Saturday, March 17, 2018

Goodbye, Vargas

The Twins on Friday traded a rookie-league level pitcher named Luis Gil  to the Yankees for outfielder Jake Cave, who goes on the 40-man roster. To make room for Cave, they designated Kennys Vargas for assignment.

Cave theoretically could be another contender for the fourth outfielder job. He hit well in 2017, splitting the season between Double A and Triple A, has played center field and clearly has more power than Zack Granite. But he's another left-handed hitter, so he too is an imperfect fit on the Twins roster.

As for Vargas, who knows? The Twins will try to find a trade partner, but there's not a lot of demand for first base/DH types these days. He may well wind up clearing waivers and remaining in the organization. For his sake, I hope somebody decides they have a major-league job for him. His best chances at one with the Twins are in the past.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Low-key competitions: Outfield

When the Twins signed Logan Morrison to be their primary designated hitter, Paul Molitor made a point of telling reporters that he had warned Robbie Grossman -- 2017's primary DH  --  that Grossman would have to make the roster as an outfielder.

The issue wth that is that Grossman is a terrible defensive outfielder.

There is a prototype for fourth outfielders:

  • fast enough to play center field
  • too weak at the plate to be a regular (but still good enough to get some at-bats), 
  • left handed or a switch hitter for platoon purposes, since most pitchers are right-handed. 
In the Twins specific case, however, the third point is off kilter. Because two of the three regular outfielders, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, are left-handed hitters with problems against lefties, the Twins would prefer their fourth outfielder be right-handed. And Rosario or Kepler are capable of sliding over to play center when Byron Buxton sits.

Grossman misses on the first point. Zack Granite fits the usual form perfectly but hits left-handed, so he's not much of a platoon partner to Rosario or Kepler.

There are a couple of right-handed hitting non-roster outfielders in camp.

Chris Heisey, 33, has compiled more than 1,750 major league plate appearances over the past eight seasons with three clubs (Reds, Dodgers, Nationals). He has not, however, been notably useful as a platoon player (his OPS, On-base Plus Slugging, is notably better against righties for his career), and he's probably not capable of playing center field well at this stage in his career. He hasn't hit much the past three years in limited playing time, and he hasn't hit much this spring.

Ryan LaMarre, 29, has -- his spring training batting average is above .500, which is obviously ridiculous and not to be maintained. He lacks Heisey's track record (just 40 major league at-bats) but is obviously fast enough to play center. Despite the gaudy Grapefruit League numbers, his minor league record isn't that impressive.

Grossman should still be reckoned the most likely fourth outfielder. But even if he opens the season on the roster, his position is not secure. His fielding issues are deep enough that he's got to hit to get in the lineup, and he didn't mash lefties as well in 2017 as he did in 2016. 

LaMarre has had an impressive camp so far. And it's also possible that the fourth outfielder is in somebody else's camp waiting to be waived or traded.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Low-key competitions: Catcher

The conventional wisdom has it that the Twins bench is pretty much set: infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza; catcher Mitch Garver; outfielder Robbie Grossman. That was the presumption when camp opened, and it's the presumption today.

Garver had a big 2017 at Triple A, slashing .291/.387/.541 for Rochester. With Chris Gimenez gone to the Cubs, the job of backing up Jason Castro should fall to Garver, who is now 27.

But Garver has has a rough spring at the plate, with just one hit in his first 21 plate appearances (a home run), and while the Twins say every year that his receiving skills have improved, that they keep saying suggests that he's not a particularly good defensive catcher. So there might be an opening.

The Twins have a pair of nonroster catchers in camp worth noting as potential alternatives to Garver. Bobby Wilson, 34, has in the majors for all or part of eight seasons with five different clubs. always as a back-up. He spent last season at the Dodgers' Triple A affiliate. He won't hit, but is presumably a superior defensive catcher to Garver.

A more interesting option is Willians Astudillo, who captivated the internet with this no-look pickoff throw during the one weekend Twins exhibition I didn't attend:

Astudillo, 26, is a better hitter than Wilson (probably), and not as good as Garver. He's definitely an odd hitter; he seldom takes pitches and has excellent bat-to-ball skills. I saw him get at least three at-bats during my Ft. Myers jaunt, and none went longer than two pitches. Call him Mr. Pace-of-Play.

I expect Garver to be the back up; 21 plate appearances in spring training mean nothing. He's hit at every level. If he isn't, I would rather have Astudillo, if only for entertainment value.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Spring training trip: Final day

Lance Lynn had his introductory press conference in the morning. In the afternoon, he threw three hitless innings inhis first exhibition start. He was clearly laboring in that third and final inning.

As advertised, Lynn threw mostly fast balls, and the stadium gun had him at 93 and 94 mph repeatedly.

That was the good news on the pitching front in the exhibition The bad news: Fernando Rodney, Trevor Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers -- three key relievers -- all gave up runs, with Hildenberger and Rogers each surrendering homers.

For what it's worth:


Miguel Sano played third and made two plays that required him to move with no problem. I'm inclined to regard the concern about his mobility following his stress reaction surgery as overblown.


We're headed home this morning. The locals grumbled the entire time we were here about how cold it was. It was still pretty warn for March to a Minnesotan.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Spring training trip: A day off

The wife and I take one day of our biannual spring training trip to go to Sanibel, and Monday was the day for that.

Really, the Twins highlight for the day for me came in the evening, when my wife was checking out at the Publix on Six Mile Cypress and Tony Oliva strolled by.

While I was off on my island jaunt, the Twins were making the Lance Lynn signing official. On Sunday, with the deal not yet official, the Twins released Anibal Sanchez, which created room on the 40-man roster for Lynn.

Lynn will start today as the Twins try to ramp him up for the opening rotation.

Paul Molitor hasn't named his opening day starter, much less the rotation, but he has said that it's more important to have Jose Berrios lined up to pitch in the Puerto Rico series than in the opener. My guess, therefore, is that the rotation will go Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Berrios and Lynn. As I understand it, Berrios in game three sets him up not only to pitch in Puerto Rico but in the home opener. And pushing Lynn back to the fourth game will give him the opportunity to work in one more tune-up start in Florida.

Meanwhile, Phil Hughes had a pretty solid outing Monday night. He's probably Plan B for the rotation if -- let's make that when -- somebody gets hurt; in the meantime, he will be in the bullpen. Sanchez is already released.  The third member of what I called the Tier One candidates for the rotation, Aldaberto Mejia, will likely be sent to Triple A.

And that will probably have a domino effect on the prospect crew that made up Tiers Two and Three (Aaron Slegers, Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Felix Jorge, Zack Littell, Dietrich Enns). At least one of those six was going to be in Double A; now it's likely two of them will.

One point Derek Falvey made about the Lynn signing is that adding him doesn't really block the prospects. Both Lynn and Ervin Santana will be free agents after 2018; Odorizzi, Gibson and Hughes after 2019. The Twins will be quite happy if the prospects get to spend this season marinating in Triple A, and wait to step into the rotation plans in 2019.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Spring training trip: Day Two

After Saturday's rain out, my wife surprised me by suggesting that we go to Port Charlotte on Sunday to see the Twins play the Rays there. Which we did.

Miguel Sano played third base, drove in a pair of runs with a hard-hit single in a five-run inning, and had little opportunity to field his position. I thought he might have reacted a tad slowly on one base hit to his left, but I doubt the ball was playable from where he was stationed.

Much has been made this spring of Sano's weight and conditioning. Looking at him in his uniform, he doesn't look rotund. He is just a big man. I haven't had an opportunity to gauge his mobility, but in an earlier game he made one of his specialty charge-a-slow-roller plays with no issue.

He has yet to play two days in a row, but that's probably not unique at this stage of training camp. I'm not sure Brian Dozier has either, and no middle-aged (or older) paunchy columnist is yelling about him.

I do expect MLB to suspend Sano over the sexual assault allegation that emerged this winter. I won't hazard a guess as to how long that suspension might be. I see no reason to believe that he'll be on the disabled list when opening day arrives later this month.


One notable difference between the Twins camp and the Rays camp: Fans are free to wander over to the minor league fields at the Twins Fort Myers complex. The back fields at the Rays camp were closed off Sunday.

Charlotte Sports Park itself is a nice facility. In my (probably biased) opinion it's not quite as good as Hammond Stadium, but it's rather comperable. Both stadiums are home to teams in the High-A Florida State League; in Port Charlotte it's the Charlotte Stone Crabs, affilate of the Rays.

One advantage to the Charlotte park is the team store, which has caps and shirts for the minor league tenant during spring training. Hammond Stadium's store is, at least during spring training, devoted to Twins items, nothing of the Miracle.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Spring training trip: Day One

Officially, Saturday's exhibition game didn't happen. The Twins scored nine runs in the first inning, and they all went away when the game was called in the third inning. Which happened a few minutes after I decided we'd been rained on long enough and we left the park. The game was probably called as I was trying to turn left out of the parking area onto Three Cypress Road  Six Mile Cypress.

The big news broke sometime after the game: The Twins have a one-year deal with free-agent pitcher Lance Lynn, pending a physical.

A low-priced, short-term contract (one-year, $12 million) was certainly not what Lynn was expecting out of his free agency, but as with Logan Morrison, the Twins got themselves a bargain with a spring training signing.

The addition of Lynn almost certainly ends the rotation battle. There's Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson to start the season, with Ervin Santana added around the end of April. There's not a Cy Young favorite in that bunch, but if Kyle Gibson is your No. 5 starter, your rotation is pretty darn solid. Phil Hughes, Anibal Sanchez and Aldaberto Mejia are destined for the bullpen or off the roster.

A few other random observations from Saturday:

* Mitch Garver, the frontrunner for the backup catcher job, played left field.

He played it ... cautiously. Which makes sense; he's out of position, and the field was wet and the ball undoubtably slippery. There was a liner hit his direction that I thought was catchable, but Garver made no real effort to come in on it and conceded the single. Again, it was sensible; the Twins had a nine-run lead, and let's just not screw things up.

The fourth outfielder slot is not guaranteed to Robbie Grossman, who has his own defensive shortcomings. Paul Molitor may be looking for a right-handed hitter he can feel comfortable with in the outfield. I don't think Garver fits that bill.

* I watched Miguel Sano, Kennys Vargas and a few others who weren't slated to play take batting practice on a side field. Everybody opened BP with the traditional two bunts, including the two big men. Vargas actually appeared to take his second bunt seriously, laying it down toward third and taking off for first base out of the left-handed batters box. The way teams shift him, it makes sense for him to work on that bunt.

* Kyle Gibson allowed a lot of baserunners but also got two double plays, one of which he started himself. I no longer have high expectations for Gibson, but I do think he's one of the better fielding pitchers the Twins have had in the past decade or so.

* I was favorably impressed with the new barbeque stand at Hammond Stadium.