Do Twins Have Any Answers Yet?

We are about at what could be considered the half-way point of the Twins’ Spring Training, believe it or not. We’re hitting that point a little early this spring because of the way the World Baseball Classic has caused an elongation of the process. But regardless of how we got here, with all of the question marks the Twins had when pitchers and catchers reported to Ft. Myers, it’s as good a time as any to check in to see if any of those questions are any closer to being answered.

Will the Twins rotation be better?

Of course, the smart-ass answer to that is that it could hardly be worse than it was last season, so it almost has to be better. But based on early appearances, the “real” answer is also, “yes, it will be better.” Of course, it’s way too early to predict how much better.

Scott Diamond

Scott Diamond

With Scott Diamond as yet untested in games, all we’ve really been able to see are the newly acquired pitchers (Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia) and the young pitchers trying to translate minor league success in to Major League careers (Liam Hendriks and Kyle Gibson). To be fair, holdovers from last season such as Cole DeVries and Sam Deduno also have to be considered in the mix, but unless those guys show something that makes everyone believe they’ve significantly improved, the fact remains that if they’re part of the Twins rotation for a significant part of the season, it probably means the answer to this question is that the rotation has not improved enough to make a real difference in the Twins short-term fortunes.

The good news is that, on balance, the leading candidates for rotation spots have not looked too bad in their first few outings. Worley looks like what we expected him to be, a legitimate mid-rotation arm. Pelfrey isn’t yet hitting his normal pre-Tommy John surgery velocity, but he hasn’t had any sort of medical setback that we feared he might have given his accelerated rehab schedule. Corriea missed a little time to be with his wife for the birth of their new son and showed some rust in his first game back on Thursday, but he hasn’t been getting rocked the way you might have expected if you believed all the harpoons directed toward him by writers and fans since signing with the Twins. Finally, both Hendriks and Gibson have had ups and downs but have generally demonstrated why they’re considered legitimate rotation options to start the season with the Twins.

Scott Diamond is scheduled to get his first Spring Training start on March 18 so we may not know until the final week of camp whether he’ll be ready for the Opening Day roster. That said, if the Twins had to open the season with a rotation of Worley, Pelfrey, Correia, Hendriks and Gibson, I could live with that and feel somewhat confident that said rotation would lead to better results than we saw in 2012, despite the obvious shortcoming of being without a lefty until Diamond returns.

Who’s going to be the centerfielder?

The Twins entered Spring Training telling us that three players would compete for the CF job… their 4th outfielder from 2012, Darin Mastroianni, and two young outfield prospects trying to make the Opening Day roster for the first time, Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson. 

Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks

The competition going in seemed set up in a way that made job Hicks’ to lose. He’s definitely the player with the highest ceiling and it was just a matter of whether he would prove to the decision-makers that he’s ready for prime time, despite never playing an inning of AAA baseball. If he failed to impress, Mastroanni was likely to get the job, by default. Benson’s only real shot to win the job would be if Hicks and Mastroianni both failed miserably and/or don’t survive Spring Training healthy.

Thus far, it’s been all about Aaron Hicks. He already has three home runs after leading off both Wednesday’s game against Puerto Rico’s WBC team and Thursday’s game against the Phillies with home runs. The former wasn’t “official,” of course, since it came in an exhibition game, but the latter came against Cliff Lee.

UPDATE: Almost before I could get this article posted, Hicks hit ANOTHER home run in that Phillies game Thursday afternoon. At this rate, he’s going to screw up his chances to open the season as the Twins’ leadoff hitter by showing too much power. That said, two words of caution for Twins fans who might be tempted to read too much in to Spring Training power displays: “Luke Hughes”.

UPDATED UPDATE: Hicks has hit a THIRD home run in that Phillies game. Just… wow.

There’s still a lot of games to play before Opening Day and it wouldn’t be unheard of for a rookie to start hot and then begin tightening up at the end of the spring as the pressure of knowing he’s really playing for a spot in a Major League starting line up hits him. Still, you definitely have to say that Hicks has grabbed hold of this opportunity with both hands.

Who’s going to get the middle infield jobs?

It was generally assumed that three of the four infielders competing for middle infield spots would move north with the Twins, while one headed for Rochester. However, while Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon appear to be the early leaders in the race for starting positions at 2B and SS, respectively, it is now looking like both Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar could stick, as well. Carroll brings a veteran presence along with the versatility to play multiple positions. Escobar, though, has been impressing coaches with his glove and, it turns out, could serve as an “emergency” catcher. His bat, frankly, may not be much more of a threat than Drew Butera’s, but he would provide much greater utility around the field than Butera would. This decision could come down to the wire in late March, so stay tuned.

In the end, none of the questions have truly been answered yet, but we can definitely see the roster starting to take shape. The first round of roster cuts could be announced almost any time, now that the minor league camp has opened up and pitchers are starting to get stretched out to four innings or so. Still, with several players still participating in WBC games, there will continue to be plenty of opportunities for young players to impress someone.

For now, the two most important things Twins fans need to hope for are (1) that the potential rotation members continue to improve as Spring Training rolls on, and (2) that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau return from the WBC healthy.

- JC

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.

Winter Meetings Day 1: Twins News & Rumors

Day one of baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville is drawing to a close and while the Twins rotation still sucks, there wasn’t a complete lack of Twins-related news coming out of the Gaylord Opryland Resort. OK, calling it Twins “news” might be a stretch, but at least the Twins were mentioned here and there among all the rumors floating out of Nashville.

The Grand Ole Opry… Nashville’s second biggest attraction this week.

I spent the better part of my day refreshing various web sites that track the latest rumors and reading Twitter messages being posted by all of the Twins beat reporters representing  various media outlets. After all, I had to make sure I didn’t miss anything interesting. I was keeping up pretty well, too, at least until someone with a pretty screwed up set of priorities scheduled me in to back-to-back conference calls starting at 3:00 pm.

Speaking of those hard-working reporters down in Nashville, you really should be following them on Twitter, if you aren’t already: Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com (@RhettBollinger), Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN (@PMac21), Ben Goessling of the Pioneer-Press (@BenGoesslingPP) and LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star-Tribune (@LaVelleNeal). Of course, MLBTradeRumors.com is a must-follow this week (and most weeks), as well.

Anyway, here’s a rundown of what I saw and heard around this here interweb thingy today:

  • Terry Ryan stated that the Twins have checked in on every available free agent pitcher, but that some are more realistic than others. (Yeah… I bet.)
  • Ryan also indicated the Twins would almost certainly participate in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. They have the 4th pick so not participating would be pretty stupid.
  • The Twins remain interested in right-hander Brett Myers. They may or may not have competition for Myers from the Orioles, depending on whose rumor you believe.
  • Other lesser (and in some cases, much lesser) pitchers that the Twins have been linked to include: Joe Blanton, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, John Lannan. Mike Pelfrey and Vicente Padilla. Blanton and Lannan, in particular, are reportedly high on the Twins’ list.
  • Ryan Dempster is the only pitcher remotely close to being considered a top-half-of-the-rotation option that I’ve seen even mentioned in connection with the Twins today.
  • While the Twins have indicated they’re likely to be focused on free agents during the winter meetings, other teams have continued to check in with them about the availability of both Ben Revere and Josh Willingham.
  • Terry Ryan stated that Joe Mauer will not be traded.
  • In addition to pitching, the Twins are likely to acquire a third baseman to provide competition for Trevor Plouffe during Spring Training. However, it’s unlikely they’ll add more middle infielders, which means Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar are most likely going to be manning SS and 2B, for better or… you know… worse.
  • Pitcher Liam Hendriks had some elbow surgery to remove bone chips and won’t pitch for Australia during the World Baseball Classic. Nick Blackburn had a similar procedure done at about the same time. Both should be ready to go by Spring Training.
  • Joe Mauer (USA) and Justin Morneau (Canada) do plan to participate in the WBC for their respective home countries.
  • Manager Ron Gardenhire commented to media about his time in the Twins’ “War Room” at the hotel: “I’m listening to them all and they’re trading my whole darn team!” He was kidding. (We think.)
  • Chris Parmelee may be the early contender for the Twins’ RF job, but Darin Mastroianni and Ryan Doumit could compete for the job.

I’m posting this a bit before 8:00 pm CT Monday night and suffice to say I’m pretty disappointed in Day 1, so far. Joe Blanton is the top pitcher the Twins have been connected to in any manner more than just having “checked in on.”

Newsflash for Terry Ryan: Joe Blanton will not solve your problems, sir. Nor will additions of that caliber bring fans back to Target Field. You can do better.

You must do better.

- JC

 

A Full Forty – Dissecting the 40-Man Roster (Position Players)

On Monday I did a quick run down of the pitchers currently on the Twins 40-man roster.  Today I will take a look at the position players, including five catchers, nine infielders, and seven outfielders.  Several of these players will not be on the roster when the Twins head north to start the season.

Catchers (Age, Position, Highest 2012 Level)
Drew Butera - 29, 3rd Catcher, MLB – If Butera is still on the 40-man roster when the Twins break camp, the Twins are doing it wrong.  With Mauer and Doumit handling most of the catching duties, the Twins’ third catcher should be more versatile than Butera (and have some value as a bench bat), pitching ability notwithstanding.

Ryan Doumit - 31, C/RF/DH, MLB – Ryan Doumit might never pass for an average defensive catcher, but his ability to slot in at RF and DH allow the Twins to move Mauer and Morneau around and if he hits like he did in 2012 (.275/.320/.461, 18 HR and 75 RBI) the Twins will continue to reap the benefits of his very reasonable contract extension.

Chris Herrmann - 25, C/LF, MLB – Herrmann lucked into a September call-up when Mauer and Doumit were both a little nicked up and he struggled offensively while he was up.  Herrmann was off to a pretty decent Arizona Fall League performance but an injury ultimately derailed his season in Peoria.  Herrmann is pretty rough as a catcher, but he has a great arm, and like Doumit, has the ability with the bat to play well as a corner outfielder.

Joe Mauer - 29, C/DH/1B, MLB – Joe Mauer’s 2012 went a long way to erase 2011 from fan’s memories.  He led the league in OBP and if you don’t consider his 2009 MVP season, Mauer was back to being Joe Mauer.  He will probably never hit 29 home runs again, especially in Target Field, but the Twins’ flexibility with Mauer has allowed them to keep his bat in the lineup almost every day.

Josmil Pinto - 23, C/DH, AA – Pinto has virtually no shot to make the 25-man roster having barely played any ball above High-A.  The Twins like his bat, but if he’s going to stick as a catcher he’s going to have to catch a lot of breaks.  As Aaron Gleeman said in a recent podcast (I’m paraphrasing heavily), if he’s already splitting time at DH in the lower levels, he could easily be stuck at 1B or DH by the time he’s ready to put on a MLB uniform.

Old Man Jamey Carroll, Photo Credit: CapitalBabs

Infielders
Jamey Carroll - 38, Utility Infielder, MLB – At 38 years-old Carroll is long past his prime as a baseball player, that the Twins might have to use him as a starting infielder in 2013 gives you a pretty good idea about how bad they’ve been at producing middle infield talent with their farm system in the recent past.  Carroll lived up (mostly) to his solid defensive and on-base percentage track record in 2012, but if this team is really building toward the future, Carroll needs to be relegated to utility infield duties by mid-season to give the youngsters more opportunity.

Brian Dozier - 25, SS, MLB – 2012 started off so well for Dozier.  Coming off a red-hot 2011 campaign, Dozier had a great spring and after crushing the ball to start the year in Triple-A the Twins called him up to be their everyday shortstop.  From there things went poorly.  Dozier hung on for 84 games hitting just (.234/.271/.332) while playing sub-par defense before the Twins sent him back down to Triple-A.  Dozier wouldn’t be the first MLB regular who failed in his first Big League opportunity, but some of the luster has worn off and he’ll need another strong spring – offensively and defensively – to play his way back into the good graces of upper management.  He should be on the 25-man roster to start the season, if for no other reason than to make sure 2012 was not a fluke.

Eduardo Escobar - 23, Utility Infielder, MLB – Escobar was obtained from the White Sox in the deal that sent Fransico Liriano to Chicago.  Escobar played sparingly with the Sox over the past two seasons playing all over the diamond (3B, 2B, SS, and LF), but he isn’t a true shortstop.   Between Dozier, Carroll and Florimon, Escobar is probably the odd man out, starting the year in Rochester.

Thomas Field - 25, MI, RF, MLB – Claimed off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies, Field has primarily played shortstop in the minor leagues, but has spent time at second base as well.  He doesn’t have a big bat, even in the Minor Leagues (.264/.359/.414 across five seasons), but he seems to be proficient with the glove.  I don’t expect him to make the 25-man roster, and he’s a guy I could easily see the Twins removing from the 40-man roster to make room for a free agent signing. EDIT: Per MLB Trade Rumors, Thomas Field has been claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim.

Pedro Florimon - 25, SS, MLB – Florimon is entering his second full season in the Twins organization after being claimed from the Baltimore Orioles at the conclusion of the 2011 season.  Florimon played in 43 games with the Twins and hit poorly but showed flashes of spectacular defense, as is Florimon’s MO.  After suffering through a combination of Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, and Brian Dozier at SS the past couple of seasons the Twins like Florimon’s defensive upside, but he’ll have to hit better than .219 to beat out Brian Dozier and earn the starting spot at short.

Justin Morneau - 31, 1B/DH, MLB – Entering the final year of his 6 year/$80 million dollar contract, Morneau will earn $14 million dollars in 2013.  Morneau finally seemed to put his concussion behind him in the second half of 2012 and when he’s healthy he is still a valuable offensive weapon.  He plays above average defense at first base, and if he has another strong half of a year and the Twins are out of contention by the All-Star break, the Twins could easily flip him for a prospect this summer.

Chris Parmelee - 24, 1B/RF, MLB – Parmelee does not have much of anything left to prove in Triple-A after hitting a blistering .338/.457/.645 batting line in 2012, but he’s yet to have sustained success with the Minnesota Twins.  He had a red hot September in 2011, but with almost 3x as many plate appearances in 2012 he hit like a Pedro Florimon, with a little more power.  The Twins will need to find regular at-bats for Parmelee in 2013, but with a crowded outfield, Mauer and Morneau splitting time at first, and a solid rotation at DH, there just is no room for Parmelee on the roster as it is currently constructed.  I do not expect the Twins to trade Parmelee, especially with Morneau unlikely to return in 2014, and Parmelee might have to log a few more months in Rochester before a spot opens up for him on this Twins team.

Trevor Plouffe - 26, 3B, MLB – Was Plouffe’s six-week power surge for real?  Did his thumb injury keep him from succeeding at the tail end of last season?  Or was the real Trevor Plouffe something in between, a guy with questionable defensive ability and occasional power to left field?  Terry Ryan said on Monday night in an interview on 1500ESPN that the Twins want to bring in some third base competition for Plouffe this winter, but the Twins have bigger holes at shortstop and in the pitching rotation, so it seems highly unlikely that that Twins will bring in anyone that could really threaten Plouffe’s hold on the starting third base job.

Daniel Santana - 22, SS/2B, High-A – Santana is widely considered as the best shortstop prospect in the Twins system, but without any playing time above High-A, he’s not making the 25-man roster out of Spring Training.  Santana could move quickly through the system in 2013, probably starting the year in AA, and if he continues to play well and hit he could easily be in Rochester before the season’s end.  Santana just turned 22 years old, so even if he is not Big League ready until 2015, he’d still be just 25 years old.  A lot of upside here, but like many of the Twins’ best prospects, he’s a long way from donning the Twins uniform.

Outfielders
Oswaldo Arcia - 21, RF, AA – Arcia took another big step forward in 2012 posting one of the best batting lines of his career in a full season at Double-A.  Along with Double-A teammate Aaron Hicks, Arcia should be roaming the outfield in Rochester to start 2013, but if the Twins deal Span, Revere or Willingham he could potentially be looking at a MLB tryout in Spring Training.  As a corner outfielder he’ll need to continue to hit at Triple-A to retain his prospect value, but if he succeeds he could be a Twins regular as early as 2014.

Joe Benson - 24, CF/RF, AAA – 2012 was a lost year for Benson.  After a solid 2011 season he was rewarded with a September appearance with the Twins and while he didn’t light the world on fire, he flashed his defensive value and speed, along with a beautiful head of hair.  In 2012 Benson started the year at Triple-A, struggled and was demoted to Double-A, struggled more, was injured, rehabbed in the Rookie League and at High-A, and then struggled again at Double-A before ending the year back on the disabled list with a knee injury.  I think the Twins will put Benson back at Double-A to start 2013, but he could quickly join Arcia and Hicks in what would be a really fun outfield for the Rochester Red Wings.

Aaron Hicks - 23, CF, AA – Formerly the Twins #1 prospect, Hicks was rated as high as the 19th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America before the 2010 season, but by 2012 he had fallen all the way off the Top 100 list.  Then, as if motivated by his removal from the list, Hicks had a great 2012 and vaulted his way back up Twins prospect lists and sits firmly behind Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton as one of the Twins’ best Minor League ballplayers.  Hicks hit .286/.384/.460 in 129 games in Double-A last year, and he also hit well from both sides of the plate, something he’d struggled to do for the past couple years, so much so that there was talk that Hicks give up his switch hitting ways.  Hicks combines a high-upside bat with spectacular defense and a great arm.  He likely has all the defensive ability of Ben Revere, but with a bat that could profile well even as a corner outfielder.  If the Twins move Willingham, Span or Revere this winter, Hicks is likely to be the best fit to fill in, but I would be a little more comfortable if he had some time in Triple-A to build on his 2012 success before handing him a starting job in Minnesota.

Darin Mastroianni - 27, CF/RF/LF, MLB – I feel like a broken record here, but if the Twins move one of their starting outfielders this winter, Mastroianni is probably the immediate beneficiary in terms of playing time.  While he’s perfectly suited in his role as a fourth outfielder, he would likely be exposed offensively if given an increased workload.  His defense is good enough for him to play everyday, but his bat would suffer.  Mastroianni’s speed and versatility give him an advantage over Chris Parmelee for a 25-man roster spot, but if the Twins are dead set on finding room for Parmelee, Mastroianni could be squeezed.

Ben Revere - 24, RF, MLB – A year ago Twins fans were clamoring for Revere to earn a full time spot in the Twins outfield, and despite his weak arm, the Twins installed him as their everyday right fielder.  Revere has the range and defensive ability to play center field, but Ron Gardenhire is a manager that frequently defers to his veterans, and even after another year of watching Revere make spectacular plays in the outfield, Gardenhire is unlikely to swap roles with Span and Revere.  The biggest takeaway from 2012 for Revere was his offensive improvement.  He’s always going to be a guy who’s batting average will sit around .300 with plenty of infield hits, and he won’t take a lot of walks, but if he continues to develop extra base power, he’ll be a Denard Span lite (which the Twins would be happy to have in center field if – again- they move Span this winter).

Denard Span - 28, CF, MLB – Span has been the Twin most frequently listed on MLB Trade Rumors, and if the Twins are really looking to bring back a quality starting pitcher, his team friendly contract makes him the most likely candidate to go.  After battling concussion issues in 2011, Denard Span played 128 games in a mostly healthy 2012 campaign and his offensive season was almost identical to his career averages.  The Twins hold a team option on Denard Span for 2015, so if the Twins keep him around, he could still be with the team when they have a realistic opportunity to contend for the AL Central.  Span is a valuable player even if the Twins are bad again in 2013, but with so many holes in their starting rotation it is hard to see Span sticking around until Opening Day.

Josh Willingham - 33, LF, MLB -2012 was a great year for Josh Willingham.  His best as a major leaguer and he was rewarded with a Silver Slugger for his 35 home runes, 110 RBIs and a .260/.366/.524 batting line.  Willingham is unlikely to repeat those numbers in 2013, but even if he’s the player he was in Washington and Oakland, he’s a valuable corner outfielder and the Twins best power hitter (though a healthy Justin Morneau could certainly give him a run for his money).  Willingham is likely locked into his left field role again in 2013, even if the Twins move Span and bring up a talented youngster.  He doesn’t play great defense, but as Babs likes to say, it looks like he’s trying really hard out there, and effort goes a long way in earning forgiveness from the fans (something Delmon Young never got the hang of).

So there they are, TWENTY ONE TWENTY position players.  The Twins are unlikely to carry five catchers on the roster once Spring Training breaks, and of the five, Drew Butera is the most likely candidate to be removed.  Of their nine infielders, I think the Twins could remove Escobar or Field without too much concern of another team claiming either player (or not), and of the two, I think Field is the most likely to be waived.  It would be tough for the Twins to sneak any of their outfielders through waivers and these seven are likely to remain unchanged in the near future.  Mastroianni could become expendable if either Arcia or Hicks join the 25-man roster, but that is likely to happen only if the Twins move one of the current MLB incumbents, likely Span or Willingham, should that scenario arise.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins @ Tigers #2 & #3, 12:05pm & 6:05

So today actually is the double-header to make up for Friday’s rainout. No, really it is. It also makes for a LOT of baseball today but at least there isn’t any rain in today’s forecast. Fall baseball has definitely begun however since it’s not supposed to even reach 60 degrees.

Good luck guys!

Game #2:

Minnesota

@

Detroit
Span, CF Jackson, A, CF
Revere, RF Infante, 2B
Mauer, DH Cabrera, Mi, 3B
Willingham, LF Fielder, 1B
Morneau, 1B Young, D, DH
Doumit, C Peralta, Jh, SS
Plouffe, 3B Dirks, LF
Escobar, 2B Garcia, A, RF
Florimon, SS Laird, C
  Diamond, P   Scherzer, P

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Minnesota

0

0

0

0

0

5

1

4

0

10

13

1

Detroit

0

0

0

2

0

0

0

0

2

4

6

1

This game went pretty much like you’d expect until the 6th inning… and then the TWINS actually started getting RUNS! Scott Diamond also seemed to get things figured out and settled down by the 4th inning or so and had a pretty darn good outing!

But today the BOD went unanimously to Joe Mauer. Thanks Joe!

Game #3:

We did a pretty good job of going through the Detroit bullpen this afternoon, let’s see if we can get to them again. Let’s hope that PJ can keep us in it long enough to have that make a difference.

Minnesota

@

Detroit
Revere, CF Jackson, A, CF
Carroll, 2B Berry, LF
Mauer, C Cabrera, Mi, 3B
Willingham, LF Fielder, 1B
Morneau, 1B Young, D, DH
Doumit, DH Boesch, RF
Plouffe, 3B Peralta, Jh, SS
Carson, RF Avila, C
Florimon, SS Santiago, 2B
  Walters, P   Smyly, P

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

R

H

E

Minnesota

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

1

2

7

1

Detroit

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

6

3

Well THAT was fun!!! I think close games are entertaining. This was a hard fought game from the pitching standpoint and PJ did a very good job! Jared Burton also pitched an IMMENSE bottom of the 9th against the heart of the Tigers order in a beautiful way. For that they both get a classic internet High Five! I hope he keeps it up!

Apparently the Twins are 6-0 when it comes to winning double-headers. I don’t know why that is but I’m not going to argue. I like winning, I like beating the Tigers. I’m not so fond of helping the White Sox reach the post season but.. I like beating the Tigers.

We all agreed that tonight’s BOD was the ever ‘youthful’, Jamey Carroll. He might be mad at himself for getting that out at 2B but he still is the one who got that winning RBI. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Jamey and enjoy the recognition of all that you have brought to your new team!

Jamey Carroll

Minnesota Twins Debut: Who is Pedro Florimon?

Pedro Florimon, called up to replace the recently demoted Brian Dozier, has played 18 2/3 innings at shortstop in the Major Leagues, appearing in 4 games (two starts) in 2011 for the Baltimore Orioles.  In just 10 career plate appearances he has one hit (a double), one walk, and six strikeouts.

Florimon was signed by the Baltimore Orioles in 2004 out of La Romana, Dominican Republic as a 17 year-old international free agent.  He toiled in the low minors until 2010 until he had his first extended experience at AA Bowie in the Eastern League.  A year later, at the end of 2011 Florimon was hitting .267/.344/.396 (his best offensive year outside of 2006 when he split time between the Rookie League and Low-A) and the Orioles called him up and he made his Major League debut on September 10, going 0-3.  After just 5 more plate appearances the Orioles decided they had seen enough of Florimon to know he was not going to be part of their long term plans and waived him following the conclusion of the 2011 season (Manny Machado was moving quickly through their MiLB system and was ready to take Florimon’s place in AA in 2012).

Pedro Florimon, Twins Media Day (February 26, 2012 – Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America)

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Twins had little very few promising shortstops in the upper minors.  The AAA-affiliate Rochester Red Wings had 8 different players split time at shortstop, with Toby Gardenhire (Ron Gardenhire’s son) leading the way with 46 games at short.  The 2011 AA New Britain Rock Cats split their shortstop duties almost equally between the player Florimon just replaces, Brian Dozier, and Chris Cates.  Dozier hit the ball well enough to ultimately get a look from the Twins in 2012, but Cates played his way out of the Twins system, hitting just .205/258/.245 in his age 26 season, his second full season in AA.  With all of this in mind, the newly re-appointed Twins GM, Terry Ryan, plucked Pedro Florimon off of waivers in early December, just before his 25th birthday.

Florimon failed to impress in Spring Training (.148/.233/.185) and was assigned to AA when the Twins broke camp and headed north.   Florimon built on his successful 2011 MiLB campaign and hit .283/.347/.372 through the first month of the season.  When Brian Dozier (who was having a hot start of his own) was called up to join the Twins, Florimon was called upon to fill his spot in Rochester to get his first chance in Triple-A.  Despite being a switch hitter, Flormon still has sizable platoon splits against LHP and RHP.  He hit fairly well when he initially joined the Red Wings, but he’s fallen off slightly in the second half and is hitting just .232/.273/.293 after the All-Star break.  Despite being a pretty solid defender, Florimon is not a great base stealer, as he’s stolen just 6 bases in Rochester and been thrown out 7 times.

Both the New Britain Rock Cats and the Rochester Red Wings used Florimon exclusively as a shortstop, and I suspect he’ll be used to spell the aging Jamey Carroll.  When September rolls around and the Twins make their September call ups it will be interesting to see what happens to Florimon’s playing time, especially if the Twins bring back Brian Dozier after three weeks in the Minors.

-ERolfPleiss

Brian Dozier: Shortstop of the Future?

There was significant fanfare surrounding Brian Dozier following a successful Spring Training by the then 24 year old Twins shortstop.  Dozier hit .277/.333/.511 in 22 games at short stop during Spring Training to lead all shortstops, but without any Triple-A seasoning under his belt, the Twins sent him to Rochester to begin the 2012 campaign.  Dozier started out red hot for the Red Wings and raised a lot of eyebrows in the Twins’ front office.  After just 28 games Dozier was hitting .276/.339/.371 (about what he was hitting in 2009 and 2010, but his OPS was about 200 points below what he hit in 2011 between A+ and AA) and the Twins called him up the Minneapolis.

Brian Dozier

In the 55 games before the All-Star Game, Brian Dozier hit .242/.267/.332 with only 8 walks to go along with 41 strike outs.  Clearly, with only 28 games at AAA and 55 more with the Twins, Dozier would take a little time to adjust to the talent level of the best baseball players on the planet.  In just 28 games since the All-Star break Dozier’s bat has started to come around, his batting average has sagged (.228), but his OBP (.288) and SLG (.347) are both climbing towards acceptable levels for Major League shortstops, even with a BABIP of .244 (league average is around .300).  Along with increased on-base and power numbers, Dozier has matched his walk and home run totals from the 1st half, and cut down his strike out rate from 19.43% to 16.83%.

Yesterday afternoon, with the bases load in the 10th inning and 1 out, Dozier had an opportunity to either start a difficult double play, attempt to throw out the runner heading home, or take the safe out at first base.  Dozier chose to take the out at 1B, conceding what turned out to be the game winning run as the Rays went on to win the game 7-3, scoring three more times before the Twins could get out of the inning.  While it is hard to fault Dozier too much for his play yesterday, his defense has been up and down all season long.  He has 15 errors in 83 games, and his UZR is below zero, -2.8.  While fielding% certainly does not tell the whole story, Dozier sits at .963 while the average MLB shortstop is fielding 15 points better at .978, which is four errors better over the same number of attempts.  Coupled with his sub-par offensive numbers, Dozier’s defensive performance performance makes him easily expendable.

To the Twins’ credit, they keep running Dozier out there day after day, giving him the opportunity to prove he belongs, and luckily for him the Twins don’t really have a lot of other options to play in his place.  Alexi Casilla has played shortstop only as a last resort, Tsuyoshi Nishioka is a complete disaster, and while the 38 year-old Jamey Carroll could slide back into the shortstop role, he will not be factoring into the Twins’ future plans, so sticking with Dozier is the best of several below average options.  Hiding away at AAA Rochester is Pedro Florimon, a defense first shortstop who is hitting almost as well as Brian Dozier did before his call up, and the newly acquired Eduardo Escobar who the Twins likely view as a utility player, as he’s played 4 different positions for Rochester since joining the team just two weeks ago (and just a .557 OPS in 45 games for the Chicago White Sox).

If Brian Dozier does not make big improvements down the stretch, both offensively and defensively, he will not have a future with the Minnesota Twins.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins @ Red Sox #2, 6:10 pm

I’m not sure how the Twins can improve on last night’s 5-0 shutout of the Red Sox, but let’s find out, shall we?

Hoping Brian Duensing has another good start as he continues to demonstrate his versatility.

I probably won’t be around for the Chat tonight, but I’ll be watching the game at my local purveyor of adult beverages and unhealthy food choices.

Enjoy the game, all!

TWINS

@

RED SOX
Span, CF Ellsbury, CF
Revere, RF Pedroia, 2B
Mauer, C Ross, C, RF
Willingham, DH Gonzalez, Ad, 1B
Morneau, 1B Lavarnway, DH
Valencia, 3B Middlebrooks, 3B
Mastroianni, LF Crawford, LF
Dozier, SS Shoppach, C
Carroll, 2B Aviles, SS
  _Duensing, P   _Doubront, P

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

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Minnesota

0

1

0

0

4

0

0

0

0

1

6

13

Boston

0

1

4

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

5

14

Holy CRAP, what a game. Hard to believe that we won AGAIN in Boston. Two in a row.

Just to play the first 9 innings took 4 hours. And the fact that there was a 10th is one of those gifts from the baseball gods that we may not have earned but for the pitching staying steady despite working harder than they should have had to. Too many errors from my guys to call it a GREAT game but wow was it intense.

Justin is finally back to hitting Lefties!! But there’s many people who deserve a little recognition. Besides Justin leading the way with consistent AB’s getting hits in every AB & 2 RBI, Mastroianni had some incredible defensive plays, baserunning, AND hitting a crucial double in the 10th. Despite the rare error to Justin, they both really earned a little treat so they are promptly gifted rootbeer floats for their efforts!

And you can look a little sideways at AJ Burnett if you want but our usual weak spot is pitching and tonight, they really held on to their big boy pants and threw some REALLY tough innings and situations. Duensing had a really great start especially given the errors in the field behind him. Robertson had a ridiculously well-timed strikeout of Ellsbury despite only a dozen or so SO by Jacoby all SEASON. There were so many things I could say so we will just let the whole pitching staff keep their keys to the Knuckleballs Ice Cream Buffet they earned last night. Hope none of those boys are lactose intolerant!

But the real hero for me of tonight’s game was Jamey Carroll. 4 hits in 4 AB’s, a steady presence every time he comes out, some practically miraculous fielding and he’s the one who finally knocked in the winning run in the 10th to break the tie. His response during a postgame interview regarding his success this game kind of said it all for me:

just ask my son, he’ll tell you I don’t hit any homeruns so I don’t have to worry about the green wall”

For all around amazingness and actually bringing the win before I turned back into a pumpkin, Mr. Carroll is the Knuckleballs BOD! - CB

Jamey Carroll

Just Winging It: The 2012 Minnesota Twins Starting Rotation

There can be no doubts that a 63-99 team has plenty of areas for improvement.  In 2011 the Twins were 28th in team OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), ahead of only the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres.  Sure, they were playing half of their games in the pitcher friendly Target Field, but even when adjusting for park factors, the Twins posted an OPS+ of just 84 (100 is average), 29th in the MLB, this time behind the Padres.  Clearly there were issues with the Twins’ bats a year ago.  Part of that was attributable to injuries to Joe Mauer (replaced by Drew Butera and Rene Rivera) and Denard Span (replaced by Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, and Jason Repko).  Another part of the hitting problem was related to dreadful offensive production from the middle infield, as Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, and Matt Tolbert, and the the old Trevor Plouffe all posted below leave average offensive numbers.

As bad as the Twins’ bats were in 2011, it did not really matter what their pitchers were doing.  And maybe that is what the front office was thinking heading into Spring Training.  If the Twins could just upgrade their offense, even with a mediocre pitching staff, they were likely to see a big improvement.  Unfortunately, the Twins did not have a mediocre pitching staff in 2011, their 4.58 team ERA was 29th, and were one of just two teams (along with the Baltimore Orioles) to allow more than 800 runs.  So to go along with their 29th place OPS+, the Twins also had the 29th worst pitching staff, and yet somehow they still only lost 99 games.

After a winter of free agent signings and departures the Twins arrived in Spring Training as optimistic as any team in baseball.  After all, they were only a year removed from a 94-win AL Central Championship team, and they were truly healthy for the first time in more than a year.  Their franchise catcher, Joe Mauer, had finally recovered from whatever it was that was ailing him in 2011 and caused him to miss almost half a season, and Justin Morneau was finally overcoming his concussion symptoms that cost him the better parts of 2010 and 2011.  Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham were on board to replace Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, and the Twins signed veteran on-base sepcialist Jamey Carroll to compensate for the failures of Nishioka.  Alexi Casilla was coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his underwhelming career and looked poised to finally become the everyday player the Twins had been hoping he would be since 2007.  Despite all their failures in 2011, the Twins looked like their bats were ready to hit in 2012.*

*And to some extent, they are.  The Twins’ 2012 OPS+ is 6th in the American League, and they are scoring runs at an almost league average rate (4.30/4.47).  

The Twins, however, did little to improve a pitching staff that was one of the worst in 2011.    They inexplicably resigned 9th inning reliever Matt Capps to a $4.75 million dollar deal to step in for the departed Joe Nathan.  They also sent starting pitcher Brian Duensing back to the bullpen where he had previously been successful and replaced him in the rotation with free agent acquisition Jason Marquis, hoping that he would rebound from a broken leg that cost him the end of the 2011 season, and become the renaissance man that Carl Pavano had been for the Twins since he arrived in 2009.  But with just five real candidates for starting pitching Minnesota was walking a pretty thin line.  The Twins also brought in just about every free agent relief pitcher they could find hoping that a couple of them would pitch well enough in Spring Training to head north with the big league team.  They even went against their traditionally risk-averse strategy and signed Joel Zumaya to a minor league deal hoping to add a power arm to their bullpen without paying the power arm price.  And with that, the Twins were seemingly ready to start the season.

Just five starting pitchers and not a lot of MLB ready pitchers in AAA ready to step in if things went poorly.  Among the starting pitchers not in that group of five, only Liam Hendriks and Scott Diamond seemed like realistic replacements to join the Twins if things did not go well in Minnesota.

As you are well aware, things have not gone well for the Twins’ starting pitchers in 2012.  Even before leaving Spring Training the Twins were forced to move Liam Hendriks into starting rotation as Jason Marquis was pulled away from the team to be with his daughter while she was recovering from a serious bicycle accident.  To make matters worse, Scott Baker did not leave Ft. Myers with the Twins either, dealing with supposedly minor arm issues which ended up as a worst-case scenario as Baker would eventually require Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL in his pitching arm.  That meant that Anthony Swarzak would start the season in the starting rotation, leaving with Twins without their regular long-reliever until Marquis would be back with the team.  Before long the Liam Hendriks experiment was over and he was back in AAA looking garner some additional seasoning.  Now the Twins had to start getting creative.  They had already burned through the only two replacement options they’d planned for and with the Twins already well below .500, it was unlikely that they would be playing any meaningful baseball in October.  Since that time the Twins have used five additional starting pitchers, none of whom the Twins were counting on in April.  P.J. Walters was first, then Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, and finally Sam Deduno.

The Twins still have 63 games remaining in 201. With Francisco Liriano now pitching for the Chicago White Sox the Twins will have to find another arm to step in.  While the next pitcher they call upon to start will likely not be a fresh face, they will still be tip-toeing around a problem unlikely to be resolved without the infusion of some fresh arms this winter.

Twins fans should have known that when Minnesota signed Jason Marquis and hoped for the best that the team was just winging it in 2012.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Minnesota Twins @ Kansas City Royals, 7:10pm

Should be a fun night in the chat as the Twins look to win another series from a Central Division foe AND the MLB First-Year Player Draft is in full swing.

MLB.com is running live draft coverage over at their website, and all signs point towards the Twins drafting the toolsy high school outfielder Byron Buxton out of Georgia.  Baseball America rates him as the best talent available in the 2012 draft and with the Twins unlikely to turn their team around in the immediate future, fans should not be concerned about the lengthy development time of a high schooler.  After the #2 pick the Twins still have 4 more of the top 75 picks, and they will likely add a couple of college arms and then look for middle infield depth.

UPDATE: TWINS TAKE BYRON BUXTON WITH THE 2ND OVERALL PICK.

Oh, and here are the line ups for the game, which is being played tonight, not 3-5 years in the future (who would have thought: the Twins have 3 hitters hitting .280+ at the top of the line up and Joe Mauer has the day off to nurse his thumb):

Minnesota Twins

@

Kansas City Royals

 Span, CF  Gordon, LF
 Revere, RF  Giavotella, 2B
 Willingham, DH  Butler, DH
 Morneau, 1B  Moustakas, 3B
 Doumit, C Francoeur, RF
 Plouffe, LF  Hosmer, 1B
 Dozier, SS  Escobar, A, SS
 Casilla, A, 2B  Dyson, CF
 Carroll, 3B  Quintero, C
 _De Vries, P  _Smith, W,

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 2 1 0 1 3 1 0 2 0 10 12 2
Kansas City 0 1 0 3 0 1 0 0 2 7 8 1

Cole DeVries picked up his first Major League win by surviving five innings. He wasn’t great, but he also had some pretty erratic defense behind him at times. The bullpen came through yet again and the offense tagged Royals pitching for 10 runs on 12 hits.

Once again, there was no shortage of Boyfriend of the Day candidates. Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau and Trevor Plouffe went deep. But in the end, we’re going with co-BOD awards for Ben Revere (3 hits, 2 runs, 2 RBI, and a stolen base) and Jamey Carroll (3 hits and a walk in four trips to the plate including a triple, 2 runs, 2 RBI, and a stolen base). Those are some good numbers! – JC

Ben Revere

Jamey Carroll

.