What is going on with the bullpen?

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

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

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

“Big Game Tony Swarz”

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

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

-ERolfPleiss

JC’s Top 15 Twins Prospects

Over the past couple of months, a number of smart, informed people who spend a lot of time analyzing young baseball players have been publishing their lists of top Twins prospects. Since I’m not nearly as smart or informed about these players as others are, I’ve held off on publishing my own rankings.

But I’m going to put my rankings out there today, for two reasons. First, I’ve now had time to read and consider the opinions of a lot of those smarter, more informed people and use the research and analysis they’ve done to help solidify my own opinions. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we’re still getting through a holiday season when many people are not bothering to go online and read blogs like ours, so if I write something really stupid, it’s less likely than usual to be noticed.

So without further delay, here’s my list of top Twins prospects heading in to the new year:

  1. Byron Buxton (OF) – It’s risky to elevate a player this high when he has yet to complete his first year of “full season” professional baseball, but the Twins first round pick from 2012 (and 2nd overall pick) was named top prospect of both rookie leagues, Gulf Coast and Appy, last year by Baseball America and that’s pretty hard to ignore. He doesn’t have the power of Miguel Sano, the consensus top Twins prospect for the past couple of years, but his potential as a centerfielder gives him an edge over Sano, who’s still a work in progress defensively. While Buxton could stay behind for extended spring training, I’m not sure he really has anything left to prove in Rookie leagues. He should spend most of the year in Cedar Rapids (A).

    Miguel Sano

    Miguel Sano

  2. Miguel Sano (3B) – Dropping Sano a spot from last year is simply a reflection of Buxton’s arrival rather than any red flags with regard to Sano. I saw Sano play several games in 2012 and saw nothing that would keep me from continuing to believe that he should someday claim a spot in the heart of the Twins batting order. We all know he can hit, but until I watched him several times, it didn’t really sink in to me just how well he runs the bases, as well. Midwest League pitchers seemed to pitch around him at times (for good reason), so it will be interesting to see how he fares against better pitching in Fort Myers (A+).
  3. Alex Meyer (P) – Acquired from the Nationals in return for Denard Span, Meyer immediately became the Twins’ best hope for a top of the rotation starting pitcher within the next couple of seasons. It has become evident that having a true ace… a pitcher who can miss bats consistently… gives a team a much better chance to compete for championships and Meyer has the potential to give the Twins such a weapon for the first time since Johan Santana was dealt to the Mets. It’s not going to happen right away, though, as Meyer didn’t exactly overwhelm hitters in the handful of starts he got at high-A last year. The Twins have invited him to open Spring Training in the Major League camp, but that almost certainly is simply to give the staff an initial look at the new guy. He may open the season at New Britain (AA), but I won’t be surprised if the Twins will keep him in Fort Myers (A+) to start the season with the hope that he’ll earn a quick promotion.
  4. Oswaldo Arcia (OF) – Arcia has been projected to be a future corner outfielder for the Twins, as he’s shown power and the ability to hit line drives in to the gaps, while demonstrating solid corner outfield skills with his legs, glove and arm. Arcia split time in 2012 between Fort Myers (high A) and New Britain (AA) and actually hit better at the higher level, where he put up a .328/.398/.557 split. Arcia really hadn’t been projected to arrive in Minnesota until at least 2014, but with the departures of Span and Ben Revere, the question now is whether Arcia’s path to The Show will be accelerated. I assume he’ll start the season in Rochester, but if he plays well there, look for him to be promoted to Minnesota if/when there are injuries or the Twins start trading away veterans like Justin Morneau or Ryan Doumit toward mid-season. To my mind, Arcia is the “position player” prospect most likely to make the earliest significant offensive impact on the Twins Major League roster.
  5. Aaron Hicks (OF) – Hicks was the Twins first round draft pick in 2008 as a high school player and his progression through the minor leagues has not been without some challenges. After a solid rookie league year after signing with the Twins, he spent the following two seasons at Class A Beloit, partially due to injury and partially due to unsatisfactory performance. In 2011, he had another lackluster season at Fort Myers (high A), leading his name to be dropped from many “top prospect” lists. In 2012, however, he put up a solid .286/.384/.460 split at AA New Britain and that was good enough, apparently, to restore the organization’s confidence in Hicks to the point where GM Terry Ryan felt comfortable trading away Span and Revere. I think it would be best for Hicks to spend some time at AAA this season, but it sounds like he’ll be given the opportunity to win the Twins CF job in Spring Training.
  6. Kyle Gibson (P) – Another first round (2009) pick of the Twins, Gibson’s career has been one full of promise… and injuries that seem intent on quashing that promise. A college injury resulted in his dropping to the Twins with the 22nd pick and after zipping through high-A, AA and AAA during the 2010 season, Gibson’s career was derailed by Tommy John surgery midway through his 2011 AAA season. He threw just over 28 innings across three minor league levels toward the end of 2012, with encouraging results and performed relatively well in the Arizona Fall League. There’s little doubt that he’ll get an opportunity to pitch for the Twins in 2013, but the Twins intend to limit his innings somewhat, so it may be 2014 before we see what Gibson can really do at the Major League level. It’s not unreasonable to expect him to be a mid-rotation starting pitcher for years to come. I’d like to see him open in Rochester (AAA), but won’t be surprised or disappointed to see him with the Twins to start the season.

    Eddie Rosario

    Eddie Rosario

  7. Eddie Rosario (2B/OF) – Since being drafted in 2010 out of his Puerto Rican high school, Rosario has put together 2 and a half seasons of solid work, hitting about .300 and tallying an even .900 OPS. Those would be pretty encouraging numbers for a centerfielder, which is what Rosario was drafted to play. But in 2012, the Twins asked Rosario to learn to play 2B in Beloit (A) and while his defense in the infield is still a work in progress, if he can successfully develop Major League level skills at 2B, his abilities with the bat could mean the difference between a “solid” CF and an “All-Star” 2B. This makes Rosario one of the most interesting players to watch as he takes his talent to Fort Myers (A+) this season.
  8. Jose (J.O.) Berrios (P) – Until Alex Meyer was acquired from the Nationals, Berrios was arguably the Twins’ best hope for a future top of the rotation pitcher. That probably says as much about the overall dearth of top pitching in the Twins organization as it does about Berrios, but nonetheless Berrios made a very impressive debut after being a supplemental first round pick by the Twins this past June. Berrios threw only 30.2 innings for the Twins two rookie league teams, starting four of the 11 games in which he made appearances. He struck out 49 batters in those innings, however, while walking only four and pitching to a WHIP of only 0.620. It will be interesting to see how quickly the Twins push the 18-year-old Berrios through the system. We may get an indication of their intent by watching to see if they send Berrios to Cedar Rapids (A) in April or keep him in Florida for extended spring training.
  9. Max Kepler (OF) – Kepler was signed as a teenager out of Germany and given the highest signing bonus ever for a European ballplayer the same offseason the Twins signed Miguel Sano. Kepler was not as developed as a ballplayer as Sano, however, and as a result, Kepler was spending his second short season at Elizabethton (rookie) in 2012, while Sano was playing his first year of full season ball in Beloit (A). In 2012, Kepler finally showed some of the promise the Twins saw in him before signing him, hitting just a couple clicks below .300, putting up a .925 OPS and hitting 10 home runs in 59 games. He reportedly has the skills to play some CF, but with the other CF prospects the Twins have in the pipeline, he’s probably more likely to fill a corner OF spot. Kepler will turn 20 years old a few weeks before he likely opens 2013 in the Cedar Rapids (A) outfield.
  10. Trevor May (P) – The 10th spot is probably not the right ranking for May, who was part of the return the Twins got for sending Ben Revere to the Phillies. In all likelihood, May should be ranked a few spots higher or several spots lower, depending on which version of this 23 year old pitcher shows up. If he’s the fireballing hurler who struck out between 12 and 13 hitters per nine innings at some stops of his minor league career and caused him to be a consensus “Top 100 overall prospect” at one time, he would project to join Alex Meyer at the top of a future Twins rotation. But if he’s the pitcher who walked almost five hitters per nine innings and posted a 1.450 WHIP for Reading (AA) in 2012, he would join the ranks of several other arms in the Twins organization that project to potentially fill back of the rotation spots in Minnesota down the line some time. I would think he would open the season at Rochester (AAA), but wouldn’t be shocked or even disappointed if the Twins let him open in New Britain (AA).

It’s a good sign for the Twins and the relative depth of their organization that a number of my picks for spots 11 through 15 this year have been ranked, by me and/or others, as top 10 Twins prospects previously. Each of these players have the potential to make significant contributions to the Twins sooner or later. Trying to distinguish these five guys from one another in a way to rank them 11-15, though, is just too much for my limited knowledge to do, so I’ll just list them alphabetically, along with where I would expect them to open the 2013 season.

  • Joe Benson (OF) – Rochester (AAA)
  • Travis Harrison (3B) – Cedar Rapids (A)
  • B. J. Hermsen (P) Rochester (AAA)
  • Chris Herrmann (C) – Rochester (AAA)
  • Randy Rosario (P) – Elizabethton (Rookie)

There’s a lot of baseball talent on this list and a number of other Twins prospects have a lot of potential, as well. It should be a fun year to follow all of the Twins’ minor league affiliates in 2013.

- JC

Kevin Correia and the 2013 Minnesota Twins

According to Jerry Crasnick, the Twins have signed Kevin Correia to a two-year, $10 million dollar contract.  The savvy Twins fan might liken this deal to the Jason Marquis signing from a year ago, but with an extra year tacked on, just for fun!  Correia has been a below average starter in the National League over the past two years for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  In 2012 the Pirates (not known for the pitching depth) decided that they had better starting options and demoted Correia to the bullpen.  On a one-year deal, signing Correia would not seem half as bad, as the Twins are likely in the midst of a serious rebuilding effort after trading Denard Span and Ben Revere over the past couple of weeks.  The second year of the deal could be tricky as Correia is not likely to improve coming to the American League for the first time in his career where he’ll have to face the designated hitters instead of pitchers.

Twins #3 Starter, Kevin Corriea, Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America

 

Correia joins the Twins and is instantly their third best starting pitching option in 2013 behind Scott Diamond and Vance Worley.  That’s how bad the Twins pitching is right now, they are turning to the Pirates’ bullpen for starting pitching help.  While the Correia signing gives the Twins a much needed are in 2013, his role in 2014 is less clear.  With Kyle Gibson another year removed from Tommy John surgery, and Liam Hendriks with some additional Major League experience (and perhaps some confidence boosting time at Triple-A), Correia’s best option for 2013 is as the Twins fifth starter.  But five million dollars for a fifth starter, when guys like Cole De Vries, B.J. Hermsen, Sam Deduno and Esmerling Vasquez are all equally qualified to fill that spot, is harder to stomach.

If you’re a glass half-full type of person, it is possible that the Twins could flip Correia in 2014, maybe even eating some of his salary, in hopes of bringing back a low-level prospect.  But it seems more likely to me that he ends up in the bullpen filling the long relief role that Anthony Swarzak currently fills, or becomes the swing-man that Brian Duensing has occupied the past couple of years.  All in all, Correia is a Major League veteran that fills a roster spot for 2013, just keep your fingers crossed that he does not turn into another Nick Blackburn.

-ERolfPleiss

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

Last week the Minnesota Twins added eight players to their 40-man roster, maxing out their roster with 40 players.  The Twins will likely remove at least one player prior to the upcoming Rule 5 draft, but for now, the Twins do not have room for any additions.  If Spring Training started tomorrow, here are the 40 players that would be competing for a coveted 25-man roster spot and a place on the 2013 Opening Day roster.  We’ll start with the Pitchers today, and look at the position players later this week.

B.J. Hermsen, recently added to the Twins 40-man roster. PhotoCredit: Knuckleballs

Right Handed Pitchers (Age, Position, Highest 2012 Level)

Alex Burnett - 25, Reliever, MLB – Burnett appeared in 67 games for the Twins in 2012 and posted the best ERA of his career (3.52).  Unfortunately, Burnett struck out batters at the lowest rate in his career (4.5/9), while still walking more than three batters per nine innings and his 2012 success is unlikely to continue in 2013, if he makes the 25-man roster, it will be as a middle-inning, low-leverage, reliever.

Jared Burton - 31, Reliever, MLB – Like Alex Burnett, Burton also posted the best ERA of his career (2.18).  Unlike Burnett, Burton’s success came from an increase in stike out rates and a decrease in walk rates.  Burton is almost a lock for the 25-man roster, and will likely be the eighth inning set up man.

Cole De Vries - 27, Starter, MLB – De Vries was a long shot to make the 25-man roster in 2012, but because of a string of injuries and generally poor play from other Twins starters, De Vries started 16 games en route to a 4.11 ERA.  De Vries is a typical Twins-type pitcher, low walks, low strike outs, and is a long shot to make the 25-man roster again in 2013, but unless the Twins acquire multiple starting pitchers through trades or free agency, the Twins do not have a lot of other competent options.

Casey Fien - Casey Fien, Reliever, MLB – Fien returned to Major League action after spending 2011 in the Minors.  Fien had several surprisingly good appearances toward the end of the year, earning a 2.06 ERA to go along with 32Ks in just 35.0 IP.  Fien’s previous MLB performance and Minor League track record does not indicate that he’s likely to continue to perform at a high level, but he’s gained the trust of Ron Gardenhire and has a farily good chance to make the 25-man roster with a strong performance this spring.

Kyle Gibson - Kyle Gibson, Starter, AAA – Gibson spent all of 2012 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and pitched in four different leagues during his rehab, including the Arizona Fall League where the big right-hander was said to be consistently throwing 93-94 MPH with good control.  If fully healthy, Gibson is in line to be one of the Twins five starters in 2013.

Deolis Guerra - 23, Reliever, AAA – Guerra split time in 2012 between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester and posted a 4.11 ERA in his first full season as a reliever, with high strike out numbers (9.1K/9) and low walk totals (3.3/9).  At 23 Guerra is still fairly young for AAA and I expect him to start the season in Rochester, though he will have a chance to play in Minnesota before the season ends. Edit: Per John Bonnes, Deolis Guerra is out of options, so he’ll need to make the 25-man roster or risk being claimed off of waivers.

Liam Hendriks - 23, Starter, MLB – Hendriks struggled to turn his Minor League success into Major League succes and spent the better part of 2012 searching for his first big league victory.  Hendriks finished the year 1-8 with a 5.59 ERA and only 50 strike outs over 85.1 innings.  Ideally Hendriks would start 2013 in Rochester, working to fine tune his command against lesser hitters before being asked to join the Twins.  If Hendriks makes the Opening Day roster it will likely be because the Twins lack other viable options rather than their belief in Hendriks ability to succeed at a high level.

B.J. Hermsen - 22, Starter, AA – Hermsen is another Twins-type pitcher with low strike out numbers and in Hermsen’s case, extremely low walk rates (1.6/9).  Hermsen is unlikely to merit serious consideration for the starting rotation in 2013 because he has no experience above AA.  Hermsen has continually put up ERAs around 3, and if he can continue to put up good numbers in AAA he should earn himself a September call-up and, if the Twins do not add a couple of free agents on multi-year deals, could be a candidate to start for the Twins in 2014.

Lester Oliveros - 24, Reliever, MLB – Oliveros had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and will spend most, if not all, of 2013 rehabbing his elbow.  He will be moved to the 60-day DL once Spring Training begins, opening up a roster spot.

Josh Roenicke - 30, Reliever, MLB – Claimed off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies, Roenicke is unlikely to start the season in the Twins bullpen and instead the Twins will probably attempt to pass Roenicke through waivers later this spring and use him as roster depth in Rochester.  However, Roenicke did post an impressive 3.25 ERA last season with the Rockies, so the Twins might be willing to give him a longer look in Spring Training before ultimately relegating him to the Minor Leagues.

Anthony Swarzak - 27, Long Man/Spot Starter, MLB – The Twins have seen enough of Swarzak over the past couple of years (198.2 IP) to know what they have out of the 27-year old.  Swarzak has struggled when he’s been asked to start, but as a long man in the bullpen he’s performed moderately well (5.79 ERA as Starter, 4.03 as reliever).  I believe that the Twins will bring Swarzak back in a similar role in 2013, but if they are intent on finding a spot for B.J. Hermsen, this could be somewhere they’d be willing to make a switch.

Michael Tonkin - 23, Reliever/Closer, High-A – While Tonkin has never pitched above High-A Fort Myers, he posted a 12.6 K/9 in 2012 and followed that up with a spectacular Arizona Fall League performance posting a 2.45 ERA over 14.2 innings with a 0.75 WHIP.  Tonkin will likely start 2012 at Double-A New Britain, but he could certainly be in Rochester by the All-Star break.

Tim Wood - 30, Closer, Reliever, MLB – Wood was claimed off of waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates after spending all of 2012 in Triple-A.  As a likely closer, Wood does not have the kind of strike out numbers you would typically expect, but he’s posted a 3.49 and 2.19 ERA each of the last two seasons in Triple-A so he’s doing something right.  You have to wonder why a guy with a 2.19 ERA did not get a September call-up with the Pirates as they were once again spiraling their way to another losing record.  Before his successful 2011 and 2012 seasons, Wood struggled mightily in the PCL, splitting time between the Miami Marlins and Texas Rangers systems.  Do not expect to see Wood on the 25-man roster this spring, as he’s likely to spend most of the season in Rochester.

Left Handed Pitchers
Scott Diamond - 26, Starter, MLB – Diamond is the lone Twins starter to be guaranteed a spot in the 2013 rotation, so as long as he makes it through Spring Training without injury he has a secure spot on the 25-man roster.  Diamond is now 2 years removed from being drafted by the Twins in the Rule 5 draft and while his strike out numbers are dreadfully low (12.6% strike out rate), he manages to keep the base paths clear by limiting walks and inducing ground balls.  If Diamond can repeat his 2012 numbers the Twins will be ecstatic.

Brian Duensing - 29, Reliever/LOOGY/Starter, MLB – With the Twins again searching for answers from their starting rotation Duensing given another chance to win a spot as a starter.  He didn’t fare well.  Overall, Duensing has a 4.57 ERA as a starter compared to just a 3.38 ERA out of the pen.  As a starter Duensing is subject to facing a lot more right handed batters (.302/.358/.473, AGV/OBP/SLG), whereas in the bullpen he can be used selectively against left handed batters (.217/.261/.298).  Hopefully the Twins understand who Duensing is at this point in his career and keep him in the pen.  He’s a lock to be on the 25-man roster and should begin the year as the teams primary LOOGY (Left-handed One Out guY).

Pedro Hernandez - 23, Starter, MLB – Hernandez is one of the players the Twins acquired in the Francisco Liriano deal with the White Sox.  Hernandez has just one disastrous Major League start, and has only 52.1 innings at Triple-A.  The Twins should send Hernandez back to Rochester to start 2013, and unless things go poorly for the Twins rotation again this year, he’s unlikely to put on a big league uniform anytime before September.

Glen Perkins - 29, Reliever/Closer, MLB – After signing a 4 year $11.85 million dollar deal this past winter, Glen Perkins went out and had one of the best years of his career, posting a 2.56 ERA to go along with 78 strike outs and just 16 walks in 70.1 innings.  Perkins will start 2013 as the Twins primary closer, a role he shared at times in 2012 with Matt Capps and Jared Burton.

Tyler Robertson - 24, Reliever/LOOGY, MLB – Making his Major League debut in 2012, Robertson performed poorly, but his Minor League performance in 2012,  prior to his stint with the Twins, show the signs of life you like to see from a big left-hander.  He gets plenty of strike outs (10.4/9 innings), and he doesn’t give up a lot of a home runs.  For Robertson the biggest issue is going to be control, as he walked 14 batters in his 25 innings for the Twins a year ago.  Robertson is great against left-handed batters (.190/.268/.317), but if he cannot learn to get out right-handed hitters (.290/.436/.484) he is not going to stick around for long.  Robertson should start the year as the Twins #2 LOOGY and a middle reliever.

Caleb Thielbar - 25, Reliever, AAA – Thielbar made it as far as AAA in 2012, but at the end of 2011 he had never pitched above High-A.  Thielbar likely needs some additional Minor League seasoning before the Twins are ready to put him on the 25-man roster, especially after a terrible Arizona Fall League permanence in which he posted an 11.05 ERA with 8 walks in just 13.0 innings.

The Twins definitely have plenty of arms on the 40-man roster, but they don’t have a lot of talent in the bunch.  If the Twins start the season with this same group of arms they’ll have Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson, and Liam Hendriks as their one-two-three starters, and will be well on their way to another 90 loss season.  It is more likely that the Twins sign at least two free agent pitchers, and bring in another arm via trade, but until anything happens, there is not a lot of hope readily available in Minnesota.

-ERolfPleiss

 

Will Strasburg Become a Noun and a Verb?

I’m kind of tired of reading and hearing about Stephen Strasburg and the decision by the Washington Nationals to shut him down for the season. That being the case, I’m not sure why I’m choosing now to actually write about him. But I am.

I suppose the reason is that I’ve been trying to put myself in the shoes of those directly and indirectly involved with the decision to put an end to the hard-throwing phenom’s season because he’s reached what seems to some to be an arbitrarily reached innings limit in his first full season following “Tommy John” surgery. I find the exercise of shoe-filling to be helpful when it comes to second-guessing the decisions of others. Sometimes, it’s pretty easy to know how I would feel and what I would do. Sometimes, not so much.

Have a seat son… for the rest of the season (Photo: Patrick Reddington/Federal Baseball)

If I’m Stephen Strasburg, 24 year old pitcher, living my life-long dream of playing Major League Baseball, with a record breaking (for a draftee) $15.1 million 4-year contract in my pocket assuring me of being able to live comfortably for the rest of my life, and the competitive juices flowing through my veins that have driven me to reach this level, then I want to friggin pitch! Are you kidding me? My team is about to make the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s history and the first time in my adopted home city since most likely before my grandfather was born and now I’m not going to be there for the end of the ride? You gotta be kidding me!

If I’m Scott Boras, Strasburg’s super-agent, I’ve got an investment to think about. Yes, I made a couple nickels off that $15+ million contract, but this is a pitcher who, if he hit the free agent market today, would easily bring in ten times that figure. Who knows how much he’ll be worth by the time he actally has enough service time in to hit the open market? It’s understandable that my client is focused on what he’s missing out on now, rather than on his future career and the earnings that come with it. It’s my job to focus on that for him. Of course I want to avoid risking career threatening injury that could come from throwing too many innings too soon and I’ll use every bit of influence and leverage I have to protect this investment.

If I’m Mike Rizzo, Nationals General Manager, I’ve got an investment to think about, too. But it’s not quite as cut and dried for me as it is for Mr. Boras. Somehow, I’ve got to balance protecting the $15+ million asset I’ve already put in to Strasburg (and, if you believe the comments made by Boras in this Washington Post article, I also need to balance my relationship with Boras), with the need to not totally alienate my team’s fan base. This is a fan base that is starved for success they’ve never… ever… felt. If I screw this up and the fans stay away from the ballpark next year, I won’t have to worry about this team’s future, because someone else will have my job. On top of that, I’m risking my relationship with a clubhouse full of players that are seeing me take away a key component of their team just three weeks before the postseason begins. (Then again, a big chunk of that clubhouse seems to be represented by Boras.)

If I’m a Washington Nationals fan, how do I feel? My chosen team is thissssssss close to the brass ring and Strasburg is a big reason “we” are in this position (make no mistake, as a fan of a team with the best record in baseball, I’m identifying myself with that team, so it’s all about what Rizzo is doing to “us”). Maybe if I were a Yankees fan (God forbid) and felt that sense of entitlement that comes from buying enough talent every year to almost assure my team of making the playoffs, I would have a longer term view of things. But in a town that hasn’t seen postseason baseball since 1933, this is a tough pill to swallow. On the other hand, it’s not like Strasburg is the only pitcher the Nats have. In fact, he’s arguably been among the least effective members of the rotation in recent weeks. But still…

The fact is, as Twins fans, we may get the opportunity to  find out exactly how we would feel if we filled the shoes of Nationals fans. Of course, we’d have to get pretty lucky.

Kyle Gibson (Photo: Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com_

You see, the Twins have a young pitcher named Kyle Gibson that they think a lot of and he had TJ surgery right about one year after Strasburg did. He’s thrown a few innings late this year in the minors and he’ll pitch some more in a fall league. But before Opening Day, 2013, the Twins will need to come up with a plan for Gibson.

I’m not sure how the Twins will approach Gibson’s season, but I’m hoping they’re a bit smarter about it than Rizzo, Boras and, yes, even Strasburg himself, were about their situation this year.

See, I don’t really have a problem with limiting Strasburg to 160-ish innings, in accordance with his doctors’ recommendations not to overwork the recently repaired elbow. In fact, I find it refreshing. I would think that any fan, especially one who cringes whenever an old schooler clearly thinks a WHIP is something Indiana Jones carries and a K/9 is a police dog, would applaud the Nationals’ willingness to apply modern medical philosophy to Strasburg. I do, however, have a problem with them being stupid about how they applied that innings limit.

No matter who’s shoes I put myself in, I keep coming back to one thing.

If you’re dealing with a guy who’s going to pitch in the minors or if you absolutely know you’re MLB team is going to suck, sure, just send your guy out there for 160 innings and shut him down. But if you are talking about, thinking about, or even just giving lip-service about being competitive, why the hell do you even think about putting your guy in the rotation before May 1 (and probably a couple weeks later, to be safe)?

No matter which one of the roles in this little melodrama you step in to, wouldn’t it occur to you that it would be far more important to have your ace available for a stretch drive and the postseason, than to have him throwing in April’s potentially chilly evenings? Yes, games in April count as much as games in September, but games in October count a hell of a lot more than games in either of those months!

The Nats have provided a service to the rest of Major League Baseball, I suppose. They’ve made a mistake smarter GMs can learn from. In the future, any GM who doesn’t hold back his tender-elbowed pitcher at the beginning of the season and thus is forced to shut him down just when things get interesting will be known to have “Strasburged” his pitcher… and there’s really no excuse for another pitcher to ever be Strasburged again.

So watch closely this spring, folks. Follow along to see if Kyle Gibson starts the season in the Twins rotation or spends a month or so back in Fort Myers just keeping his arm warm until May rolls around. At the very least, he should spend a month or more in the bullpen, allowing him to stretch his innings through the full season without overworking that repaired elbow.

We can expect the Twins front office to tell fans they believe the Twins will be competitive in 2013. But if Kyle Gibson is in the rotation to open the season, we’ll know the truth… that the front office does not expect their team to contend in 2013, so they’re willing to Strasburg Gibson.

Either that or they’re just being as stupid as the Nationals.

- JC

Minnesota Twins Arizona Fall League Selections

The Minnesota Twins are sending seven players to the Arizona Fall League (AFL).  For those of you that are unfamiliar with the AFL, it is a six team league in (big surprise) Arizona that generally features some of the top prospects from the Minor Leagues.  Of the seven players the Twins sent to the AFL in 2011, three have played a significant role for the MLB club this season, Cole De Vries, Scott Diamond and Brian Dozier.

The crop of youngsters looking to make their mark in 2012 are Evan BigleyLogan Darnell, Kyle Gibson,  Chris HerrmannNate RobertsCaleb Thielbar and Michael Tonkin.  Outside of Gibson, and maybe Herrmann, many of these names are likely unfamiliar to all but the most hardcore Twins fans.  What follows then, will be a brief introduction to some of the Twins’ top Minor League prospects.

Evan Bigley Photo Credit: Seth Stohs, Twins Daily

Evan Bigley, 25, Right Field, Started 2012 at AA New Britain, Currently at AAA Rochester
Evan Bigley was drafted by the Twins in the 10th round of the 2008 draft out of Dallas Baptist University, alma mater of former Minnesota Twin  and current Baltimore Oriole Lew Ford.   Bigley started the year back in Double-A, his third consecutive year in New Britain, and while his batting average was slightly higher than it was in 2011, his on-base skills were exactly the same as they were the year ago (.311 OBP).  However, in 2012 he was hitting the ball with a lot more authority, slugging almost 70 points higher in 2012 before being promoted to Rochester.   Bigley has struggled to adjust to AAA pitching, hitting just .211/.241/.328, the worst batting line of his Minor League career.  As a corner outfielder in the Twins system Bigley is going to need to adjust to high-level pitching or he’ll quickly become an afterthought in an organization filled with high-upside outfield talent like Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, and Joe Benson.

Logan Darnell Photo Credit: North Dakota Twins Fan

Logan Darnell, 23, Left Handed Starting Pitcher, AA New Britain
Logan Darnell was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 6th round of the 2010 draft out of the University of Kentucky.  Darnell profiled as a reliever coming out of the draft, but the Twins have used him exclusively as a starter the past two seasons.  In 2011, despite mediocre numbers, Darnell moved quickly through the system advancing from Low-A Beloit all the way to AA New Britain.  He’s spent all of 2012 at New Britain and really struggled to find success.  While his ERA is down in 2012 (5.21 from 5.28), his WHIP, HR/9  and BB/9 all went up while his SO/9 and SO/BB rates went the other way.  Darnell is on pace to pitch more than 150 innings for the 2nd consecutive year, so he certainly has the arm strength to remain a starting pitcher, but if he cannot find greater success against talented hitters he’ll need to move to the bullpen to extend his career.

Kyle Gibson

Kyle Gibson, 24, Right Handed Starting Pitcher, Started 2012 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Currently at AAA Rochester
Kyle Gibson was the Twins’ first round draft selection (22 overall) in the 2009 draft out of the University of Missouri and went from High-A Fort Myers to AAA Rochester in his first year in the Minor Leagues in 2011.  In 2011 Gibson pitched fairly well in the first half of the year before being shut down with elbow inflammation before eventually requiring Tommy John surgery.  Gibson rehabbed for the first 2/3 of the 2012 season spending time with the Twins Gulf Coast and High-A squads before returning to Rochester earlier this August.  Reports on Gibson are that he’s throwing the ball as hard, if not harder, than he was before his surgery and his control is as good as it has ever been.  Gibson was rated as high as the number 34 overall prospect by Baseball America before the 2011 season, and if he pitches well in the AFL could have a chance to compete for a spot in the starting rotation when the Twins leave Spring Training in 2013.

Chris Hermann Photo Credit: Jim Crikket

Chris Herrmann, 24, Catcher, AA New Britain
Chris Herrmann was drafted by the Twins in the 6th round of the 2009 draft out of the University of Miami (along with teammate David Gutierrez, who did not sign in 2009,but signed in 2010 when the Twins drafted him again).  Herrmann spent most of 2011 in New Britain and has been there for the entire 2012 season.  Herrmann is probably the Twins best hitting catcher in the system, but he’s also been getting playing time as an outfielder and DH in order to keep his bat in the lineup for the Rock Cats.  He’s hitting .268/.342/.385 with a career high 10 HR and 23 2B.  The Twins will likely be watching how Herrmann calls games in the AFL and how his bat plays against some higher-level pitching.

Nate Roberts Photo Credit: Jim Crikket

Nate Roberts, 23, Corner Outfielder, Low-A Beloit
Nate Roberts was drafted by the Twins in the 5th round of the 2010 draft out of High Point University.  High Point University has only produced 1 Major League Players,  RHP Cody Allen, who made his Major League debut in 2012 for the Cleveland Indians despite being drafted a year after Roberts.  Roberts is repeating Low-A Beloit in 2012 after spending all of 2011 there despite posting a .302/.443/.446 line in his first year above rookie ball.  Roberts has posted another impressive line in 2012, .306/.438/.438, but he’s 23, about a year older than the average player in the Midwest League, so with his success at Low-A he’ll likely be promoted to Fort Myers for the 2013 season, regardless of how he preforms in the AFL.

Caleb Thielbar

Caleb Thielbar, 25, Left Handed Relief Pitcher, Started 2012 at High-A Fort Myers, Currently at AAA Rochester
Caleb Thielbar was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 18th round of the 2009 draft.  Thielbar failed to get past Low-A in the Brewers system and found himself playing Independent Baseball in 2011 for the Saint Paul Saints.  The Twins plucked Thielbar from the Saints at the end of 2011 and he made 3 appearances for the Fort Myers Miracle before the season came to an end.  According to Seth Stohs of TwinsDaily.com, Thielbar throws between 88 and 91 MPH with a good slider/curve.  As a 25 year old starting the 2012 season, Thielbar was two years older than the average High-A Florida State League player.  He’s moved quickly through the season posting SO/9 rates of 11.7 at High-A, 9.4 at AA, and while he is struggling a little bit at AAA, he’s still managing 7.1 SO/9, a strike out rate that would make half of the Twins’ current bullpen green with envy.  Thielbar will likely need another year at AAA before he has a chance to be a realistic option for the Twins, but as a 25 year old with just barley a year in the Twins’ system, the Arizona Fall League gives the Twins additional opportunities to see what Thielbar can really do.

Michael Tonkin Photo Credit: Jim Crikket

Michael Tonkin, 22, Right Handed Relief Pitcher, Started 2012 at Low-A Beloit, Currently at High-A Fort Myers
Michael Tonkin was drafted by the Twins in the 30th round of the 2008 draft.  Tonkin signed quickly and spent the end of 2008 and all of 2009 in the Gulf Coast League.  In 2010 Tonkin split time between the Elixabethton Twins in the Appalachian League, and ended the season with the Low-A Beloit Snappers.   Tonkin was promoted to Fort Myers about midway through the 2012 season and he’s continued to strike out more than 12 batters per 9 innings.  According to Kevin Goldstein, Tonkin has a big fastball that sits in the mid 90s and a low 80s slider that helps him reach those lofty strike out numbers.  It will certainly be worth following Tonkin in the Arizona Fall League against significantly more advanced hitters.  A solid showing in the AFL and Tonkin could start 2012 in AA as a 23 year old.

And that’s about it.  I’m certainly not an expert in the Minor Leagues or scouting, but hopefully this gives you a little bit of information about the Twins 2012 Arizona Fall League participants.

-ERolfPleiss

PS: For those of you interested in listening to another Twins podcast, I recently started one.

Minnesota Twins 2011 First Round Draft Selection Levi Michael

The last time the Twins were any good (2010) they were swept out of the post season once again by the New York Yankees.  The Twins finished that season with 84 wins, 4th best in all of baseball.  They were rewarded for their success with the 30th selection in the 2011 draft.  With that pick they selected Levi Michael.

At the time of the draft Levi Michael and the University of North Caroline Tar Heels were playing their way into the College World Series (where they promptly made a two game exit).    Levi Michael was in the midst of a fairly strong junior season (.289/.434/.434 (BA/OBP/SLG)), but he dealt with an ankle injury early on in that season which nagged him for a good part of the year.  His sophomore season at UNC was his best, hitting .343/.484/.575 and ranked as the 13th best hitter in the ACC.  While Michael was never projected to be a power hitter, his on-base skills (more walks than strikeouts 47/41) and his speed, coupled with pretty decent range on the defensive side of the ball made him one of, if not the top shortstops in the draft.

PHOTO BY SCOTT BUTHERUS, NAPLES NEWS

Selecting Levi Michael was a departure from the Twins’ usual draft strategy of drafting toolsy high schoolers (think Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks) and college arms (Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers), and was their first college position player taken since Travis Lee in 1996.*  Perhaps the Twins selected Michael understanding that he was one of the best players available to them with the 30th pick and they certainly had a system void of shortstops with high upsides.

The Twins signed Michael late for $1.75 million and despite not having a chance to play competitive baseball for the Twins in 2011, they started him at High A playing a combination of shortstop and second base for the Ft. Myers Miracle.  Going into 2012 Baseball America rated Michael as the Twins 6th best prospect.  TheTwins’  rationale at the time had to be that Levi Michael was a polished college player who should not have much trouble adjusting to professional baseball, and could rise quickly through the Twins MiLB system.

In 87 games for the Miracle, Michael has struggled to get his offensive game going.  He is hitting just .237/.333/.309.  He has continued to showcase a strong understanding of the strike zone at High-A, walking in more than 11% of all plate appearances.  Unfortunately, he is not getting on base enough to steal bases and he has not shown any of the power he did in college, with just 15 extra base hits so far this year (his OPS of .642 does not even rank him in the top 100 of the Florida State League).  Michael’s batting line is held down mostly due to a poor 1st half where he batted just .216/.317/.293.  He’s been much better in the second half so far  (.275/.365/.339) and he’s cut his strike out rate nearly in half down to 12.8% from 22.6%.  However, as a switch hitter he’s still struggling mightily against right handed pitching, with an OPS of just .608, almost 100 points lower than against left handed pitching. At 21 years of age Levi Michael is the 3rd youngest player on the Miracle Roster, and almost two full years younger than the average Florida State League player, so even if he spends all of 2012 and part of 2013 in Ft. Myers he would still be a full year younger than the average player when he joins the Double-A Rock Cats.

While his bat is still adjusting to the professional game, Michael is making most of the plays at both SS and 2B and leads the Miracle in games played and Fielding% at both positions.  Michael’s future in the middle infield is still up in the air as the Miracle have him splitting time between the two positions, spending slightly more time at short.  I’m not going to pretend to know much of anything about his defensive abilities beyond the tidbits I have listed above.  I have not seen him play in person, and I do not know if the errors he is committing are because he is getting to balls outside of his range and not making plays, or because he is just booting balls on routine plays.  Any help in this area would be greatly appreciated.

The biggest take-away on Levi Michael is that it is still early.  He is in his first year of professional baseball and he is one of the youngest players on his team.  He is going to face plenty more ups and downs in his career.  Compared to the Twins’ current shortstop, Brian Dozier, Michael has posted essentially the same line in his first year of High-A baseball that Dozier posted in his first full year at the same level, but Michael is two years younger and did not have the extra two years in the Twins system that Dozier had.  The future might not look bright right now, but Levi Michael is still the best middle infield prospect in the Twins system not named Eddie Rosario.

*The Twins whiffed on Lee in 1996, failing to sign him in the two weeks following the draft.  He eventually signed a $10 million dollar 4-year contract with the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks and was their starting first basemen in their inaugural season in 1998 (and came in 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting).  Lee posted a career bWAR of 5.3.

-ERolfPleiss

Greatness Must Be More Than a Tradition

Perhaps my favorite quote is one that has been attributed to Charles Lindbergh and it goes something like this: “A great tradition may be inherited, but true greatness must be achieved.”

I’ve been thinking about that lately, in the context of the Minnesota Twins. It’s not that I believe the current roster is great or really even has much of a chance of achieving greatness. They certainly haven’t given us reason to expect greatness in their first handful of games this season.

I wonder, though, how many members of this team understand what it takes to acheive greatness… or even a level approaching the near-greatness that the Twins class of 2002 that was honored Monday arguably captured. Not to understate the talent of the group, as a whole, but it seems like they had a spirit that drove them to at least strive for greatness.

They never really reached their goal… which, of course, was to win a World Series in Minnesota. They did, however, restore respectability to the organization and win a lot of baseball games, including a number of Division titles, in the process. They may not have achieved greatness, but they certainly achieved very-goodness… and the current crop of Twins have inherited that legacy.

Do they know what to do with that legacy, though? Do they recognize the need to achieve greatness for themselves or do they think that they should just be very good because the Twins teams that preceded them for most of the past decade have been very good?

It’s difficult to maintain greatness in pretty much any organization. Most consistently successful companies have formal or informal “succession planning” programs that assure continuity of purpose and philosophy. It’s not something that’s easy to do, even in the most conducive of corporate environments. Trying to develop such a philosophy in a Major League clubhouse where today’s team mate is tomorrow’s opponent and the hot-hitting rookie is a threat to take away a veteran’s livelihood is probably all but impossible.

Some mentoring goes on, of course. Not every veteran ballplayer has the, “it’s all about me and screw the guy coming up behind me,” mentality (let’s call that the Bret Favre mentality, shall we?). Kirby Puckett supposedly mentored Torii Hunter and Hunter supposedly did likewise with Denard Span. It happens, but it happens so seldom that it tends to gets elevated to mythical proportions when it does happen.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it occurs to me that this group of Twins… from the front office management to the on-field management to the veteran players to the rookies… have not achieved anything close to greatness. I suppose an argument can be made that Carl Pavano has acheived greatness, at least briefly, in his younger days with the Marlins. Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan deserve some credit for guiding that class of 2002 through their period of very-goodness.

What the Twins have in their clubhouse is an combination of a couple of very good baseball players who inherited the near-great tradition of the teams led by guys like Torii Hunter, Johan Santana and Corey Koskie, along with a few decent new players who, frankly, came from organizations that haven’t even had the kind of tradition the Twins have had, and a bunch of young players that really haven’t experienced anything approaching greatness in their professional careers.

When the Yankees or Red Sox or even the Braves start out a season by getting swept in their first series, there’s no cause for ledge jumping. Those teams have players who know what it takes to be great and are confident in their abilities to achieve greatness once again, despite a temporary set back. Who in the Twins’ clubhouse has that experience to fall back on, much less the ability to share it with team mates in a manner that instills confidence?

It’s difficult for a young player to step in to such a role. Most of them are too busy pinching themselves over the realization they’re Major League ballplayers playing a game in front of 40,000 people to think beyond the moment. But once they settle in to the routine, do any of them have the drive necessary to lead a team to achieve greatness? I hope so.

And what of management? Where will the next great leader of this organization come from? I doubt Ron Gardenhire’s job is in immediate jeopardy, but it’s almost impossible for me to imagine him leading the team through the next generation of ballplayers. Who will Terry Ryan and the Pohlads charge with the responsibility of leading the team of Joe Benson, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Kyle Gibson to a level of greatness not achieved in over two decades?

How will the current Twins and those coming up behind them learn to achieve greatness? In the absence of credible mentors to learn from, it will take someone (or better yet, multiple someones) with incredible leadership skills to build a winning mentality back nearly from scratch.

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Brunansky (photo: Jim Crikket)

I’m nowhere near knowledgeable enough about the Twins organization to predict who will step up to provide that kind of leadership or when it might arrive. Outside of watching the Beloit Snappers a few times a year and spending a week or so at the Twins’ spring training site every March, I have little to base an opinion on. Maybe players like Benson, Brian Dozier, Aaron Hicks and Liam Hendriks will eventually fill leadership roles on the field and in a future Twins clubhouse, but the guy I expect to see eventually establish a presence with the Big Club is former Twin Tom Brunansky.

If you spend any time hanging out around the minor league fields during spring training, you can tell which coaches tend to attract an audience when they speak. Two men have stood out to me as guys that always seem to have the attention of any player within earshot of them: Paul Molitor and Brunansky. Molitor serves in an instructional capacity every spring and it seems he’s pretty satisfied with that limited role, but Bruno has been moving up the organizational ranks as a hitting coach and is with the AAA team in Rochester this year.

I know there are people who feel Brunansky could or even should be promoted to the Twins’ hitting coach position to replace Joe Vavra. Personally, I think he’s fine right where he is… teaching the next generation of Twins how to play baseball. He’s the kind of coach… and, potentially, the kind of manager… that could bring credibility to a field management job if and when he gets his opportunity in Minnesota.

For now, this is admitedly all just idle conjecture. Then again, until the current Twins start winning some ball games and give us something else to focus on, idle conjecture is likely to lead to more interesting discussions than anything going on between the white lines.

- JC

 

JC’s Top 10 Twins Prospects List

Everyone else does it, so why shouldn’t Knuckleballs have our own Top 10 Twins Prospects list?

Well, the best reason NOT to do it would be that we don’t know nearly as much about the Twins minor leaguers as others who follow them almost religiously. But we’ve never let the fact that we’re not as smart as other people on a subject stop us from expressing our opinions, so why start now?

The first thing I note about this list (and just about every other list of top Twins prospects that I see elsewhere) is that there aren’t many players likely to be spending much time in a Minnesota Twins uniform in 2012. I actually hope that turns out to be the case, because it would mean the Twins stayed relatively healthy and maybe even in contention throughout the season.

In any event, here’s our Top 10 Twins Prospects as we head in to the 2012 season:

  1. Miguel Sano

    Miguel Sano – I suspect Sano will be the consensus top prospect. He was a boy in a man’s body the last couple of years in Spring Training and destroyed the pitchers he saw in the partial season minor leagues. This year, we’ll see how he fares in a full season of Class A ball, probably starting in Beloit. The Midwest League is infamous as a pitchers’ league, so if he gets anywhere within shouting distance of his Rookie League numbers, it will be impressive. Cross your fingers because Sano could be the only Twins prospect with legitimate superstar potential.

  2. Oswaldo Arcia – He’s a legitimate power hitting prospect who beat up on Low-A pitching, but didn’t have as much success after being promoted to High A Ft. Myers. Watch his walk rate. It dropped (along with pretty much every other offensive statistic) after the promotion and he’s going to need to regain it in order for his power to even matter as he rises up the ladder.
  3. Eddie Rosario – It’s going to be interesting to see if Rosario was able to develop any infield abilities at all during the fall instructional league where he got some time at 2B. He’s got enough offensive talent to be a regular contributor, but may not have enough to hold down a starting corner OF spot at the Major League level. But as a middle infielder? He could be very good.
  4. Aaron Hicks

    Aaron Hicks – It seems like Hicks has been a top-5 prospect for a decade. After seeing him a few times with Beloit a couple of years ago, I was less impressed with him than a lot of people. By last spring in Ft Myers, though, I thought he had matured in to his body well. This is a crucial year for Hicks.

  5. Joe Benson – He didn’t really impress in his cup of coffee with the Twins in 2011, but he didn’t look like he didn’t belong, either. This year we’ll see if he looks likely to be a long-term member of the organization.
  6. Levi Michael – The team’s first draft choice last year hasn’t yet “earned” this spot, but by virtue of his draft position, he probably gets a top 10 spot until he proves he’s NOT worthy of it. That may not be “right”, but it’s the way it is.
  7. Liam Hendriks

    Liam Hendriks – The Aussie shot up through the organization very quickly. Whether or not it was too quickly is something we’ll probably find out this season. If the Twins are going to get any rotation help from within their organization this season, there’s a good chance it would come from Hendriks.

  8. Kyle Gibson – It all comes down to how well he comes back from TJ surgery, but if he was worthy of being at the top of these lists in the past, he still belongs in the Top 10 until he demonstrates otherwise.
  9. Travis Harrison – I hesitate to put any guy on this list who hasn’t actually shown any more than Harrison has, but it’s pretty hard to ignore him completely. He’s got power, for sure, but reports are mixed a bit on whether he’ll be able to handle 3B or LF defensively.
  10. Chris Parmelee – He won’t be found on many other Top 10 lists, but there should be room on this list somewhere for a guy who has actually shown an indication that he is capable of hitting Major League pitching

If I was really ambitious, I’d have made this a “Top 25″ list, but that would reflect a degree of ambition (not to mention knowledge) that I simply do not have. One thing I can truthfully say, however, is that, with the exception of those players who will be attending their first Spring Training with the Twins organization, I’ve seen all of these players on the field with my own eyes during Spring Training and/or while suited up for the Beloit Snappers. I suspect that’s more than a lot of other “Top Prospects List” authors can say.

- JC

If The Price Is Right

If it’s the All-Star Break, then it must be time for fans to start talking about trades. We are, after all, just past the mid-point of the season and the non-waiver trade deadline is less than three weeks away.

At this point there are three kinds of teams… obvious buyers, obvious sellers and everyone else. The Twins are in that “everyone else” category because they haven’t established themselves as an obvious contender nor have they fallen so far back in the standings that they have virtually no chance of becoming contenders.

So, that means everyone is (or soon will be) posing the question, “Should the Twins Buy or Sell?” To me, the answer is… “Yes, if the price is right.”

What’s that you say, it wasn’t a “yes or no” question? Too bad.

Bill Smith

July trades generally are made between two parties, one a contender and one… well… not. The contender (or “buyer”) has a spot or two to fill to help push them to the top of the standings and/or prepare them to be a stronger playoff team. Their GM has to be willing to do one of two things… or both… (a) give up highly rated prospects or young (read: cheap) MLB-ready players; and/or (b) take on significant salary owed to an established (and often overcompensated) veteran player.

The other party to these trades (the “seller”) has some highly paid veteran players that are either having good seasons or have put up good numbers recently enough that a contending team might be willing to bet they could help put their team over the top this season and that team is looking to restock with young players that will help next season… and for several years to come. They also are likely looking to shed some salary because they recognize attendance is going to be dropping the rest of the season.

I think the Twins, thanks to the very weird season they’ve endured, find themselves in a unique position… they’ve pressed a lot of young players in to Major League action and many of them have performed well enough to demonstrate that they fit the “MLB-ready” criteria that “sellers” are wanting in return for established players. They also find themselves with an abundance of veteran outfielders and pitchers… many of whom will be free agents at the end of this season… that could be attractive to contending “buyers”. Finally, they’re already certain to exceed 3 million in paid attendance, so there’s no need at all to consider shedding salary to be a factor.

Denard Span

It amazes me how many suggestions I’ve read that the Twins trade a Denard Span or a Delmon Young for established relief pitching. That’s absurd on two levels. First, nobody who has top veteran relief pitching to trade is likely to look for expensive veterans in return. They’re going to want young players they can continue to pay the league minimum to for a while. Also, you simply don’t trade players of the quality of Span, Young, Cuddyer, etc., for relief pitching. Ever.  MAYBE you trade your Rene Tosonis and Trevor Plouffes… legitimate prospects (but not future superstars), guys you can (and likely will) find a way to live without in the future… for relief pitchers. The Twins SHOULD be “buyers”… they SHOULD get relief help… and they have enough decent young talent to use for that purpose. There are a lot of decent relievers (meaning better than what the Twins have been trotting out there for middle relief) on the market so it should be a buyer’s market. There’s no need to overpay.

At the same time, the Twins have demonstrated that they can compete without the likes of Delmon Young, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel in the line up. The question is… should they trade away a veteran or two and continue to try to compete without them? If the price is right, sure, why not?

Delmon Young

Of course, you do not just give any of these guys away. Even those who are going to be free agents are likely to be good for compensatory supplemental draft picks if they walk away at the end of the season. But because guys like Ben Revere, Luke Hughes, Anthony Swarzak, and Glen Perkins have demonstrated they can be relied upon to play a role with a contending team, the Twins CAN afford to deal SOME of their veterans and still remain in contention in the AL Central Division. If Twins GM Bill Smith can get real prospects in return for one of his outfielders or one of his pitchers, he should go ahead and do it. Would that mean running a risk in the event the Twins get hit with more injuries? Absolutely… but a GM’s job is to evaluate and take acceptable risks.

But what if the Twins do none of this? What if Smith takes a summer vacation and leaves his phone in the Twin Cities? Can the Twins compete if they do nothing at all?

Well, I still think getting some relief help is important, but otherwise… yeah… the Twins could stand pat and make a serious run the second half of the season… and in to the playoffs. How is that possible?

Justin Morneau

It’s possible because, even if Bill Smith takes that long summer vacation, he will be adding three quality veteran players by the July 30 deadline and another… a former MVP… by the August 30 waiver-deal deadline. Delmon Young has been reactivated and Denard Span sounds like he won’t be far behind. Jason Kubel should be returning not long afterward. Justin Morneau’s recovery seems on target for mid August. Name me a contending team that wouldn’t give a boatload to get four players like that over the next 5 weeks! And Smith doesn’t have to give up a thing.

And here’s the bonus, in my mind… many teams (including past Twins teams) expend so much emotion and energy trying to make the surge necessary to dig out of a deficit in the standings that their tank is empty in September and October. They’re worn out mentally and beat up physically. But most of the Twins top players shouldn’t be feeling worn down. Mauer, Morneau, Young, Kubel, Span… they’ll all be far fresher than most players at that point in the season.

The Twins also have enough starting pitching, with Swarzak, Kevin Slowey and Kyle Gibson (again, we’re assuming the GM makes no deals) ready to step in, that any member of the current rotation who gets as much as a hangnail could be DL’d for 14 days, allowed to get rested up, and come back strong.

This is not the time for Bill Smith to overspend. He doesn’t need… in fact can’t afford… another trade where he gives up a top prospect for a relief pitcher, like the Ramos-for-Capps deal a year ago. He can afford to wait for a trading partner who’s willing to overspend and, if necessary, settle for a moderate deal for middle relief help.

I hope he shows patience because God knows the blogging world is likely to urge otherwise.

- JC