Friday, September 21, 2018

Searching for catchers

The Twins announced their instructional league invites on Thursday, and eagle-eyed Steve Buhr noted on Twitter that Michael Davis, who took over at shortstop for Cedar Rapids after Royce Lewis was promoted, was listed as a catcher.

Davis was taken in the 24th round as a senior out of Texas Tech, and he apparently played third base as a senior in college, second base as a junior. When I saw him at the end of the Midwest League season, he sure looked like an experienced shortstop.

But even if he is a shortstop, he's sandwiched between Royce Lewis and Wander Javier in the Twins organization, and that doesn't equate to a lot of opportunity moving forward. The Twins, it's safe to say, have a lot more invested in Lewis and Javier than in Davis.

So this experiment -- assuming that the listing as a catcher wasn't some sort of clerical error -- might be a blessing for Davis. Or it might be another logjam; the Twins have in the past few years, both under Terry Ryan and the Falvine regime, seemed to be gathering as many catchers as possible. Their second-round pick in the same draft in which they took Davis is a catcher.

But it's a tough position to fill because it's a difficult position to play. No-hit receivers like Chris Gimenez, Drew Butera and Bobby Wilson seem to hang around forever -- not necessarily with one team, but but into their mid 30s despite their lack of offense. Davis looks like he can hit, he's got a strong arm, and if he can take to the position with alacrity, there will be an opportunity for him.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Mitch Garver's future

The Twins sent two injured players, Eddie Rosario and Mitch Garver, back to the Twin Cities on Wednesday rather than have them make the long haul out to Oakland. Not only was it obvious that neither would play in Oakland, it's quite possible that both are done for what remains of the season.

This is not the first notable concussion Garver's sustained; he had one a few years ago when he was in Cedar Rapids. And he's a catcher, the position most vulnerable to head injuries because of the foul tips and occasional bat backlashes.

Two tweets:

I get what Steve's saying, but: Where else other than catcher is he going to play?

Garver is 27, so he's already in the peak phase of his career. His hitting is -- good for a catcher, but his OPS+ is a tick under league average, which means it's not really good enough to play a corner position such as first base or left field. 

The "offensive potential" Berardino cites is based almost entirely on being a league-average hitter at catcher. The Twins have better hitting options at any other postions Garver might reasonably play.

Not that Garver is a stellar defensive catcher either. Another tweet:

Yeah. A poor pitch framer who has been behind the plate for nine wild pitches and 33 passed balls in just under 670 innings and has thrown out just 18 percent of the base stealers. He'd better hit.

All of which leads me to suspect that those of us trying to project Willians Astudillo as a utility man for the 2019 Twins might be missing a more significant point: He may be a better choice as the No. 2 catcher (behind Jason Castro) than Garver.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Earl Weaver and the opener

The Twins are to deploy Gabriel Moya as the opener again today -- he had that duty on Monday as well -- with Stephen Gonsalves apparently slated for the primary pitcher role.

This new-school tactic clearly does not sit well with at least two prominent Twin Cities media voices, Bert Blyleven and Patrick Reusse. Their disdain for the opener strikes me as a feature, not a bug.

And it also seems to me misplaced, given that their stated concern is for the future of what we know as starting pitching. I think this approach fits well with the development of true starters.

Gonsalves has put up ugly numbers in his first five major league appearances -- 9.39 ERA in four starts and one "primary" outing with 17 walks in 15.1 innings.

His big league struggles come after a stellar season in Triple A, where he made Baseball America's Triple A full-season all-star team. The lefty has the ability to get major league hitters out; he just hasn't done it yet.

Using Gonsalves -- and, for that matter, Kohl Stewart -- as primaries rather than as true starters calls to mind one of Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver's principles: The place for a rookie pitcher is long relief.

Weaver seldom -- if ever -- put a call-up straight into the Baltimore rotation. They had to earn their chance to start with some success in longer relief outings. But true long relief outings are passe today; two innings of work out of the bullpen is generally seen as a long stint. That's not what Weaver was doing with Mike Flanagan in 1976 or Dennis Martinez and Scott McGregor in 1977.

The opener, in a sense, formalizes Weaver's approach. Stewart and Gonsalves are getting their innings and their opportunity to learn how their stuff plays at this higher level. They're just not facing the first batter of the game.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Catching on (and off)

I grumped a while back that I was uninterested in seeing Chris Gimenez behind the plate the rest of the way. I now must swallow my objections, because I now doubt that we'll see Mitch Garver at all these final two weeks.

Garver left Wednesday's game after getting hit in the head by a foul tip. Apparently trying to watch Friday's game from the bench set off concussion symptoms. I'm quite sure that if this weren't the month of expanded roster that Garver would be on one disabled list or another. The practical result is the same: He's not going to catch.

Which creates more opportunity for Willians Astudillo, certainly. but I don't think Paul Molitor is eager to have anybody catch every game for two weeks. Speaking of Astudillo -- he went hitless Monday night but drove in a run with a hit-and-run ground out. One of the plusses of a catcher who is an extreme contact hitter is the ability to avoid double plays by sending runners one knows can't steal.

And then there's this comment on Astudillo behind the plate:

Molitor didn't have Astudillo catch his first time up, which might suggest that the skipper doesn't think much of Astudillo's receiving skills. But he looks pretty good behind the dish to me, and he certainly hasn't been as prone to passed balls/wild pitches as Garver.

Meanwhile, Bobby Wilson -- remember him? -- has yet to appear in a game for the Cubs.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Ex-Twins watch: Brian Dozier

Brian Dozier started his tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers with a bang, but he fell into a deep slump and has apparently fallen into a platoon role.

Chase Utley was L.A.'s second baseman for their Sunday Night game with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Dodgers got shut out, and Dozier never got off the bench.

Apparently he's been dealing with a sore knee all season, and he told the Orange County Register this weekend that he's developed "bad habits in (my) swing" trying to compensate for the injury.

He wasn't having a good season with Minnesota before the trade, and his averages have deteriorated since the trade.

Dozier, as we all know, is headed to free agency after the season. He's in his 30s, he's having by far his worst season since the shift to second base, and the marketplace last winter was rather cruel to 30-something sluggers.

But at least he has a structural reason for his decline. His argument might be: Once we get the knee fixed, I can snap back into my accustomed production.

How willing today's analytically inclined front offices will be to buy into that is questionable.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Pic of the Week

Willians Astudillo scores from first base on a double
Wednesday against the Yankees.
 (Screencap from Fox Sports North)
El Tortugo -- The Turtle -- is deservedly becoming a cult hero among not only Twins fans but baseball fans, much for the same reasons that Bartolo Colon is. He doesn't look like an athlete.

But there Willians Astudillo was Wednesday night, scoring from first base on a Max Kepler double, head-tossing his helmet off as he rounded second and rumbling home, hair flying in his wake. 

Astudillo via a translator after the game: "I just wanted to show that chubby people also run."

Friday, September 14, 2018

A pinball bumper at shortstop

Jorge Polanco pulled off a rarity Thursday night -- a three-base error at shortstop. Yet another groundball that richocheted off him. Later in the game he mishandled a throw from catcher Chris Gimenez; that error was wrongly charged to Gimenez.

Earlier in the day, on my every-other-week radio spot on KMSU, I pulled out my pinball bumper metaphor to describe Polanco's shortstop play and got some laughs from the other two. But it can't be a laughing matter to the Twins decision makers. Polanco has been charged with 12 errors in 62 games at shortstop -- his season, of course, halved by his steroid suspension -- and deserves at least one more.

It was common in the 1960s for even good shortstops to commit 30 errors in a season, but no more. That's an atrocious rate for a shortstop in 2018.

The Twins right now have Logan Forsythe as their regular second baseman. He's to become a free agent after the season. The Twins could plug that hole by moving Polanco to second base, the position the minor league staff thought a better fit for him. But moving Polanco to second opens up shortstop, and that's a more difficult position to fill.

Nick Gordon, theoretically the shortstop in waiting after being the fifth overall draft pick in 2014, didn't get a callup this month after hitting .212/.262/.283 in Triple A. I've been skeptical for some time of Gordon's ability to be a major league regular; 2018 did nothing to change that opinion.

Paul Molitor appeared a few years ago to be the organization's biggest advocate for playing Polanco at shortstop, and as the manager he has the final call. But even Molitor must realize that Polanco needs to be better at picking up groundballs than he has been.