Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Blaine Boyer and the opening bullpen

Blaine Boyer is 9-15,
4.63 with two saves
in eight seasons in
the majors.
The Twins announced Monday that Blaine Boyer had been added to the 40-man roster and would be on the 25-man active roster, Then they started the 33-year-old relief pitcher against the Red Sox that evening.

Not that the start means anything in terms of the team's plans, Kyle Gibson was ill, and a bullpen game fit Paul Molitor's stated intent to stretch out some of the relief pitchers this week.

It didn't go well. Boyer was OK, even though he couldn't get out of the second inning. But Brian Duensing was shelled, and Caleb Thielbar didn't help his slender chances of going north.

It was kind of cute listening to Dan Gladden pretend there is still question about the final bullpen spot. There is no way the Twins are giving J.R. Graham back to the Braves, and that makes this seven-man bullpen:

Glen Perkins, the
one "sure thing"
in the Twins pen,
has had just three
Grapefruit League
Closer: Glen Perkins
Setup 1: Casey Fien
Setup 2/LOOGY: Duensing
MR1: Tim Stauffer
MR2: Boyer
MR3: Graham
Long: Mike Pelfrey

All bullpens are works in progress. The pecking order and personnel behind Perkins is very likely to be shuffled and reshuffled over the course of the season. Fien and Duesning are not ideal for the setup roles, I didn't care for the Stauffer signing from the beginning, Pelfrey is Pelfrey and Boyer's impressive spring is out of context with his track record.

Boyer hit 95 on the stadium gun at least once Monday night. Even if the radar guns in Fort Myers are a bit "hot", he's shown more velocity than he has in the past, and there's been some dispute over one of his pitchers. He calls it a cutter; Terry Ryan, veteran evaluator, says it's a tight slider. Whatever one calls it, it's been effective. Time will tell if this is an illusion.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Sending down velocity

Stephen Pryor cleared
waivers and remains
in the Twins system.
The Twins had optioned out Stephen Pryor about a week ago; on Sunday they outrighted him to Triple A. So now they have the two openings on the 40-man roster they needed to to fit Shane Robinson and Blaine Boyer onto the 25-man roster.

Pryor is a big bodied (listed at 6-4, 245) right-handed reliever who the Twins picked up from Seattle last summer for Kendrys Morales. His reputation is as a hard-thrower, but he was recovering last year from arm surgery, and I really don't know if the velocity and or command is back. For what it's worth, he had a 1.50 ERA in six spring training innings, but just one strikeout. The Twins, at least, were not impressed enough to keep him in the hunt for a bullpen job, and they supposedly are looking for velocity.

The same can be said of Lester Oliveros, outrighted late last week: Has had good velocity in the past, has had significant arm surgery, didn't show enough in camp to remain on the 40, much less crack the active roster. (I had thought that Oliveros had been outrighted before, but that's incorrect. His previous time on the 40-man roster ended when he was non-tendered; the Twins then re-signed him as a minor league free agent. Since he had never been formally outrighted before, the Twins retain his rights.)

The Twins retain both in their system, so they haven't completely discarded either. But they were passed this spring by non-roster invitee Boyer and by Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham, and there are a bunch of big-armed relievers coming up behind them. The clock is ticking.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pic of the Week

Alex Rodriguez fist-bumps a young autograph seeker
before a spring training game in Clearwater, Florida, on Friday.

If you believe the New York City tabloids (frequently a risky proposition), Alex Rodriguez entered spring training on the verge of physical breakdown and with the Yankees management devoutly wishing that he would quickly reinjure his post-surgical hips. Supposedly the Yankees covet the insurance money on A-Rod's bloated contract more than they covet whatever he can do on the field. (That they had the veteran make the long haul to Clearwater says something about how they view him.)

So far this spring, the 39-year-old is slashing .306/.405/.583 with three homers. He's seen only limited time on the field -- a little third base, a little first base action scheduled for today -- but mostly DH. This was expected; the Yankees re-signed midseason trade acquisition Chase Headley for third base and have Mark Teixeira at first. (It's completely possible that Teixeira will break down before Rodriguez does. Neither veteran has a stellar health record of late.)

There's no need to root for the widely-reviled Rodriguez, who missed all of 2014 to suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis performance-enhancers scandal. But he's a no-loss proposition for devoted Yankee haters such as me. The Yankees many not want him, but he's not going anywhere, and he's got two more seasons on his contract after this one.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

'Clarity,' indeed

Tommy Milone
gets the fifth
slot in the rotation.
I suppose I could have waited a couple hours to post.

The Twins this morning optioned out Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario and Trevor May and reassigned Mark Hamburger. They also announced that Tommy Milone will be the fifth starter.

This sets up a center field platoon of Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson, which I saw coming a few days ago. I'm fine with this. After the last two springs, nothing Hicks did in Florida was going to sway my view of him, and while I have high hopes for Rosario, I don't think center field in April 2015 is the right job at the right time for him. Schafer and Robinson aren't much of a much, but that just makes it easier to decide that it's Byron Buxton's time in June or July.

Ron Gardenhire would have made a different decision. Gardy never ran a true left-right platoon for more than a month or so. He'd have picked one center fielder to open the season, probably Hicks, and changed to somebody else in late May when Hicks didn't hit, and we've seen this movie before.

Hamburger's departure was also foreseeable. He opened eyes early in camp but faded late; he didn't make either of my bullpen projections this week. He's got a real good chance of coming up at some point this season, though.

I'm glad Milone is in the rotation, even more pleased that Mike Pelfrey isn't, and a bit discouraged that May is not. As I said earlier this morning, May probably needed some veteran injuries to get a rotation spot. The front office stacked too many contracts in front of him. Milone is a good starter with a better track record than Pelfrey or Ricky Nolasco. We didn't see him pitch that way last year.

So what decisions still await? The backup catcher has yet to be determined. One or two or even three bullpen jobs are still in question. We know Glen Perkins, Casey Fien and Brian Duensing are safe, and it would be a shocker if J.R. Graham didn't come north. That leaves three jobs for Tim Stauffer, Caleb Thielbar, Pelfrey, Blaine Boyer and maybe somebody not currently in the Twins organization.

The coming of 'clarity'

Lester Oliveros has
the right to accept
free agency after
being removed from
the 40-man roster
for the second time.
Paul Molitor on Friday promised "clarity" this morning about the pitching staff, specifically about the fifth starter.

Trevor May got dinged up in his start against Pittsburgh. Apparently Aaron Hicks didn't help matters by turning a catchable deep fly into a "double," but it still wasn't a good line score for May. I've figured all spring that May was going to need some injuries among the veterans to snag a rotation spot, and that hasn't happened.

Meanwhile, the Twins outrighted Lester Oliveros. I was barely aware he was on the 40, to be honest, and now he isn't. There are at least three non-roster guys in camp with a legit chance to make the 25-man roster (outfielder Shane Robinson and right-handed relievers Blaine Boyer and Tom Hamburger), so there might be other moves to come.

Oliveros is an alleged hard-thrower (he had, during his brief September callup last year, the single fastest pitch thrown by a Minnesota Twin), but he had arm issues early in camp and was sent out in the first wave of cuts. Meanwhile there is chatter that the Twins are dissatisfied with the velocities left in their bullpen and reports that they're sniffing around Rafael Soriano, the veteran reliever who lost the closer job in Washington last summer and has gone unsigned this winter.

Which, ugh. Soriano's 35 and there must be reasons why nobody signed him.

Current bullpen projection:

Closer: Glen Perkins
Setup 1: Casey Fien
LOOGY 1/Setup 2: Brian Duensing
MR1: Tim Stauffer
MR2: J.R. Graham
MR3: Boyer
Long: Tommy Milone or Mike Pelfrey

If they bring in somebody from the outside, who gets bumped? Not any of the first three, and not Graham, who is a Rule 5 guy with velocity. Ryan's downplayed Stauffer's struggles all month, but maybe he's the guy they're looking to replace in that mix,

Friday, March 27, 2015

Aiken's achin': Implications of a surgery

Brady Aiken, last summer's first overall draft pick whose failed negotiations with the Houston Astros wrecked the signing plans of two other prospects, had Tommy John surgery Wednesday.

The rapidity with which Aiken's injury appeared this spring (in his first start for the IMG Academy's postgraduate team) suggests that the Astros were right last summer about the condition of the lefty's elbow. Aiken and his advisors publicly denied that there was any issue, and I was, for whatever it's worth, skeptical of the Astros' good faith in the entire fiasco. Still am, for that matter; I can name other draft picks whose signing agreement ran aground on the medical exam without turning as ugly as this one did.

Aiken had signed with UCLA before the draft, but never enrolled there; the public nature of last summer's dispute made it likely that the NCAA would deem him ineligible under its nonsencial rules about agents. He's eligible for the draft again this summer, and even with this surgery is very likely to go top 10 again. (Last year a pitcher named Jeff Hoffman went ninth overall despite having Tommy John surgery about a month before the draft.)

The Twins draft sixth in June. Aiken is presumably on their radar.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Center field revisited

Aaron Hicks' stat line
is less impressive than
it was a week ago.
When I wrote here last week about the center field competition, Aaron Hicks was sporting a .330 spring training average. He had maybe one hit since then and dropped to .207 -- which, really only illustrates the silliness of relying on spring training stats to evaluate players. The sample sizes are small, the competition is uneven, the numbers are essentially meaningless.

Even if he were still hitting three-something, so what? He did that in spring trainings 2013 and and 2014, and it didn't prove indicative of anything. Hicks has 150 regular season games, 538 regular season plate appearances, in which he's hit .201. Letting a couple dozen spring training at-bats outweigh that would be silly.

Meanwhile, Eddie Rosario's spring training stats display a red-flag glitch: 40 plate appearances, no walks. He still has a batting average (.256 per Baseball Reference) higher than his on-base percentage (.250). His minor league stat line hardly reveals a Kevin Youkilis-type base-on-balls machine, but it's not that bizarre.

My take on this is that he's trying too hard to impress. There used to be a cliche about Dominican players and their hacking tendencies: You can't walk off the island. The idea was that these players were encouraged to swing at everything because they had to hit the ball to get the scouts' attention. Rosario is from Puerto Rico, not the Dominican, but the concept holds.

Hicks and Rosario are the two young guys in camp who can be seen as full-time center fielders. Veteran fringe players Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson are more likely to be platoon mates, and that increasingly looks like the direction the Twins will take. Terry Ryan doesn't sound very enthused by that prospect, while Paul Molitor this week expressed openness to platoons and invoked the success Earl Weaver had with platoons back when Molitor was a young player.

One difference, of course, is that Weaver platooned aggressively. His Orioles collected players like John Lowenstein and Benny Ayala specifically to use in such roles. A Schafer-Robinson platoon would be more a passive platoon, chosen out of a lack of better options not for a strategic advantage. Robinson's career splits actually suggest he's a bit "backwards," meaning better against right-handed pitchers, although I don't think 200 or so plate appearances over five seasons each way proves a whole lot. He's probably not the right-handed outfielder you'd pursue if you wanted to build a center field platoon.

Still, Schafer-Robinson is more palatable to me this spring than either Hicks or, I'm sorry to say, Rosario. (If Rosario does come north, I will not complain, but I won'be have high expectations; if it's Hicks, I will complain.) Schafer-Robinson are acceptable until Bryon Buxton arrives, and I hope that's sooner rather than later.