improving this season will help them compete or bring more fans to their ballpark. Nor can we say, yet, whether the Twins’ actually did fail to improve their current roster. It will also be years before we know whether the prospects that the two teams acquired in trades will make them better teams 3, 4 or 5 years down the road.

What I do know is that, right now, both the Cleveland and Minnesota front offices are claiming that they have improved their current rosters enough to be more competitive this season than last, while acquiring needed young pitching talent for the future.

Right now, I agree with the claims of one of the two teams. I wish it were the other one.

– JC

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 25

Episode 25 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

This week on the podcast Paul and Eric delve deep into the excitement of spring training and make some bold predictions for what they see happening in the AL Central this season. We take a look at the ZIPS projections for the Twins and discuss what the numbers mean for the 2013 team, and we even spend some time talking about the Twins promotional giveaways coming up this season. This week’s Twins HOF’er is Earl Battey. In the prospect world we take a look at Adrian Salcedo and then jump into emails and beer talk before the show is through. 95 minutes of magic.

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 pretend like we’re a big deal.)

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

– ERolfPleiss

Roster Deconstruction

The 25-man roster is not yet set in stone, but if we take a look at the 40-man roster we can get some kind of idea about where the Twins players closest to the Major Leagues come from.

Drafted out of High School (12, 5 pitchers, 7 position players)

Alex Burnett, 12th round 2005 (375 overall); B.J. Hermsen, 6th round 2008 (186); Tyler Robertson, 3rd round 2006 (96); Anthony Swarzak, 2nd round 2004 (61); Michael Tonkin, 30th round 2008 (906); Joe Mauer, 1st round 2001 (1); Brian Dozier, 8th round 2009 (252); Justin Morneau, 3rd round 1999 (89); Chris Parmelee, 1st round 2006 (20); Trevor Plouffe, 1st round 2004 (20); Joe Benson, 2nd round 2006 (64); Aaron Hicks, 1st round 2008 (14)

Unsurprisingly the Twins largest group of players on the 40-man roster come as high school draftees.  There is a fairly good mix of position players and pitchers, though of the pitchers on the list none of them were drafted in the first round, compared to 4 first round position players*.  This makes sense as the arms on this list are all bullpen guys, not a single player there with really dominant stuff.

*Byron Buxton, the Twins most recent 1st round draft pick was just 5 years old when the Twins drafted Justin Morneau in 1999.  Morny has been with the team a long time, it will be interesting to see if the Twins look to move him later this year.

 

Free Agent (10, 7 pitchers, 3 position players)

Jared Burton, 2011; Kevin Correia, 2012; Cole De Vries, 2006 (undrafted out of University of Minnesota); Casey Fien, 2012; Mike Pelfrey, 2012; Caleb Thielbar, 2011; Tim Wood, 2012; Ryan Doumit, 2011; Jamey Carroll, 2011; Josh Willingham, 2011

Likely because the Twins spent so many high draft picks on position players, the Twins have struggled to develop their own pitching and have turned to the free agent market to balance their roster.  As with the high school draftees, none of the arms on this list are particularly dominant, though Burton was a pleasant surprise in 2012.

Trade (6, 4 pitchers, 2 position players)

Scott Diamond, 2011 (Billy Bullock); Pedro Hernandez, 2012 (Francisco Liriano); Eduardo Escobar, 2012 (Liriano); Trevor May, 2012 (Ben Revere); Vance Worley, 2012 (Revere); Drew Butera, 2007 (Luis Castillo)

I listed Scott Diamond as a player acquired via trade, but he originally joined the Twins through the 2010 Rule 5 draft, but when he failed to make the roster out of Spring Training the Twins completed a trade with the Atlanta Braves in order to keep him with the organization.  Of the other names here, only Butera sticks out, only because with his ties to the organization (his father Sal Butera was with the Twins for parts of 6 Minor League and 4 Major League seasons) I often forget that he was not originally drafted by the Twins.

Drafted out of College (4, 3 pitchers, 1 position player)

Brian Duensing, 3rd round 2005 (84); Kyle Gibson, 1st round 2009 (22); Glen Perkins, 1st round 2004 (22); Chris Herrmann, 6th round 2009 (192)

Again, because the Twins were not drafting and developing high school pitching they have used several early round picks on college pitchers in an effort to balance the system.  Of the two 1st rounders here, only Gibson was the Twins 1st overall pick of the draft, Perkins was selected after Trevor Plouffe, with a compensation pick from the Mariners when they signed Eddie Guardado.  In fact, in the 2004 draft the Twins had 3 first round picks and 2 more supplemental round picks, giving them 5 of the first 39 draft picks and 7 of the first 100.  Of those seven picks, Plouffe, Perkins and Anthony Swarzak are all still with the Twins, 9 years later.

International Free Agent (4, 1 pitcher, 3 position players)

Liam Hendriks, 2007; Josmil Pinto, 2006; Daniel Santana, 2008; Oswaldo Arcia, 2008

Pretty young group of players here, but lots of upside with Santana and Arcia cracking MLB’s list of Top 20 Twins prospects.

Waiver (3, 1 pitcher, 2 position players)

Josh Roenicke, 2012 (Rockies); Pedro Florimon, 2011 (Orioles); Darin Mastroianni, 2012 (Blue Jays)

As you’d expect, no superstars in this trio, but two of these guys could be in the starting lineup on Opening Day.

Rule 5 Draft (1, 1 pitcher, 0 position players)

Ryan Pressly, 2012 (Red Sox)

It remains to be seen if Pressly will make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, though the cards are certainly stacked against him.  If the Twins are going to keep him long term, they’ll need to work out a trade with the Boston Red Sox to keep him in the organization if he is not on the big league roster.

So there you have it, 40 players and their origins within the Twins organization.  With high school draft picks making up the lion’s share of the roster, the Twins amateur scouts seem to know what they’re doing.   That bodes well for the future and  Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Travis Harrison and Hudson Boyd, the Twins’ highest drafted high school players in the past two drafts.

-ERolfPleiss

All player information obtained from Baseball-Reference.  If I’ve listed any player origins incorrectly, please let me know.

Twins Fantasy Camp Part II

Here’s the second half installment from Corey. Even though I’m old, falling apart and wasn’t good at baseball to start with, I can’t tell you how much I really want to do this some day.. although I think for me, wishing about it would turn out to be far more healthy than actually participating…

Don’t forget to check out Part I

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The REST of Twins Fantasy Camp 2013

A Rookie’s Story: By Corey Sauer

Tuesday, January 8th: PLAY BALL!

photo 2b

photo credit: Corey Sauer

The day dawned bright and relatively clear. Early morning fog quickly burned off as the South Florida sun rose and flooded the city with light and heat. Two 7 inning ball games were on the schedule for 10:00 a.m. and 1:15 p.m., and as the sky grew more blue and the temperature skipped past the 70’s and right into the 80’s, every camper was smiling and full of excitement. We were finally going to play ball.

 

Me in the dugout of Hammond Stadium during the Pros vs. Rookies game chugging Advil after pitching to Tim Laudner, Gene Larkin, Tom Brunansky, Ron Coomer and Milt Cuyler and after that performance, I came to bat and got a hit off of Rick Aguilera. I am SORE. And very HAPPY. :D photo credit: Corey Sauer

Me chugging Advil after pitching to Tim Laudner, Gene Larkin, Tom Brunansky, Ron Coomer and Milt Cuyler and I got a hit off of Rick Aguilera. I am SORE. :D
photo credit: Corey Sauer

The Dream Weavers were ready to play and we took a solid lead in Game 1 and never looked back as we won 9-6 over the Burnsville Bombers (coaches: Frank Quilici and Dick Stigman). After a tasty lunch back at the clubhouse, we took the field against the Canterbury Clan (coaches: Ron Coomer and Julio Becquer) for Game 2 and played a close game that ultimately went our way, and we one 5-3.

I was called in to pitch in relief in Game 1 and while I wasn’t exactly Cy Young on the mound, I did enjoy my brief stint on the bump, but unfortunately it did lead to a muscle injury in my left hip that would nag at me and hinder my mobility for the rest of the week.

 

Wednesday, January 9th: TRIPLE HEADER! 

photo 1b

photo credit: Corey Sauer

As a consequence of Monday’s complete rain out, the solitary game that was originally scheduled for Wednesday was going to be accompanied by two extra games. And instead of forcing campers to play 21 innings in a single day, it was determined that the three games would only be 5 innings each, and that one game would be pitched by each team’s Pro Staffers. This strategy would allow the games to move along at a good pace and to minimize the possibility of injuries to campers.

Game 3 saw the Dream Weavers play against the Hrbekskis (coaches: Kent Hrbek and Tom Brunansky) and we scored often and early in a 14-2 blowout.  Game 4 was against the Battery Mates and this game was pitched by the Pros. Two of our coaches, Camilo Pascual and Bill “Soup” Campbell, pitched to us, while our opponents had to face their two coaches, Frank Viola and Tim Laudner.

I had the pure pleasure and luxury of playing warm up toss for several minutes prior to this game with the great Camilo Pascual. The 79 year old former pitcher was having a ball. He had a huge smile on his face, and I could see his eyes sparkling from behind his large black horn-rimmed glasses as he was breaking off one wicked curveball after another during our warm up, and I couldn’t stop grinning like a fool. A great memory, unforgettable.

As for Game 4 itself, apparently Camilo didn’t understand that he was supposed to make it easy for us to hit the ball. Instead he allowed only one hit to us. Meanwhile, Bill “Soup” Campbell finished what Camilo had started, and we ended up losing the game 1-0.

Game 5 was played after lunch and despite our best efforts it didn’t go our way either. We faced a really tough left-handed pitcher and were able to manufacture several hits and runs, but in the end we still lost 6-5 to the Warriors(coaches: Rick Aguilera and Phil Roof).

We had started the day with a 2-0 record and finished the day with a 3-2 record, despite the losses, were still in a good position to get a high seed in the playoffs that would take place on Friday.

I was named MVP at tonight's MVP ceremony during dinner for my 2-2; 1 BB; 1 Run; 2 RBI performance in Game 3 we played on Wednesday morning. Below is my award, the scoresheet from the game signed by my coaches, Bill Campbell and Tony Oliva. :D photo credit: Corey Sauer

I was named MVP at tonight’s MVP ceremony during dinner for my 2-2; 1 BB; 1 Run; 2 RBI performance in Game 3 we played on Wednesday morning. Below is my award, the scoresheet from the game signed by my coaches, Bill Campbell and Tony Oliva. :D
photo credit: Corey Sauer

Thursday, January 10th: POSTSEASON DRIVE!

Armed with our 3-2 record, we knew that if we won both games today, we were a shoe-in as a number one seed. And if we split, we would be no less than a three or four seed.

Our Game 6 opponents were the Panama Stingers (coaches: Juan Berenguer and Lee Stange) and we faced a very good pitcher whose fastball and curveball combo was just too much for us. He also got us at the plate with a 350’ home run over the left field fence. We dropped the game 4-1.

Game 7 was the final game of regular pool play and would determine the final seeding for the Friday playoff games. Our opponent Stay Thirsty My Friend (coaches: Gene Larkin, Erik Rasmussen, and Milt Cuyler) had earned a reputation during the week of making big comebacks and it was reflected in their 4-1 best of camp record at the start of play on Thursday. We began the game very well, with solid starting pitching, great infield defense and good productivity at the plate.

Before we knew it, we had taken a 6-2 lead, had turned four fantastic double plays and were looking at what could be a great win to break our three game losing streak.

In the bottom of the seventh, it all fell apart. The Thirsty’s mounted an incredible comeback as they kept attacking the ball at the plate, and our consistently solid defense started to crack. The Thirsty’s scored 5 runs in that inning to win the game 7-6 in what turned out to be a shocking loss for us.

Friday, January 11th: PLAYOFFS!

A new day and a new opportunity to win. After losing four straight games (three of them were one run losses), the Dream Weavers were looking for redemption. The playoff structure of Fantasy Camp features two divisions: Red (lower) and Blue (upper). We were seeded number one in the Red Division with our 3-4 record and were slated to play the Burnsville Bombers (the number four seed in the Red Division) in a one game playoff. A win and we would play in the Red Division Championship on Saturday. A loss and we’re done.

The pitcher we faced was a right-handed curveball hurler who kept us off balance for much of the game and by the bottom of the seventh inning we were down 3-2. I came to the plate with runners on and drove a base hit up the middle to drive in the tying run. The very next batter drove in the winning with a hit through the left side of the infield. We beat the Bombers 4-3 and earned a Championship berth.

photo credit: Corey Sauer

photo credit: Corey Sauer

After a well-deserved lunch, it was time for PROS vs. ROOKIES game at Hammond Stadium where the Miracle play, and where the Twins play their Spring Training exhibition games.

This was basically an exhibition and not an actual competitive game. All of the 39 Rookies were separated into four “teams”. Each team would get two at-bats per player and two chances to play defense against the Pros.

The highlight for me: After my team’s pitcher pitched one inning against the Pros, amazingly none of my teammates wanted to pitch, so I jumped at the chance! I “pitched” against Ron Coomer, Gene Larkin, Tom Brunansky, and Milt Cuyler. It was awesome because I suck, so the Pros just hammered my “pitches” all over the outfield.

Saturday, January 12th: CHAMPIONSHIP!

The Dream Weavers were thrilled to get a chance to play more baseball. And not only did we get to play in a championship game, we got to play it inside Hammond Stadium

The field was immaculate and resembled a jewel glistening in the sunlight.

photo credit: Corey Sauer

photo credit: Corey Sauer

Our opponent for the Red Championship was the Warriors. A team whom we had already lost 6-5 to earlier in the week, but we knew we were capable of getting hits and runs against their starter, former All-American southpaw Billy McMacken from South Dakota, so we had confidence we could do it again.

Unfortunately, Billy was on fire and his curveball was essentially unhittable. I was able to manage only one hit in my at-bats, a hard shot comebacker past the pitcher and over second base. The rest of my teammates managed to pile up five combined hits, but we could not score. The Warriors’ offense was a brute force attack that made our reliable defense look completely overmatched.

In the end we were bludgeoned 8-0 in a loss that actually was NOT humiliating. I say that because, we had the chance to play baseball and no matter the score, it was a huge thrill to be on that field, and have former “voice of the Minnesota Twins” John Gordon calling out our names as we came to bat, and recapping the action over the P.A. in between innings. It was an awesome experience.

In Conclusion

Fantasy Camp was an absolute thrill for me. The atmosphere in the clubhouse everyday was fun and good-natured. Everyone was excited about getting to play baseball and be surrounded by some of their heroes from Minnesota Twins history. Being able to walk ten steps in the clubhouse over to Bert Blyleven’s locker or Frank Viola’s and have the chance to chat and get an autograph was simply priceless. The evening banquets featured fantastic food, plenty to drink and lots of opportunity for the Campers to mingle and get to know one another and build friendships.

Some personal highlights: Taking batting practice against Juan Berenguer, Rick Aguilera, Phil Roof and Bill Campbell. Having both Kent Hrbek and Frank Viola refuse to sign an autograph when I called them Mr. Hrbek and Mr. Viola, and then very quickly and graciously signing the second I referred to them as Hrbie and Sweet Music, respectively. Getting to listen to listen to Tony Oliva dispense his hitting wisdom while sitting next to him on the bench every game. Chatting with Frank Viola one-on-one in the dining room during lunch. Getting to walk around all day in a Twins uniform and cleats and feeling like a Major Leaguer everywhere I went. Bert Blyleven giving me props for striking out swinging instead of looking. Hrbek giving me props for drilling the ball during batting practice in the instructionals.

Weavers Win!! Weavers Win!! We scored 2 runs in the bottom of the 7th to win 4-3 and advance to the Red Division Championship! :D I am literally a happy camper posing in the photo after the game with my mom and dad. Woohoo!!!!  photo credit: Corey Sauer

Weavers Win!! Weavers Win!! We scored 2 runs in the bottom of the 7th to win 4-3 and advance to the Red Division Championship! :D I am literally a happy camper posing in the photo after the game with my mom and dad. Woohoo!!!!
photo credit: Corey Sauer

Another great part of camp was the familial aspect. There were several brothers; fathers and sons; grandfathers and grandsons. And they have been coming to camp for years in order to play baseball together. What a great tradition.

Fun was an integral part of camp. From Camp Commissioner Bert Blyleven’s antics during “Kangaroo Court” at two different banquets, or literally mooning my team during our team photo, to the clear camaraderie and joy of playing baseball that was evident in the clubhouse, the dining room, on the diamond, or just in low-key social gatherings outside the structure of camp. The people, both Pros and Campers alike, genuinely LOVED being there. And that made the trip worthwhile.

By Sunday morning as Campers were heading back to their respective home states, people were exhausted, sore, and more importantly, very happy.