Minnesota Twins Rookies

Last night, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout were awarded the Rookie of the Year awards, in the National and American League, respectively.  Harper and Trout did amazing things as rookies, and in the case of Mike Trout, had the best season a rookie has ever had.  Harper helped the Washington Nationals win their division, and Trout did his part to keep the Los Angeles Angels relevant until the final week of the season.  Minnesota Twins, on the other hand, had plenty of rookies suit up for them in 2012, but outside of Scott Diamond, none of them did much of anything to help the Twins win games (in fairness, the rest of the team was not exactly doing a lot to help the Twins win games either).

Scott Diamond (photo: Genevieve Ross/AP)

MLB classifies rookies as any player with less than 130 at bats or 50 innings pitched  or any player with less 45 or less days on the active roster during any part of the season other than September).  Using the at bat and innings pitched limits, the Twins used 16 different players in 2012 that qualified as rookies: Brian Dozier, Chris Parmelee, Darin Mastroianni, Pedro Florimon, Matt Carson, Eduardo Escobar, Erik Komatsu, Chris Herrmann, Scott Diamond, Liam Hendriks, Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries, Tyler Robertson, Lester Oliveros, Kyle Waldrop, and Casey Fien.  That’s 16 out of 47 total players used in 2012 for the Twins, or a little bit more than 1 out of every 3 Twins.  That is a lot of youth especially considering the Twins only called up a limited number of players in September, and just two rookies (Herrmann and Escobar).

As a group, those 16 rookies accounted for a grand total of 4.1 Wins Above Replacement.  They were led by Scott Diamond with 2.2 WAR, and at the other end was Liam Hendriks, -1.2 WAR.  In between the Twins saw surprisingly positive performances from waiver claim Darin Mastroianni(.8 WAR) and defensive specialist Pedro Florimon (.8 WAR).   The Twins were also disappointed by break-out candidate Chris Parmelee (-.6 WAR) and would-be lefty-specialist Tyler Robertson.

Here, alphabetically, is a closer look at each of the Twins’ 2012 rookies, including their status heading into 2013, as several players will still retain their rookie eligibility.

Matt Carson - 31, OF, .227/.246/.242 (BA/OBP/SLG) – Carson exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2012, which is pretty impressive for a guy that is 31 years old and had played in parts of two previous seasons.  The Twins called Matt Carson up late in the season when they were a little short on outfielders and Ron Gardenhire really seemed to enjoy having him around.  He’s unlikely to return to Minneapolis in 2013, as he is off of the 40 man roster, and the Twins have plenty of young outfielders just waiting to break onto the Major League roster.

Cole De Vries - 27, RHP, 87.2/4.11/58/18 (IP/ERA/SO/BB) – Cole De Vries was the right guy in the right place at the right time in 2012.  After signing as an undrafted free-agent in 2006 out of the University of Minnesota, De Vries spent the better part of the last six years quietly working his way through the Minnesota’s farm system.  De Vries struggled in 2010 (after being converted to a bullpen guy) between AA New Britain and AAA Rochester, but in 2011 he turned things around and despite starting the year back in Double-A, he finished the year in Rochester with a combined 3.40 ERA.  De Vries started 2012 in Rochester (once again as a starting pitcher) and when the arms were falling off of every Twins starting pitcher with a hear beat, he was called up to the big leagues and performed better than many had expected.  De Vries has lost his rookie eligibility heading into 2013, but he remains on the 40-man roster and has an outside chance of being the Twins’ 5th starter this spring.

Samuel Deduno - 29, RHP, 79.0/4.44/57/53 – Deduno was having himself a very surprising 2012 campaign until a string of bad starts toward the tail end of the season ballooned his ERA over 4.  Deduno is a guy that has great movement on his pitches, but unfortunately not even he knows where the ball is likely to end up and as a result, Deduno finished the year with almost as many walks as strike outs.  Deduno seemed to get a handle on his wildness about half way through his season, and will need to show increased control this spring but could battle De Vries for that 5th spot in the rotation.  Deduno is on the 40-man roster and has exhausted his rookie eligibility.

Scott Diamond - 26, LHP, 173.0/3.54/90/31 – He turned out to be the Twins’ most effective starting pitcher in 2012, leading the team in innings, and providing the Twins with a reliable performance every fifth day.  Without Diamond the Twins’ best starter would have been Samuel Deduno, certainly not anyone’s idea of a staff ace.  Diamond is the only starting pitcher from the 2012 staff that has been guaranteed a spot in the 2013 rotation, and if the Twins can do enough in free agency, Diamond slots in as a solid number 3.  Like Deduno, Diamond remains on the 40-man roster and is no longer eligible as a rookie.

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Why We Watch – Losing and the Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins are 59-84, they’ve been officially eliminated from the Wild Card race and they will be out of postseason contention with three White Sox wins, three Twins losses, or some combination thereof.  There are 19 games left in the 2012 season, Minnesota has almost nothing to play for, and yet I continue to watch.

What Do You Watch For?

Last night’s 10-5 loss was actually a fairly exciting game for 7 innings.  While P.J. Walters only went 4 innings (he pitched to the first six batters in the 5th inning without recording an out), he was going along pretty well before running into some serious trouble in the 5th inning and giving up 6 earned runs.  While the bullpen eventually coughed up 4 more runs in the 8th to run the lead to 10-5, the Twins battled back in the bottom of the 5th and were within a single run until the 8th inning.  But why did I continue to watch a 10-5 game through the final out of the 9th inning?  Because I want to see which current players the Twins think will have a chance to be a part of the 2013 club.  Today I’ll talk about pitching, and Saturday I’ll come back and talk about what kinds of things I’m looking for from the position players.

Pitching:

Walters, given his performance last night, coupled with what he’s already done (or failed to do) earlier this year both with the Twins and in AAA, it is unlikely that he comes back as anything other than AAA roster filler.

Anthony Swarzak came in for Walters, pitched 2.2 scoreless innings, giving up just 2 hits, no walks and recording a strike out.  Swarzak’s ERA (4.93) is pretty high given the current depressed run environment in Major League Baseball, but his line looks drastically better if you only look at his performance as a reliever.  His ERA is under 4, his WHIP is just 1.218 and he’s striking out more than 6 batters per nine innings, all as a reliever.  Now, he’s certainly not great, but as a cheap, dependable long-reliever, Swarzak is exactly what you’d hope he would be.  I certainly hope he’s back in 2013.

Brian Duensing, Casey Fien and Tyler Robertson all gave up a run without pitching an entire inning (Fien and Robertson failed to even record an out).  Duensing probably still has a role in the bullpen, and Fien has pitched pretty well in 2012 in his 27.1 innings, so he likely sticks around and competes for a spot as well.  Robertson, however, has really struggled this year, posting a 6.00 ERA.  As a left handed pitcher he’s been really good against left-handed batters (.193 BA against), but he’s struggled to do much of anything against right-handed batters (.313 BA against).  He is still young (just 24 despite being drafted in 2006), and is likely being slightly misused by Gardenhire as he’d probably be a pretty valuable LOOGY (Left-handed One Out GuY) if the Twins limited his exposure to right handed batters, but more than a third of the time he’s facing opposite sided hitters, allowing the batter to reap the platoon advantage.  I’m note sure what the Twins will do with him going forward, he might just need some more time at AAA (only 28.1 innings at AAA, all coming in 2012).

Kyle Waldrop came into the 8th, gave up a couple of hits before retiring the side and the Twins went to the bottom of the 8th down 10-5.  Waldrop was not charged with any earned runs, but he gave up two singles that scored runs, then hit a batter before getting Lorenzo Cain to hit into an inning ending double play.  Certainly not the kind of performance the Twins were hoping for when they bring in a guy to try and keep an inning from getting out of hand.  Drafted out of high school in 2004, Waldrop is now 26 and has spent the better part of the last three seasons at AAA Rochester posting pretty solid numbers.  His career AAA ERA is 3.21 over 201.2 innings, so he likely has nothing left to prove in Rochester.  Waldrop’s real issue, like so many other Twins pitchers, is his inability to strike batters out.  After arriving in AAA with a 6.2 SO/9, he saw that rate fall in 2011 to  5.0 and all the way down to 4.1 in 2012.  With the Twins his strike out rate has been virtually non-existent, a minuscule 2.5, and he has more walks than strikeouts.  Waldrop has dealt with some injury in 2012, and the Twins will likely run him out a few more times this year to see if Waldrop has anything else, but I do not expect him to have a place with the Twins in 2013.

To close out the game the Twins turned to Luis Perdomo.  Perdomo pitched a perfect 9th inning, sending the Royals down 1-2-3 and recording 2 strikeouts along the way.  Of his 8 performances this year for the Twins, last night was his best, and his only appearance without allow a walk or a hit.  Perdomo is 28 and with his 5th organization, so he is pretty much a known commodity at this point.  The Twins obviously want to get a closer look at Perdomo, he was one of their two September call ups.  Whether or not he has a place with the Twins in 2013 will come down to Perdomo putting up more numbers like he did last night.

So those are my thoughts on the players from last night, and those are the sort of things I’m watching down the stretch.  19 games left, GO TWINS!

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins @ Tigers #2, 6:05pm

Obligatory statement about the weather: it’s not as hot here as they said it was going to be – by that I mean it didn’t make it to 100 – just more of the same we’ve had for the last week.

That being said, it’s a lot cooler in Detroit! That’s because it’s RAINING. There is a thunderstorm in progress in Detroit according to weather.com although I haven’t seen anything in the pregame stuff about the weather yet but the thunderstorms aren’t supposed to quit until 7 pm central or so. That’s definitely early enough to get the game in but I haven’t seen any sign that they are talking about delaying the game so maybe things are already easing. *shrug* maybe one of our local Twins weather people will speak up and advise us at some point soon..

[EDIT] according to Ben Collin (TTBB) ‏@bennyc50
Personally I think #MNTwins and #Tigers will have a 1 hr delay at least considering the storms still heading in from the north.

As for the game itself, things look pretty normal lineup-wise. It could be painful to be facing this Detroit lineup if Blackburn is having a bad day. I’m really hoping he has a good day.

Minnesota

@

Detroit
Span, CF Jackson, A, CF
Revere, RF Berry, LF
Mauer, C Cabrera, Mi, 3B
Willingham, LF Fielder, 1B
Morneau, 1B Young, D, DH
Plouffe, 3B Avila, C
Doumit, DH Raburn, 2B
Dozier, SS Boesch, RF
Casilla, A, 2B Santiago, SS
  Blackburn, P   Below, P

 

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

Remember how everyone brought up the fact that the Twins didn’t hit anything but singles on Monday night? Well, they made up for it tonight. Their 10 hits tonight included two doubles and three home runs. Of course, we need to express our gratitude to Tigers shortstop Ramon Santiago for sucking on defense, but then pretty much the whole world (at least those not named Leyland) knew the Tigers would suck on defense this season from the moment they showed up to Spring Training.

Anyway, our guys get another win and that’s always a good thing. Nick Blackburn struggled, giving up six earned runs in four innings of work, but once again the Twins bullpen was outstanding. That’s become almost routine lately.

Speaking of things being almost routine, both Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe hit home runs again! But on the not-so-routine side of the ledger, so did Joe Mauer!

The Boyfriend of the Day voting was close and while I think it’s great when there are so many worthy options, I was personally dismayed that I cast the lone vote for Mauer, who went 3-5 with a 2B and a HR, scoring 3 runs. Then again, Willingham also had a 2B and a HR and nobody voted for him! Trevor Plouffe had some support after not only launching a HR, but also flashing some impressive leather (there’s something we don’t have near enough opportunities to say, right?).

But Jeff Gray pitched two shutout innings, while Kyle Waldrop, Tyler Robertson and Glen Perkins each added one shutout inning of their own. Not only that, but thanks to Plouffe’s outstanding snag of a line drive that turned in to a double play and Mauer’s perfect throw to nail Brennan Boesch trying to steal, the four relievers all actually faced the minimum number of batters possible in their collective five innings of work. Their efforts allowed the Twins hitters to pull out a win AND earned them a collective “group” BOD award! – JC

Jeff Gray (Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Kyle Waldrop (Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Tyler Robertson

Glen Perkins

 

St. Patty’s Day is Separation Day

St. Patrck’s Day means different things to different people. But if you’re a baseball player trying to make a Big League ballclub, you should have a pretty good idea of where you stand with your manager and General Manager by the time you lift your first green beer of the evening on March 17.

At this point, there are just over two weeks left of Spring Training, so if you have any hope of heading north with the Big Club, you had better have made some sort of positive impression by now. You simply can’t look like Leprechaun feces on the field for the first half of March and expect to be wearing a Major League uniform on Opening Day.

The Twins had 67 players in their Big League camp to begin with and will take only 25 with them to Baltimore to begin the regular season. In reality, there were only a handful of spots open on the Twins roster to begin with and not much has changed with regard to those players that were “locks.” Of course, Joel Zumaya’s injury immediately made one more bullpen spot available and now there’s some question whether Scott Baker’s tender elbow could cause him to start the season on the Disabled List, which would open up another pitching spot. Otherwise, the Twins were really only looking to determine who their bench position players would be and fill out the back end of their bullpen.

So let’s look at who the leaders are as the guys take that long bus ride across the state of Florida for a St. Patty’s Day contest with Ozzie’s new-look Miami Marlins this afternoon. (Our friend and fellow blogger, Thrylos, has been maintaining “scorecards” that track game-by-game performance of those contending for bench positions and bullpen spots over at The Tenth Inning Stretch. It’s a handy tool that you should glance at regularly.)

All statistics are through Friday, March 16.

Third Catcher:

It’s been almost a foregone conclusion that the Twins would carry a third catcher, in addition to Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit, They’re still carrying six other catchers, but Danny Lehmann, Chris Herrmann and Daniel Rolfing will be heading back to minor league camp as the number of pitchers is thinned out.

The assumption has been that non-roster invite J.R. Towles would challenge Drew Butera, but Rene Rivera has perhaps been the most consistent performer of the group. Towles made a good first impression early in the month, but has been mediocre, at best, since then. Don’t rule out Butera, however. After a slow start, he’s had a couple of good games recently. I think Drew remains the odds-on favorite to keep his spot on the Twins bench. Here’s a fun small sample size Spring Training fact, however: Going in to today’s game, all three of these potential back-up back-up catchers are hitting at least .300 in official Spring Training games.

Other bench players:

The Twins really only have open spots for a utility infielder or two, if we assume that Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe have secure spots as the third and fourth outfielders. There was no shortage of infield candidates, but to be brutally honest, there haven’t been three guys who have thus far demonstrated that they deserve to get a MLB paycheck.

The best of the bunch, so far, is Chris Parmelee (.368/.478/,684). His performance this spring would seem to indicate that his impressive September call-up was not a fluke. The problem is, it’s unlikely that the Twins really want him to spend 2012 sitting on the Twins bench. He needs to play baseball every day and, unless Justin Morneau is unable to answer the bell in April, Parmelee is going to be the Rochester first baseman.

Non-roster invite Mike Hollimon has looked good (.400/.455/.700), but he has to keep it up if he’s going to force the front office to give him someone else’s spot on the 40-man roster. On the other hand, unlike with Parmelee, the Twins wouldn’t think twice about letting him collect splinters on the Big League club’s bench if he can fill in around the infield and be effective in a pinch-hitting role.

Luke Hughes (.273/.333/.500) is definitely still in the hunt for a bench spot, as well. He’s out of options, which helps his cause. He also started out physically behind other contenders, as he nursed his shoulder back to health. Since returning to regular playing time at bat and in the field, his performance has picked up considerably and he finished this week strong.

Of the rest of the candidates for bench spots, nobody as been absolutely terrible, but nobody has been consistently good, either. Outfielder Joe Benson (.250/.304/.400) has been impressive at times, especially defensively, but he’s got the same issue Parmelee does… the Twins won’t keep him just to sit on the bench. Brian Dozier (.250/.294/.375) is probably in the same boat.

Handicapping the race with two weeks left, I’d say the early favorites remain the most likely players to open the year in Twins uniforms. Luke Hughes has a spot unless he kicks it away. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.261/.292/..348) probably does, too, not so much because he’s looked good, but because almost nobody else has looked a heck of a lot better. Keep an eye on Hollimon, though, because if he finishes strong, he could force the Twins to make a very difficult decision regarding Nishioka.

The rest… Aaron Bates, Sean Burroughs, Ray Chang, Brian Dinkelman and Pedro Florimon… have had a moment or two they can be proud of, but I look for each of them to be sent down or released over the next 7-10 days.

Pitchers:

Things are much more interesting… and surprisingly optimistic… on the pitching front. For all the fretting about how the Twins would manage to cobble together a bullpen capable of backing up one of the most mediocre rotations in baseball last season, we’ve seen a number of candidates make strong cases that they deserve a shot.

Let’s start with Liam Hendriks (7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP). He started out pitching just an inning in his outings, but threw three hitless innings at the Red Sox when he got a chance to start. He was never likely to fill a bullpen role for the Twins to start the season, but if Baker has to postpone his season debut a while, Hendriks has looked good enough to step in to his spot. Whether he’s a Twin on Opening Day or not, I look for Hendriks to play a significant role for the Twins over the course of the season.

Alex Burnett, Carlos Gutierrez, Jeff Manship and Kyle Waldrop needed to perform well this spring. Those are guys who have been brought up in the organization and who the Twins expected to be developed enough at this point to be contributing at the Major League level. A big reason there are so many pitchers in camp that have been signed from other organizations within the past year or two is that those four pitchers have not yet proved they can do the job.

Burnett (2.2 IP, 16.87 ERA) has struggled, but the other three guys have been pitching well. They are getting some competition from Matt Maloney, Jared Burton, Casey Fien and P.J. Walters, all of whom have been pretty impressive, as well.

Others have had a good day here and there, as well, but I think the field has been narrowed to Gutierrez (5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.200 WHIP ), Manship (4.1 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0.462 WHIP), Waldrop (4 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.750 WHIP), Maloney (5.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.750 WHIP), Burton (5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.000 WHIP), Fien (3.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.300 WHIP) and Walters (5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP).

Keep in mind that Gutierrez, Manship and Waldrop are all already on the Twins’ 40-man roster, while the four “outsiders” are not which means the Twins would need to find room for any of them they decide to keep. [EDIT: Matt Maloney is also already on the 40-man roster... my bad.] This race is still too close to call, but I’m excited that there are so many guys who are meeting and even exceeding expectations as we head in to the final couple of weeks of Spring Training.

I’ll be heading down to Ft. Myers for the final week of Spring Training and I’m looking forward to seeing how this all shakes out.

- JC

Looking for Breakout Seasons

By this point, everyone knows the variables that will determine whether the Twins will have a successful 2012 season, right? Mauer, Morneau, Baker and Span have to stay healthy and the bullpen needs to be vastly improved over last year. We know all of that because every beat writer, columnist and blogger has pointed at those issues over and over again since October.

Sure, if the established veterans all return to the level of productivity we’ve come to expect from them, the Twins should avoid the kind of meltdown they suffered through last season. That said, if the team is going to actually contend in 2012, they’re going to need more. They will need breakout seasons from players that have not yet demonstrated that they belong among the American League’s elite names at their positions.

But where can the Twins expect to find those potential breakout seasons?

The typical arc of a professional baseball player’s career is actually more predictable than one might think. Their prime years are pretty much from ages 26 to 32. We all spent a lot of time discussing the back end of that range during the offseason, as we discussed the pros and cons of offering multi-year contracts to Michael Cuddyer, who is just past that “prime” range, and Joe Nathan, who is well past it.

But when you are looking for potential breakout years, it makes more sense to focus on the front end of the range. The Twins are notorious for bringing their minor league prospects along slowly through the organization and, for a club with a reputation for disregarding advanced statistical analysis, it appears that they may have a basis for this particular proclivity. Projecting that most players hit their strides at age 26, I doubt that it’s a coincidence that most Twins prospects aren’t often starting their Major League careers (and their arbitration clocks) until they’re at least 24 years old. The Twins apparently try to time a player’s Big League debut a year or two before they expect him to break out and become a fully productive Major League ballplayer, then get as much of their peak years as possible while they’re still affordable.

Glen Perkins

For example, Cuddyer was getting his first real full-time duty with the Twins at age 25 and had his first OPS above .800 (or first OPS+ season over 100, if you prefer that metric) in his age 27 season. Torii Hunter got a taste of the Big Leagues in the season during which he turned 24, but he really figured it out in 2001, the season he turned 26. More recently, Glen Perkins may have made his debut at age 24, but it wasn’t until last year, in his age 28 season, that he carved out a meaningful role for himself with the Twins.

Armed with this knowledge, who should we be looking at in 2012 as having the potential to have breakout seasons? Here’s a list of possible candidates:

Trevor Plouffe turns 26 years old in June. He’s shown some pop in his bat and, let’s be honest, if he had demonstrated passable defensive abilities, he’d be the Twins regular shortstop right now. If he can play a decent outfield, Plouffe could establish himself this season. But few players really get it all figured out in their first full year of regular time in the Show, so we should probably hold off on establishing those expectations of Trevor quite yet. Maybe next year.

The same would be true of pitchers Anthony Swarzak and Kyle Waldrop. Both will be 26 years old pretty much throughout the upcoming season, but given their relative lack of Major League experience, it’s probably not realistic to expect them to have Glen Perkins-like results already this season.

Luke Hughes

Infielder Luke Hughes is starting his age 27 season and he got a few swings in at the Big League level last year, so we can hope to see him step his game up a little bit. He’s not currently penciled in for a regular starting job, though, so you have to wonder if he’ll get the plate appearances necessary to make significant strides in 2012.

So if those candidates aren’t likely to break out, who will?

First, keep in mind that Denard Span just turned 28 years old a couple of weeks ago, so while he’s arguably already had his breakout season, he’s still on the front side of his peak years. He’s reached the point of being physically mature and has enough experience that he really should no longer be seeing much of anything offensively or defensively for the first time. That being the case, I’d like to see Span take a big step forward with his game this season, assuming he can stay healthy.

Another familiar name on my list of potential breakout seasons is Francisco Liriano. We’ve been waiting for him to have a true breakout season for what seems like forever. Despite having several seasons of Major League experience in the books, Liriano is still just now entering his age 28 season. That’s slightly past our “breakout season” ages, but it’s not too late to see it happen… yet. That said, this is arguably the last year that anyone can make the, “he’s still a young pitcher with potential,” statement, so it’s now or never (at least with the Twins organization) for Frankie.

If it seems like Alexi Casilla has been around forever, too, it’s because he has. He was rushed a bit after being acquired from the Angels for J.C. Romero and his service clock started while he was still just 23 years old. That means he’s just now entering his age 27 season (he turns 28 in July). Casilla has been inconsistent, to say the least. But this season, he’s starting off at what’s arguably his best defensive position, second base, and so far this spring he’s making good contact from his spot at the bottom of the Twins order. The game should finally be slowing down a bit for Lexi and if he can play decent defense while getting on base with regularity, he could play a significant positive role for the Twins in 2012.

Danny Valencia

Finally, the guy with perhaps the greatest potential for having a true breakout season is third baseman Danny Valencia, who will be 27 years old throughout the first five months of the season. Valencia’s had two full years now to adjust to Big League pitching and there’s no reason he shouldn’t take a major step forward in 2012. Everyone seems to project Valencia as hitting in the #7 spot in the Twins lineup and he very well may start the season there, but if he’s still hitting in the bottom third of the order in August, I’ll be disappointed.

So those are my “breakout season” picks… Liriano, Casilla and Valencia (with some additional improvement also from Span). Talk all you want about Mauer, Morneau, Baker and the bullpen, but in my mind, the Twins’ success, or lack thereof, this season is riding just as much on the ability of these players to make significant strides as any other factor. They are hitting their prime years and it’s time for them to show fans what they’re made of.

- JC

Reinforcements: Hendriks, Dinkelman, Waldrop

Media reports have Liam Hendriks joining the Twins in time to start Tuesday’s game and he’ll be joined on his trip to the “Show” by Brian Dinkelman and Kyle Waldrop.

Liam Hendriks

The interesting thing is that apparently none of the three players are currently on the Twins’ 40-man roster. There is one opening on that roster currently, so that means a couple of guys are going to have go.

There are a couple of players I certainly wouldn’t shed tears over if they were sent packing for good, but waiving players is only one way to clear room for the new arrivals. Players placed on the 60-day Disabled List are exempted from the 40-man roster.

Denard Span has returned to Minnesota from his home in Florida and is reportedly working out at Target Field. All the same, given the state of the Twins’ season (in the crapper), it might make sense to just shut Denard down for the season and tell him to focus on coming back ready to go in Spring Training 2012. That would open up one spot on the roster for one of the new arrivals.

As for the other… how about this for an idea. Given that Joe Mauer missed several weeks with “general soreness”, can’t we pretty much assume he’ll miss at least the remaining three weeks of the season with his current bout with “general congestion”, too? If so, let’s just throw him on the 60day DL, too and send him home to Ft. Myers. Maybe by Spring Training, he’ll be over his cold (and hopefully will have found his manhood, as well).

While we’re at it, why not just shut Justin Morneau down, too? Is there really any point in having him continue to try to fight his way back on to the field this month?

Brian Dinkelman

Seriously… there is simply no reason to have any of these guys on the field at this point. The next three weeks are about seeing the young players and letting guys like Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel try to finish out their seasons strong enough to make them Type A free agents so the Twins can get an extra draft pick if they decide to play elsewhere next year.

In any event, congratulations to Liam, Brian and Kyle… make the most of your opportunities, gentlemen!

- JC

What I Learned On Vacation

Make no mistake, the worst part of spending a week hanging around the Twins Spring Training site in Ft. Myers is the first day back at work when you get home. But as bad as that is, it’s well worth it to have made the trip.

Channeling the inner child in me, today I thought I would reflect and write a bit about what I learned on my vacation, much the way my 2nd grade teacher asked the class to do upon the start of a new school year.

I attended five “official” spring training games, as well as parts of a few minor league games, several of which included appearances by various members of the Twins MLB club. I arrived at just about the right time to start getting looks at Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, who hadn’t taken part in games before I got down there. On the other hand, I only got to see Michael Cuddyer face minor league pitching and take batting practice (which, let’s face it, is pretty much the same thing for a hitter of Cuddyer’s abilities). So, what have I learned?

Tsuyoshi Nishioka looks like the real deal. He’s riding a ten game hitting streak and he’s been very impressive at second base. He and Alexi Casilla are looking very smooth turning double plays, as well.

Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert

There actually is a very real and very close competition for the utility infielder spot on the roster. Most of us just assumed Matt Tolbert would be handed the job, but Luke Hughes has hit five home runs and three doubles in 19 games. He’s also leading the team with 15 strikeouts, but the prospect of having a right handed hitter with some pop on the bench has to be pretty attractive for Ron Gardenhire. That said, over the past few days, it has been Tolbert that’s looking better at the plate and he’s certainly more accomplished and versatile with the glove. This race is still too close to call, though if I were the one getting to make the decision, I think having that strong righthanded bat available off the bench would nudge me in the direction of giving the job to Hughes.

Gardenhire has announced that Kevin Slowey is the odd man out of the rotation to start the season, assuming everyone stays healthy over the last week of Spring Training. That makes sense to me and Slowey is handling it like the classy professional he is. His shift to the bullpen means the competition is coming down to the wire for the three remaining spots in the pen.

Depending on which media outlet you read and on which day, any one of seven candidates are “likely” to claim one of those three roster spots. Here’s a rundown on the guys still competing for those spots, including the three that I believe should… and will… open the season in the Twins bullpen.

Scott Diamond, who is the Rule V draftee that the Twins took from the Braves, is a lefthanded pitcher that the Twins reportedly have long “liked”. I didn’t see enough of Diamond to really judge his abilities, but I don’t see much chance that he opens the season with the Twins. Ideally, they can send Atlanta a minor leaguer in exchange for the right to keep Diamond and send him to Rochester, but from what I’ve seen and read, if the Twins have to send him back to the Braves, it wouldn’t be a catastrophe.

I’ve seen articles indicating the Twins like Kyle Waldrop enough to keep him on the roster to open the season. Maybe. But if that’s the case, they sure have a funny way of showing it. He’s only pitched five innings in Spring Training (about half of what most of the other bullpen candidates have thrown) and while his numbers are impressive (no earned runs, 7 Ks, no walks), if they were serious about keeping him to open the season, I think they’d be giving him more opportunities to pitch. Let’s see how much work he gets in the next few games. UPDATE: mlb.com’s Rhett Bollinger reported Wednesday afternoon that the Twins announced Waldrop would be among a group of players who would make the trip to Atlanta for the final exhibition games and then be reassigned to a minor league team.

Jeff Manship is another guy who a lot of people seem to think will be sticking with the Big Club. I don’t see it, unless the Twins do trade Slowey before Opening Day. I see Slowey and Manship as potentially filling the same role in the bullpen and as long as Slowey is there, Manship would be redundent. Manship’s spring pitching line (6.30 ERA in 10 innings, 11 hits, 5 Ks, 3 BBs) just hasn’t been all that impressive when compared to some of the guys he’s competing with.

Carlos Gutierrez is the young, up and coming bullpen arm that Gardy has been hinting he’d like to keep around. It’s not going to happen. As long as there are other options, the front office is going to want to hold off on bringing Gutierrez up until at least June to keep his MLB service clock from starting until then. If he were head and shoulders better than any other option, you wouldn’t let the service time issue keep him down on the farm, but he’s not… so it will. UPDATE: mlb.com’s Rhett Bollinger reported Wednesday afternoon that, like Waldrop, the Twins announced Gutierrez would be among a group of players who would make the trip to Atlanta for the final exhibition games and then be reassigned to a minor league team on March 30.

That leaves these three guys as those I believe should, and will, fill those final three spots in the pen:

Glen Perkins

Glen Perkins is a guy a lot of Twins fans seem to love to hate. He’s certainly given plenty of reasons for us to doubt him over the past few years, but this spring, when asked to compete for a bullpen job, he’s done so and pitched well. He’s thrown 9 innings and has accumulated a 2.00 ERA, giving up 8 hits, striking out 6 and walking 3 hitters. I suggest fans put the past behind us and look forward to Perkins being in the Twins bullpen. He’s out of options and there’s no way he would clear waivers so the Twins would lose him if they don’t give him one of the bullpen spots. They could conceivably still trade him before Opening Day, but he’s clearly been one of the three best relief pitchers among the contenders listed here, so I expect #15 to open the season with the Twins.

Dusty Hughes

The Twins are likely to open with three lefties in the pen because, in addition to Perkins and Jose Mijares, Dusty Hughes is going to make the team. The Twins snatched him off waivers from the Royals, largely because a number of Twins hitters confirmed to the staff that the guy is tough for them to hit. If the Twins’ own talented stable of lefthanded hitters think a pitcher is tough, he’s a guy worth taking a chance on. Hughes has proven worthy of their praise this spring, having yet to give up a run and allowing only six hits in 10 innings on the mound. He has walked five hitters, however, which matches the five he’s struck out.

That leaves one final spot and this is the spot I feel strongest about. The Twins need Jim Hoey in the bullpen.

Jim Hoey

Hoey, obtained from the Orioles as part of the JJ Hardy trade, got off to a bit of a slow start this spring in his first few appearances, but over the past week, he has demonstrated why the Twins wanted him. He brings one thing that none of the other Twins bullpen arms (or starting pitchers, for that matter) have… and that is overpowering velocity. While virtually every other pitcher on this list has a fastball that tops out in the low 90s, Hoey throws 95 mph… warming up. When he’s serious, he’ll fire in there somewhere in the 97-99 mph range. His issue, early in camp, was controlling that heat, but he’s been throwing his fastballs at the knees and if he can do that regularly, look for a lot of strikeouts, ground balls, and broken bats.

And here’s the thing… when you have a guy who’s 6′ 6″ and throws the ball almost 100 mph, you don’t really WANT him to have pinpoint control. The only chance 90% of Major League hitters have of hitting a ball traveling that fast on the sweet spot of the bat is if they can dig in and swing early. If the pitcher has a reputation for being jussssssst a little wild, not many hitters will be doing that “digging in” thing. We’re not talking Nuke LaLoosh wild here, either. TC Bear isn’t going to get beaned and John Gordon isn’t going to have to be ducking in the radio booth.

Finally, while not a lot has been written about it lately, a decision is going to have to be made with regard to whether Joe Nathan or Matt Capps starts the season as the Twins closer.

The sentimental favorite is Joe Nathan. He’s certainly earned the faith and loyalty of the Twins coaches, as well as the fans’ devotion. But, frankly, he just hasn’t pitched as well as Matt Capps this spring and unless something changes over the next week, I’d have to give the closing job to Capps while Nathan serves as the primary set up arm. Nathan has an 8.53 ERA and has given up seven hits and walked three, in just 6 and a third innings of work. Granted, a lot of the damage was inflicted in one very poor outing, but as much as I wanted to see the old Twitchy out there on the mound this past week, I don’t think he’s all the way back. Capps, on the other hand, has yet to give up a run in 7 and a third innings, allowing only four hits, not walking anyone, and striking out five hitters. Sentiment aside, Capps has earned the closer role, at this point.

In the end, here’s the main thing I learned on my vacation… looking at this lineup, and even at the quality of the players who will NOT make the Opening Day roster, I see a team with the potential to be very, very good.

Let’s get this party started!

- JC

The Twins Roster – What to do, what to do?

I’ve stayed away from watching the Twins the last couple of games, partially of necessity and partially by choice, but I’m ready to get back in the game. I figured a good way to jump back in would be to share my wisdom with Gardy and Bill Smith on the subject of what roster moves should be made.

I know they say you don’t mess with something that isn’t broken, but let’s be clear… even though the Twins have won several more games than they’ve lost, this roster is at least cracked, if not broken. You don’t carry 13 pitchers, even for just a couple of days, and even pretend that all’s well.

One roster move we all know WILL happen this weekend is that JJ Hardy will be coming off the Disabled List. What’s less clear is who will be removed from the 25-man roster to make room for Hardy. The most likely move will be to send pitcher Jeff Manship back to Rochester since, according to media reports, he was brought up just to give the Twins some bullpen depth in Boston after the pen got used and abused in Toronto earlier in the week. In all likelihood, that’s the only move the Twins will make this weekend… but that doesn’t make it the only move they SHOULD make or even the best move they COULD make.

Casilla should have been Hardy's replacement.

But before I get to my wish list of roster moves, let me take a step back and discuss the Hardy situation briefly. Yes, it will be good to get JJ back and yes, he’s been a very good defender and no, you dare not underestimate the value of his defense to his team and specifically to his pitching staff. That said, I really would love to know why the heck Gardy hasn’t simply plugged Alexi Casilla’s name in to the lineup in Hardy’s absence instead of moving players around the infield like chess pieces. Specifically, I’d like to know what it is that Brendan Harris has done to warrant getting as many starts in Hardy’s absence as Casilla has.

Look, I like Casilla… always have. But I’ve also been a bit of a fan of Harris, so this is not a personal preference thing on my part. This is a “the numbers couldn’t possibly make things any more obvious” thing. Hardy’s offensive contribution so far this year has been pretty pedestrian, but that’s OK for your #8 hitter. His .250/.299/.400 line (batting average/on base pct/slugging pct) isn’t great but it’s tolerable at this point in the season.

But when faced with replacing Hardy for a couple of weeks, why in the world would you give as much playing time to Harris (.181/.277/.264 on the season and .148/.179/.185 the past two weeks) as you do to Casilla (.273/.351/.364 on the season and .294/.400/.471 the past two weeks)? It’s not like Harris is better defensively at SS, either. It just baffles me. In fact, even with Hardy coming back, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be starting Casilla until I’m sure JJ is 100%. Ah well.

Now about that roster.

Valencia isn't ready to replace LNP... yet!

What you won’t hear from me is a loud cry to “bring up the guys from AAA!” I believe there is generally a reason why some players are in the Bigs and some are in Rochester. And let’s face it, the Red Wings aren’t exactly ripping up the International League folks. After getting blown away by Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg last night, they’ve got the worst record in the I-League. So I’m not going to rant about how half their roster should be promoted while the Twins send a bunch of guys packing who have been contributing (in various degrees) to the Twins success this season. For example, count me as one vote against bringing Danny Valencia  and/or Trevor Plouffe up until they show more (Valencia more power and Plouffe more glove) in Rochester.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone down there who could improve things for the Twins, either.

First, there’s no point in screwing around with the position players. You add Hardy and leave it at that. But the pitching staff… oh my… yes there are some improvements that could and should be made there.

This is perhaps a good time for me to say I wish people would stop with the “Rauch is doing so well that the Twins don’t really miss Nathan” crap. Jon Rauch has been great. But wouldn’t you love to have him being great as Nathan’s set-up man, instead? You’d basically be shortening every game the Twins led after 7 innings to a 7 inning game.

But we’ve got to deal with the situation as it is, without Nathan, and they’re going to have to get down to a 12-man staff to make room for Hardy. As I mentioned, sending Manship down to Rochester is the easy call. But is it the only call or even the right call? Well, kinda.

I do believe you send Manship down. In fact, I don’t quite understand why he was the choice to be brought up in the first place since he really hasn’t been Rochester’s best pitcher (or even their best starting pitcher… among a group of pretty poor starting pitchers). In fact, I can only think of one reason to keep Manship with the Twins… and that’s so you can use him as your long reliever while you send Brian Duensing down to Rochester.

Why send a guy who’s pitched as well as Duensing has down to AAA? Only one good reason… to have him stretch his arm out so you can bring him back up and plug him in to the rotation. When he’s ready, you call him up and give him Kevin Slowey’s spot, move Slowey to the long relief role and send Manship back down.

Now, last but not least, we come to the obvious question everyone is asking. When are the Twins going to give up on Jesse Crain? The answer should be “now”. It is time to designate him for assignment and, if the Twins can’t get anything for him in a trade, eat the $1 million or so they’d owe him and release him. Even saying that, I believe Crain will go on to have a productive career somewhere else. I just don’t think the Twins, in a year in which they believe they have World Series expectations, can afford to have even one pitcher that they clearly have lost all confidence in.

Anthony Slama and his old school stirrups are ready NOW!

So when Crain is gone, who takes his place in the bullpen? Here’s where the Twins have a number of options. Rob Delaney, Kyle Waldrop and Anthony Slama have all been very effective in Rochester and, that being the case, it makes even less sense to keep calling Crain’s number and holding your breath, closing your eyes, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best when he takes the mound. My preference, for what it’s worth, would be Slama.

Will any of these moves actually happen this weekend? Besides the Hardy-for-Manship swap out, probably not. Slama probably won’t make his Twins debut until June so the Twins can postpone his arbitration eligibility an extra year. By the way, I think that kind of thinking is fine when you are just trying to be competitive and build for the future, but when you have a chance to win NOW, it’s just silly… and I feel the same way about the Nationals delaying Strasburg’s MLB debut for the same reason. They’re going to end up a game or two out of making the playoffs and have only their frugalness to blame. I just hope the Twins aren’t looking back and feeling the same way.

 In any event, whether it’s this weekend or two weeks from now when the service time issue is no longer a concern, here’s my recommended roster:

Starting position players: Mauer, Morneau, Hudson, Hardy, Punto, Young, Span, Cuddyer, Kubel.

Bench position players: Thome, Casilla, Harris, Butera (yes, I agree with having Morales and Ramos in AAA… for a little while longer).

Starting Pitchers: Liriano, Baker, Pavano, Blackburn, Duensing.

Bullpen: Rauch (closer), Guerrier (set-up), Slama (set-up/mid relief), Burnett (mid relief/set-up), Mahay (mid relief/LOOGY), Mijares (LOOGY), Slowey (long relief/spot start).

Now… would someone please pass this along to Gardy and Bill Smith? They don’t seem to be returning my calls. Or maybe I should try Tweeting it… I heard Pat Neshek say Gardy really likes the whole Tweeting thing, right? - JC