Tuesday, September 1, 2015

No Berrios, at least for now

The first wave of September callups were notified Monday in Rochester after the Red Wings' game, and they are guys we've seen before. Kenny Vargas. Danny Santana. Michael Tonkin, A.J. Achter. Eric Fryer.

Not included was Jose Berrios, who started Monday for the Wings. This spurred some consternation on my Twitter feed Monday night, but I can't see any reason to be riled up about it.

Realistically, they aren't calling up a 21-year-old who is already well above his previous high in innings to displace a (healthy) veteran in the rotation in a playoff push. It doesn't make sense in developing Berrios, and the risk outweighs the rewards. (Tyler Duffey is not a veteran, but the Twins obviously think he's ahead of Berrios.) Nor is there a immediate need for Berrios in the bullpen. The late inning guys are doing well, and there's little immediate payoff in long relief.

And even if the Twins do have a role for Berrios, hes not going to pitch for at least four days anyway.

Two other Rochester players whose absence is notable but not surprising: Oswaldo Arcia and Alex Meyer. Neither earned it.

As for the guys who did get the callup, none (my opinions) should be major pieces in the stretch run. Santana put up good numbers for Rochester as a hitter, but he was also charged with a pair of errors Monday. The Twins were pretty consistent in Santana's previous stints with the big club this year -- if he was here, he was the No. 1 shortstop. I hope they stick with Eduardo Escobar now, but I won't guarantee it.

Vargas and Fryer will make it easier to pinch hit for a catcher. Vargas to pinch hit, Fryer for catching depth. Tonkin and Achter will eat meaningless innings.

The Twins do have a move yet to make, because Fryer is not on the 40-man roster and the roster is full. So somebody has to come off. I wouldn't be surprised if they move J.R. Graham to the 60-day DL and end his season

Monday, August 31, 2015

More bullpen thoughts

The Monday print column praised the midseason revamping of the Twins bullpen. But in a multi-tweet rant this weekend, LaVelle Neal made this point about why the revamping was necessary:

Which, yeah, I was surprised, and not pleased, that the Twins went into the season with Casey Fien and Brian Duensing as the primary setup men to Glen Perkins.

The Twins during the offseason discarded recent mainstays Jared Burton and Anthony Swarzak. Neither is currently in organized ball. The Twins replaced them with Blaine Boyer and J.R. Graham. They supplanted second LOOGY Caleb Thielbar with  Aaron Thompson. (Thielbar was later lost to the Padres on waivers; San Diego last week designated Thielbar for assignment.)

It was an opening bullpen to make a would-be contender uncomfortable. But in fairness: I don't think the Twins seriously thought they were going to contend with that bullpen, I think they expected to remake the bullpen.

But they expected to remake it from within. They expected some of the young power arms in the minors to emerge by midseason. They actually tried Alex Meyer briefly, and the transplanted starter's control wilted so drastically that they abandoned that after just two appearances. Nick Burdi, J.T. Chargois, Zach Jones, Jake Reed -- none of them advanced beyond Double A, and some of them had to be demoted from where they opened the season. I fully expected at least one of them to push his way to the big leagues. That didn't happen.

And the young guys who've been on the roster before -- Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin -- didn't grab key roles either. Tonkin has been yo-yo'd all season between Minneapolis and Rochester. Pressly, despite a good ERA, never really muscled past Boyer and Fien the way that Trevor May did when he was put in the bullpen.

The opening bullpen was never intended to be the final bullpen. But going outside the organization for the remake wasn't the idea either.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Pic of the Week

Cubs catcher Miguel Montero blocks a pitch, literally,
with his nose Friday in Los Angeles. He then committed
a throwing error that allowed a run to score.

Every once in a while there is a photo of a catcher whose equipment doesn't quite succeed in protecting him from the ball. Such as this one.

And I think of a bit of old-time baseball verse, penned by a former player scoffing at the softer current generation -- in 1880:

We wore no mattress upon our hands
No cage upon our face
We stood right up and caught the ball
With courage and with grace.

Yeah. Right. Sure you did.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The really young shortstops

On Friday I examined Eduardo Escobar's grasp on the shortstop job and, in passing, mentioned the shortstops in the lower levels of the minors.

These guys aren't threats to Escobar -- yet. But they do make it a lot easier to imagine the Twins doing something with the shortstops above them in the system in the coming offseason.

With the minor league seasons winding down, here's who's where:

Danny Santana is hitting .289 for Triple A Rochester. I don't know how likely he is to come up when the rosters expand.

Jorge Polanco was moved back to Double A so he and Santana could both play short on a regular basis. He continues to have difficulty in the field, and Doug Mientkiewicz had him playing second base Friday night. I think second base is his best position, and that probably makes him trade bait during the offseason, since Brian Dozier has a lock on that position, Polanco's bat will play in the middle infield; I don't think his arm will play at short.

Those are the guys who might challenge for the big league job next spring. Now for the up-and-comers ...

Engelb Vielma is the shortstop at high A Fort Myers. His slash line there is unimpressive: .267/.315/.306, slightly worse than at Low A Cedar Rapids in 2014. In truth, Fort Myers is a much more difficult hitting environment, so essentially maintaining his production is a good sign for him.

Vielma is a 21-year-old out of Venezuela and something of a mirror image of Polanco. Observers rave about his fielding, and his bat is questionable. He definitely needs to get stronger if he's to be a major league regular, but that's pretty common among A ball prospects. There are few big league bodies at that level. Expect Vielma to move up to Double A next year.

I devoted a Monday print column earlier this month to Nick Gordon , the shortstop at low A Cedar Rapids. The Twins invested the fifth overall pick in Gordon in 2014, and I liked what I saw from him in a four-game glomming of the Kernels. He's the only one of these lower level shortstop I've actually seen play (Vielma was injured when I saw CR last summer), but it's my guess that he's the most likely of the bunch to wind up a big league regular.

Jermaine Palacios is the shortstop at Elizabethton. The latest issue of Baseball America has a short piece on him (written by the Star Tribune's Phil Miller). A 19-year-old Venezulean, Palacios is said to be a hitter, and his minor league numbers to date back that up, although one should be cautious about rookie ball stats.

Then there's Wander Javier, a 16-year-old Dominican the Twins signed this summer. They invested $4 million in him, so they clearly expect big things from him, but those big things are far down the road. Javier has yet to play in organized ball.

I've commented many a time on the sorry record the Twins have at developing their own shortstops. This crop has the potential to reverse that record. But it won't come immediately.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Eduardo Escobar, shortstop

Eduardo Escobar hits his second homer of Wednesday's game.
He hit three in the Tampa Bay series.
Question: How many games did the Twins cost themselves this year by insisting for months that Danny Santana was their best shortstop option?

For the second year in a row, Eduardo Escobar began the season as Plan B at shortstop and emerged as the regular. And for the second year in a row, he has provided some thump from a position commonly occupied by slap hitters. LaVelle Neal of the Star Tribune refers to him on Twitter as "Eddie The Stick."

This intrigues me, even though they involve too few at-bats to mean much: When playing shortstop this year, Escobar's slash line is .308/.361/.519 (entering Thursday's play, which means those numbers are even better this morning); as a left fielder, .224/.261/.388.

The defensive metrics I've seen have Escobar as an average shortstop, maybe a touch below average, and I'll buy that. That's acceptable, especially with the extra bases he's provided the past two years from the position.

I assume that Escobar will be the Twins' regular shortstop down the stretch. I also expect that he won't be a lock to be the regular at the start of 2016. I doubt the Twins have given up on Santana's athleticism, and Jorge Polanco has been a very productive hitting middle infielder in the high minors. Even now, Paul Molitor hasn't truly embraced Escobar as the starter, so he's probably inclined to look for alternatives.

And given Escobar's limitations, that's sensible. But I doubt the Twins have a better alternative on hand until 2018 or so, when one of the shortstops in the low minors might be ready. Certainly for now, Escobar should be Plan A at shortstop. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Blaine Boyer, J.R. Graham, Glen Perkins and a deeper bullpen

The expectation had been that the Twins would wait until September and the expanded rosters to reactivate Blaine Boyer from the disabled list, but on Wednesday Boyer and J.R. Graham traded places.

Graham's injury was announced as "shoulder inflammation," and the cynic/skeptic in me whispers that it's really an inflamed ERA.  Graham can't be readily sent to the minors because he's a Rule 5 guy, and he last had an appearance in which he (a) got at least one out (b) without allowing a run a month ago. Literally, July 26, against the Yankees. (In fairness, I should add that Graham had a major shoulder problem a couple of years ago, and there is good reason to be cautious if he does indeed have an issue.)

Now he's sidelined for two weeks, and the Twins can easily meet the requirements to hold Graham's rights while not having the problem of carrying a relief pitcher they don't want to use in key situations.

Boyer immediately wound up working two innings Wednesday night as the Twins pushed their winning streak to six. This took his ERA down to 2.86, and I'm quite comfortable with asserting that this has been the best season of his nine in the majors.

Paul Molitor had Boyer handle the seventh and eighth innings, but that doesn't figure to be his standard role at this point. Wednesday's usage was more about trying to give Casey Fien and Trevor May a day off, and, perhaps, about Kevin Jepsen filling in as closer for Glen Perkins.

The latter is again a matter of concern. Apparently Perkins, who had been trying to pitch with a bad disc in his neck, is now having back spasms. I've had enough back issues myself over the years to suspect that the two issues are related.

Taking Perkins out certainly thins the bullpen, but it also has to be said: The acquisition of Jepsen (and to a lesser extent Neal Cotts), plus the shift of May to relief work, has really deepened the relief corps. A month ago the bullpen was a serious problem. Today it isn't, and kudos to Terry Ryan and Co. for a midstream repair job.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Why Miguel Sano won't be Rookie of the Year.

The future is now: Byron Buxton (25) and Miguel Sano (22)
before a game in Baltimore last week.
Miguel Sano hit another home run Tuesday night. That makes 12 dingers in 45 major league games for the 22-year-old.

It's been an impressive performance, even considering how anticipated (hyped) a prospect he is. And still, he has no chance at winning the Rookie of the Year Award.

That will assuredly go to Carlos Correa, the Houston shortstop. Correa's got a bit more than 100 plate appearances more than Sano, so his counting stats are ahead of the Minnesota DH, even though his slash stats -- batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage -- lag.

The long and the short(stop) of it:
Carlos Correa (left) is 6-4; his double play
partner, Jose Altuve, is is 5-6.
But Correa is also a shortstop, and a good one. You've got to give credit for playing a premium defensive position. Sano is primarily a designated hitter, which isn't completely his fault, but in terms of their defensive value, there's no way he matches Correa.

Correa, as you may recall, is the Puerto Rican the Astros took No. 1 in the draft the year the Twins landed Byron Buxton. The general consensus at the time was that Correa wasn't a bad choice for 1-1, but that Buxton was the better prospect and that the Astros went with Correa as part of a plan to game the new bonus pool system.

The Astros did game the system -- Correa signed for considerably less than Buxton did -- but Correa may have been the better pick anyway. A lot of scouts figured that Correa would "outgrow" shortstop and wind up a third baseman. That hasn't happened, and within a week or so of his midseason callup, there were people calling Correa the best shortstop in the American League.

And you know something? If Correa isn't the best shortstop in the league, another rookie -- Francisco Lindor of Cleveland -- might be. Lindor doesn't have the power of Correa, much less Sano, but he certainly hits enough to help a lineup, and he is a marvelous fielder.

Baseball Reference credits Correa with 3.0 WAR, Lindor with 2.1 and Sano with "just" 1.6. Part of that comes from the advantage in playing time the two shortstops have, and part of it comes from defense. But no matter how you slice it, Correa and Lindor have to stand ahead of Sano in the rookie rankings.

Which is no knock on Sano, certainly. This has been a golden year for midseason callups, when a guy like Eddie Rosario has no realistic chance of appearing on any ROY ballots.