Monday, February 8, 2016

From the Prospect Handbook: Raw numbers

The annual Baseball America Prospect Handbook showed up in my mailbox this weekend, and I figure to wring a few posts out of it.

BA ranks the Top 30 prospects for each organization in the book; buyers who order it directly from Baseball America get an additional pamphlet listing Prospect No. 31 for each team. (The Twins list was compiled by Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, a former BA writer himself.)

Of the 31, I have seen 14 play in person, mostly at Cedar Rapids but one at the Futures Game:
Bryon Buxton (1); Jose Berrios (2); Max Kepler (3); Nick Gordon (4); Jorge Polanco (6); Kohl Stewart (8); Nick Burdi (10); Alex Meyer (12); Adam Brett Walker (17); Jake Reed (20); Randy Rosario (22); Yorman Landa (23); Felix Jorge (24); Ryan Eades (31). I've also watched Stephen Gonsalves (9) and Mason Melotakis (28) throw in spring training, and Engelb Velma (18) take infield instruction from Tom Kelly on a Fort Myers back field. Most of the rest have been in the very lowest levels of the system or, in one case, playing in Korea.

Of the 31, 18 are pitchers; of the 18, six are left handed. Three of those southpaws -- Taylor Rogers (14), Rosario and Melotakis -- are on the 40-man roster and are at least theoretical candidates for the big league bullpen, although only Rogers has a realistic shot at coming north in April.

Of the 13 position players, one (Stuart Turner, 16) is a catcher. Three are listed as first basemen, including Byung Ho Park (7); one as a third baseman; five as shortstops; and three as outfielders. That may look like an awkward distribution, but a lot of minor league shortstops wind up reaching the majors at a different position. See, for example, Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier. There's a scouting rule of thumb that says you don't sign an amateur second baseman; if a player has the talent to play second in the majors, he's almost certainly a shortstop in amateur ball. At least one of the five shortstops on the BA list, Polanco, will most likely be a second baseman where ever he gets to have his major league career.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Sunday Funnies

Today I offer the out-of-context fractured syntax and insight of Oscar Gamble, a 1970s platoon outfielder-designated hitter and possessor of one of the most glorious Afros ever seen on a major league field.

Said the well-traveled Gamble:

"They don't believe it be like it is, but it do."

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Contemplating Randy Rosario

Pat Reusse has a column today on Randy Rosario, left-handed prospect (and project) pitcher. I saw Rosario last August in Cedar Rapids and wrote this.

Reusse quotes Rosario on his pitches: A high velocity but straight fastball and a wipeout slider. That matches what I saw in August.

The Twins want to develop Rosario as a starter, and that's both sensible and understandable. There's more value in a starter than in a reliever, and even if he winds up in the bullpen, he'll get more innings, more chances to develop his pitches, as a starter. He hasn't pitched above the Midwest League yet.

But ... we have an injury history, we have a (at this point) limited set of pitches, and we have an option clock that will start clicking this spring. My guess is that he's destined for the bullpen, and I really wouldn't be dismayed if it happens sooner rather than later.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The lesson of Jeff Samardzija

Here's an item that's been on my back burner quite a while: A detailed look by Baseball America's J.J. Cooper at why it is that Jeff Samardzija will likely get paid more over the course of his career as a middling starting pitcher than Calvin Johnson will as the best receiver in football.

Cooper first posted a version of this about two months ago, when the rumors arose that Johnson would abandon his football career. It's an interesting comparison, since the two were collegiate stars in the same NFL draft (2007), and Johnson was viewed as a good outfield prospect as a high schooler.

Samardzija chose baseball, Johnson football, and while Johnson has been paid more so far, Samardzija just signed a five-year deal for $90 million -- after leading the American League in runs and hits allowed. Meanwhile, Johnson reportedly has told the Detroit Lions he's had enough.

A few days ago, Antwaan Randle-El has said he wishes he had played baseball rather than football. And this lovely snippet floated through my Twitter timeline last night:

Omalu is a leading researcher on concussions; Will Smith plays him in the movie Concussion.

No Twins fan of recent vintage can say concussions aren't an issue in baseball. The career arcs of Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Corey Koskie and even Denard Span testify to that reality. But baseball's CTE rate sure ain't 90 percent.

Cooper's wrap up is accurate, even understated:
Most players don’t really have a choice of choosing between the NFL and MLB. Most are significantly better at one sport than the other. But if all things are equal, Samardzija is a great example of how it pays to play baseball.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A warm thought while shoveling

A thought I clung to Tuesday and Wednesday while shoveling the snow from Tuesday's blizzard here in Mankato ... over and over again ...

Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers on Feb. 21. That's not that far away.

Spring training can't come soon enough for this guy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A flier on Carlos Quentin

The Twins announced Tuesday that they have signed Carlos Quentin to a minor league contract.

Quentin at one point could hit -- he made two All-Star teams while playing for the White Sox, in 2008 and 2011 -- but he's been limited by knee injuries and officially retired last May. He's 32 now, hasn't played in the majors since 2014 and hasn't been anything approaching a regular since 2011.

There's no serious investment in him, to be sure. Quentin's major league salary would be $750,000, which is sizable coin in my world but a pittance for somebody with nine years in the majors.

But I really don't see the fit. The Twins signed a bunch of outfielders to minor league deals this offseason -- Joe Benson, Darrin Mastroianni, Ryan Sweeney -- and those three can all play center field. Even before the knee injuries eroded Quentin's career, he was never a good corner outfielder.

I expect the Twins to open with a regular outfield of Eddie Rosario in left, Bryon Buxton in center and Miguel Sano in right. That trio would leave an opening for a fourth outfielder, but there's Danny Santana and Oswaldo Arcia on hand, and each is out of options. And there's Max Kepler rising from Double A, and there are the other three non-roster invitees.

Even as a DH option, why? Byung Ho Park figures to get a long leash as he acclimates to the American game, but even if the Twins decide to shift to someone else, there's Arcia and Kennys Vargas on hand. (Or Sano if the outfield really doesn't work for him.)

There's so little opportunity for Quentin with the Twins that one has to figure that there was literally nobody else willing to sign him. I seriously doubt that he can even make the Rochester roster.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Miguel Sano and big outfielders

I was reluctant to buy into the notion last fall when the Twins first started talking about playing Miguel Sano in the outfield. But as the offseason progressed, it became increasingly obvious that they are serious about it.

Sano said last weekend at Twins Fest that he's dropped five pounds. Since he reportedly weighed 268 at seasons' end, that would still leave him well over 260 pounds, and it's been a long time since someone that large played outfield regularly in the majors -- probably not since Frank Howard.

Baseball Reference lists Hondo as 6-foot-7, 255 pounds, but at least one source says he reported to spring training in 1971 pushing 300 pounds. Howard had serious power and had a strong throwing arm when a young player but was always slow and a poor defensive player. I'm quite confident that Sano is a superior runner.

The Twins are obviously counting on Sano's innate athleticism to make him an acceptable outfielder this spring. And it should be noted that if few outfielders are as large as Sano, even fewer third basemen are his size. Baseball players of Sano's bulk are rare, period, but when they do appear they are almost always first basemen or pitchers.

Look at it this way: We are years away from the Twins having an opening at first base. There is legitimate concern that if Sano is limited to DHing that his weight will balloon even higher (he apparently gained weight last season after his hamstring injury limited his activity). I don't know that there's any more issue with Sano's size as a corner outfielder than there is as a third baseman.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have an outfield prospect they're said to be quite high on, Aaron Judge, who is listed at 6-7, 275. That makes Sano look ... well, probably not small, but less startlingly huge than if he were standing next to me. Sano may be less of an outlier than we think.