Monday, November 30, 2015

Why Plouffe stays at third

A comment on Friday's post wonders why the Twins aren't considering Trevor Plouffe for the outfield instead of contemplating such a move for Miguel Sano. After all, Plouffe was in the process of becoming an outfielder in 2012 when Danny Valencia's Twins tenure imploded and Plouffe wound up at third.

Indeed, that idea has crossed my mind (and entered the blog) more than once. But Terry Ryan has ruled it out. Four (explicit or inferred) reasons:

Squatters rights. This is not unique to the Twins. Teams rarely force an established player off his accustomed position to make room for a newcomer. They may sound him out, but if there is resistance, they'll generally leave the veteran alone and shift the kid -- or trade the veteran. Why? Because having a central figure of the team angry and resentful is bad -- bad for the manager and bad for the rookie trying to establish himself. (Note: This is a general observation, not necessarily specific to the Plouffe-Sano dynamic.)

I have a co-worker who rejects that thinking. If my boss tells me to do something, I do it; if I don't, I might get fired. But there are a lot more people capable of doing my job or his job than are capable of playing baseball at that level. It's a rare skill set. (The trade option is, in a sense, a variation of firing the player, except that he doesn't wind up unemployed.)

Plouffe isn't the player he was when the Twins had him in the outfield. He's heavier (by some 15 pounds) and older (29) than he was back then. It's a good guess that, even though Sano outweighs Plouffe, Sano is faster and simply a better athlete. Neither is likely to be an outstanding defensive outfielder, but Sano has better tools to bring to the job.

Plouffe is a better defensive third baseman than Sano. Play Sano at third and Plouffe in an outfield corner, you have a (presumably) below average defender at both positions; play Sano in the outfield and Plouffe at third, you have a below average outfielder and a good third baseman.

It's all posture. If the theory this is all about maintaining Plouffe's trade value is correct, which is more likely to be part of it: Plouffe's too good at third to move or We have to move him to make room for Sano?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Sunday Funnies

Gerry Arrigo ptiched in the major leagues for 10 seasons, beginning in 1961 with the Twins and ending in 1970 with the White Sox.

In between he pitched for Cincinnati, where he encountered the young Johnny Bench when the Hall of Famer to be was just a rookie.

"He thought he had a fastball," Bench recounted years later of Arrigo. "He was pitching to a hitter I knew he couldn't possibly throw it by. I called for a curve, and he shook it off, a curve again and he shook it off, a curve one omre time and he shook it off. He finally threw a fastball outside.'"

And the distainful Bench merely reached out with his bare hand to catch the "heater".

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Off track, just a little bit

This specific issue comes out of the NBA and the Timberwolves, but it's applicable to baseball and the Twins:

The Wolves won Friday night in Sacramento with rookie Karl-Anthony Towns playing just 21 minutes. The game before that, they won with Towns playing just 22 minutes.

Sitting the Number One overall pick for more than half the game has some observers critical of coach Sam Mitchell:

My sense of it is: It's a long season with a hellacious travel schedule. Towns is 20 and a year out of high school. The history of the NBA is filled with talented young big men whose bodies couldn't take the stress: Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, Bill Walton ... Why beat the kid up if you don't have to? Wiining with Towns playing 21 minutes is easier on him than winning playing him 31 or 41 minutes.

In baseball, the prevention of injuries is the current sabermetric holy grail. It's almost certainly the same in the NBA, which has perhaps accepted analytics more readily than baseball has. We certainly see more teams sitting specific players on one side or the other of back-to-back games.

The NBA and MLB have some parallel issues: A lot of games packed into half a year with tons of travel, long overnight flights and sleep disruption. Baseball teams are already trying to limit pitcher workload -- not only in game, but in season. We may soon see more attention to position players as well.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Outfield options: Miguel Sano

Miguel Sano finished
third in the Rookie
of the Year voting.
Miguel Sano told at least one reporter at the end of the major league season that he'd be playing third base for his Dominican team in winter ball. Any other positions? the reporter asked. No. Third base, was the response.

A few weeks later, the Twins started talking about Sano as an outfield option and said they would ask his winter league team to play the young slugger in the outfield.

If that has indeed happened, word of it has yet to reach me. I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't happen; Caribbean teams are not beholden to a major league parent, and they are trying to win. Estrellas de Oriente is no exception.

Still: We know a healthy Sano is going to be in the Twins lineup. They have veteran incumbents at third base (Trevor Plouffe) and first base (Joe Mauer); they presumably will have a pricy import (Byung Ho Park) at DH/1B; and they have outfield positions available. So there is some logic to the idea.

I continue to have a difficult time taking it seriously, however.

There are no 260-pound outfielders running around in the majors these days; that's Sano's listed weight, and that might be a tad light. The Twins have no shortage of legitimate outfield talent on hand; unproven talent, to be sure, but talent. One thing that helped improve the 2015 Twins was better outfield defense; stuffing Sano out there figures to be a step in the wrong direction.

Give Paul Molitor enough time to talk about Sano as an outfielder, and he'll concede that the big guy might never actually play out there for the Twins.

My expectation is that Plouffe will be traded in the next few weeks, and that will make Sano the likely third baseman for 2016. That would be for the best.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

One sign of Thanksgiving: I haul out
 this old pic of a turkey in my mom's oven.

Happy Thanksgiving, all, and thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Outfield options: Eddie Rosario

Eddie Rosario
led AL left fielders in
assists, double plays
-- and errors.
As the Twins made their ultimately futile playoff push in September, Paul Molitor essentially went with three outfielders: Eddie Rosario in left, Aaron Hicks in center, Torii Hunter in right.

Today Hunter is retired and Hicks is a Yankee -- and Shane Robinson, who spent the entire season on the roster, has signed with Cleveland.

So Molitor's 2016 outfield is going to be markedly different than the one he went with at the end of 2015. 

Start with the one certainty for April's lineup: Rosario.

Rosario's plusses: He's a good defensive corner outfielder and probably passable in center, although the Twins have better options in the middle garden. He hit for more power (.459) than might have been anticipated and led MLB in triples with 15. He didn't fall off against lefties -- in fact, his slash line stats were all better against southpaws than against righties.

Rosario's minuses: His walk-to-strikeout ratio was abysmal: 15 walks, 118 strikeouts. His on-base percentage was a lowly .289, and that makes ludicrous the notion floated by some that he belongs at the top of the order.

Keith Law, the ESPN prospect writer, said in a recent chat that he expects Rosario to eventually be the odd man out of the Minnesota outfield. And if Rosario's inability to control his strike zone persists, Law's right. It's not possible to be a productive hitter striking out eight times for every walk.

But I'm not sure that what we saw in 2015 is what we'll see in the future.

The scouting word on Rosario as a minor leaguer was always: Outstanding hit tool, probably a bit shy on power. That was part of the motivation for the second base experiment in 2012-14, that a good singles hitter's bat plays better in the middle infield than in an outfield corner. But Rosario in the majors was more a power hitter than a singles hitter. The level of production was essentially what one might have expected; it simply took a different shape than projected.

Rosario is young -- he turned 24 in September -- and his development as a hitter was certainly detoured by his half-season suspension in 2014 and possibly by the position uncertainty. There's growth possible here. And, considering the talent the Twins have among young outfielders, he'll need to grow. But he is first in line for the chance.

The catching future

The Twins this offseason have, as noted in Monday's post, shed three catchers who have bounced between Triple A and the majors the past three years -- Eric Fryer, Chris Herrmann and Josmil Pinto. They also, during the season, moved Dan Rohlfing to the Mets organization.

This essentially clears the deck for the trio of catchers the Twins selected in the first nine rounds of the 2013 draft: Stuart Turner (3rd round), Brian Navarretto (6th round) and Mitch Garver (9th round).

Turner, who turns 24 next month, figures to be the primary catcher at Triple A next year. He didn't hit much at Double A Chattanooga (.223 batting average with a .306 slugging percentage), and he didn't hit much the two previous years either. Drew Butera is probably a good comp to him: the defensive chops to catch in the major leagues, not enough bat to be a useful regular.

Garver can expect to move up a rung to Chattanooga. He'll turn 25 in January. He has shown a good bat in the past, but his production fell off notably when he moved from Low A Cedar Rapids to High A Fort Myers. That's not a plus, obviously, but some decline is always likely with that transition because Fort Myers is a notoriously difficult hitting environment, while CR is one of the more hitter-friendly venues in the Midwest League. Anyway: Garver is certainly a better hitter than Turner, and also said to be weaker behind the dish, He's also been consistently old for his level of competition.

Navarretto was the one high schooler of the three, which is why he's a level behind the other two.  He turns 21 next month. He will probably be the No. 1 catcher for Fort Myers. What he showed in Cedar Rapids was an excellent throwing arm and a weak stick -- .217/.256/.281. I happened to witness one of his two homers.

If there's a major league regular in that trio, my money's on Navarretto, but that's strictly on the basis of his youth, But the Twins can't count on any of the three emerging, which is part of why they traded for John Ryan Murphy. I think it likely that Murphy will split time with Kurt Suzuki in 2016, then become the regular in 2017, perhaps with Turner as the backup

I also think it likely that the Twins will be targeting catchers again in the 2016 draft.