Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hi-ho Silva -- away

Carlos Silva has a career record of 70-70,
4.68—and has been paid more than $43 million.

You probably know already that erstwhile Twins innings eater Carlos Silva was dumped Sunday by the Chicago Cubs, who decided it was worth $8 million to tell him to go away.

This from Jim Hendry, the Cubs GM, after Silva ripped the pitching coach on his way out the door:

"Obviously, we're dealing with a man at this particular point of his career that's not willing to face the facts that what he's done the last few years, except for a two-month period (last year), is well below major league standards. And he seemed to make a continual problem of blaming everyone but himself. (He gave up) 29 hits in his first 11 innings of camp, and I've never had anyone I've dealt with classify that as 'bad luck.'"

The first sentence is an accurate statement of fact and sufficient reason to release Silva. The second is ... well, it may be true, but Hendry's spent years as Cubs GM without setting or enforcing behavior standards, and I doubt he's starting now. As for the third, anybody judging a pitcher strictly off 11 innings in an Arizona spring training is being stupid.

Silva is now available to anybody for the league minimum, and it's possible but not certain that somebody will give him a test run. It won't be the Twins; been there and done that, and if they want a sinker specialist on their roster, they have younger options with more upside in their minors.

Setting aside the question of Silva's jerkiness quotient, his career probably establishes a high end return for a pitcher with little going for him other than command of a two-seam fastball.

It's baseball season, people

The Twins aren't among the major league teams playing today -- their opener is Friday -- but there are games that count, and that makes this a good day.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Never mind the Bullock ...

It's been more than 40 hours since the Billy Bullock-Scott Diamond trade went down, and I'm still recovering from the surprise and absorbing the implications.

Bullock and Diamond are both pitchers, and there the similarities essentially end.

  • Bullock is right-handed,  Diamond a southpaw.
  • Bullock has one pitch, the fastball; Diamond has a legitimate repertoire.
  • Bullock has trouble throwing strikes; Diamond has a good control record
  • Bullock has a power arm; Diamond throws harder than you or me, but may be a bit below major league average.
  • Bullock was a second-round draft pick; Diamond was signed as an undrafted free agent.
  • Bullock is strictly a reliever; Diamond has been a competent (or better) starter as he climbed the Braves ladder.
  • Because of the reliever/starter difference, Diamond has thrown more innings in any of his three professional seasons than Bullock has in his entire pro career.

Pretty much everybody outside the Twins organization sees Bullock as the better prospect. Baseball America listed Bullock as the Twins 15th best prospect, Diamond at No. 29. John Sickles doesn't list them in any specific order, but he gave Bullock a B- grade, Diamond a C+. Seth Stohs had Bullock at No. 23, Diamond at No. 28. Aaron Gleeman had the widest disparity: Bullock at No. 10, Scott Diamond at 36.

Obviously, the Twins decided they'd rather have Diamond than Bullock.

Now, a necessary caveat: I don't know what the Twins are specifically basing that decision on. I have some observations and interpretations.

  • The Twins have had Bullock in their system for a bit less than two years and they had Diamond in camp all spring. They know more about these two than any outsider does.
  • No organization does better at teaching fastball command than the Twins. But Bullock's walk rates have gotten worse at each step up the ladder. 
  • Diamond increases by infinity the number of left-handed starter candidates in the Twins upper minors. They had none before this deal. 

If the Twins had concluded that Bullock was never going to locate his fastball and/or develop a quality secondary pitch, trading him is a lot more explicable than it appears off his track record. If the Twins had concluded that they really need a left-handed prospect at the upper levels, Diamond's value to them was increased.

The Twins are generally as patient as anybody with pitchers.  They haven't always been right on the pitchers they've kept or acquired, but few of the ones they've discarded in the past decade or so truly haunt them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I dream of box scores

I woke up in the middle of the night from a dream in which I was struggling to fit a collection of box scores in the paper. Dreams -- at least my dreams -- seldom make logical sense, and that is so in this specific instance; without going into detail, none of the issues that arose in last night's dream are factors in the Free Press world of 2011. The dream would have made more sense in 1988 -- heck, the dream was practically a documentary of the headaches that accompanied newspaper production in 1988.

I don't wish to use the methods of the '80s to put out the paper today, but I do harbor a nostalgic fondness for the box score.

The olden days, before the Internet ... The Free Press was an afternoon paper, and we took a certain pride in ensuring that we had all of the previous day's boxes. Terry Steinbach, New Ulm native, was catching for the Oakland A's, and the New Ulm paper (a morning paper) seldom had his team's home games; we did.

The Sporting News used to devote pages of newsprint to the previous week's box scores. So did the Gannett publication now called Sports Weekly. I subscribed to both, and dropped both when they dropped the boxes; I took the decision as not merely economic but as symbolic of a de-emphasis on baseball. The Free Press, too, no longer prints columns of agate type summarizing the Cubs-Pirates or Angels-Orioles games of the previous day.

Economically, it makes sense. By the time we downgraded our stats package from The Associated Press, even I had stopped scrutinizing the printed lines and gone online for my fix. The Internet killed the newspaper box score -- not just by making the material more rapidly available than print can, not only by presenting it in larger, more readable type, but by making so much more information available that the old-time box score is almost obsolete.

We still get, and run, the Twins box score, but that's it. That's enough.

Still ... There was a time when I could study Henry Chadwick's ingenious invention and deduce from nothing but the lines of agate type that Toronto's starter had been knocked out of the box in the fifth inning when Eddie Murray hit a three-run double -- but I don't have to do that anymore. The play-by-play is readily available.

I'm just not sure I'm better off this way.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A high-priced Diamond

The Twins can now
option Scott Diamond
to the minor leagues.
Dick Bremer said during today's broadcast that the Twins had traded Billy Bullock for the rights to Scott Diamond. (Addendum: Here's the Twins news release.)

That strikes me as a high price. Bullock was Minnesota's 2nd round pick in 2009, a hard-throwing reliever out of the University of Florida, and he had already reached Double-A. He's had excellent strikeout rates coupled with high walk rates in the minors.

Maybe the Twins had concluded that he simply isn't going to throw enough strikes, but Bullock was one of the better power arms in their system, and off what I know of the two, Bullock has a much higher ceiling than Diamond.

I had hoped the Twins could retain Diamond. I'm not sure he's worth Bullock.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

COPOP V: Repeat version 2

The Twins today optioned out Jim Hoey, Anthony Slama  and Luke Hughes. So Matt Tolbert, as I expected, is the utility infielder.

Can the Twins find
a way to keep
Scott Diamond?
And it boils down the bullpen choices a bit more. COPOP -- Current Outsider Projected Opening Pen -- is looking very much like the second one I posted:

Cl: Joe Nathan
SU1: Matt Capps
L1: Jose Mijares
SU2/MR1: Kevin Slowey
L2: Dusty Hughes
MR2: Glen Perkins
LM: Jeff Manship

The only difference being that COPOP II had Scott Baker in the SU2/MR1 slot. I wanted, and still want, to see a right-handed power arm in that role. They don't have one right now.

I don't regard this as the optimal set of choices from the set of pitchers on hand, and it's quite possible that the Twins don't either. The bullpen will be, as always, a work in progress.

Theoretically, Scott Diamond remains in the mix. He hasn't pitched in a Grapefruit League game since before I went to Florida -- he's had what been alternately reported as a blister or a cut on his pitching hand -- and Ron Gardenhire is understandably unwilling to commit to him on the roster over Jeff Manship (which would give the Twins four lefties in the 'pen) or Glen Perkins. The Twins are said to be trying to work out a deal with Atlanta to acquire his rights.

A Mark Dolenc sighting

This image has nothing to do with
Mark Dolenc. I'm just fascinated by the
lines drawn by Hideki Okajima's
pitchng motion and captured by the
This is the portion of spring training when the Twins reach into their minor league camp each day and pull a handful of guys up to the major league camp for the day.

This gives Ron Gardenhire and company a brief glimpse of some of the younger prospects,  gives them a day or two in the home whites, and keeps the bench well-stocked  even as the starters come out of that day's exhibition game early.

It was at this point last year — the final week or so of Florida games — that Mark Dolenc, who pitched and played outfield for Minnesota State, Mankato, started popping up in box scores. And so it is again. Dolenc went two-for-two Saturday with a double and two RBIs as the Twins came back to beat the Red Sox and win the Mayor's Cup.

Dolenc is 4-for-4 this year playing with the big boys. Meaningless, but I'm sure it feels better than last years' 0-fer.

Here are Dolenc's minor league stats. I would anticipate that he's in line to repeat Double-A ball this season.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hoey vs Waldrop vs Manship vs. Slowey

It may come as early as the first game of the season, but it will assuredly happen, and happen repeatedly: The Twins will win or lose games based on the ability of the bullpen to get a tough right-handed hitter out with men on base in the sixth or seventh innings.

They won't be using Joe Nathan or Matt Capps that early. Nor are they going to turn to Jose Mijares to get the likes of Jose Batista, Miguel Cabrera or Paul Konerko in such situations.

I've labeled the pitcher who will be entrusted with such at-bats as "set-up2/middle relief 1" in my various versions of COPOP -- Current Outsider Projected Opening Pen. Having somebody good for such a role is a sure sign of a deep and effective bullpen. In recent seasons the role has been filled by such worthies as Jesse Crain and Pat Neshek. Both are gone.

I'm currently anticipating that Jim Hoey will get the first shot at the role. He throws hard, but his control record falls short of Twins standards. Aaron Gleeman thinks Jeff Manship is more likely to make the 25-man roster than Hoey, but I just cannot see Ron Gardenhire entrusting big at-bats to his relatively mediocre stuff, at least not until he's paid a few more dues. He may be Matt Guerrier 2.0, but the first Guerrier didn't get this kind of role for a couple of years.

Kyle Waldrop won't be on the opening roster, and even if he was, he (and Hoey) would have the same unproven label to contend with.

Which would seem to point at Kevin Slowey for that role. Gardenhire has said the displaced starter would be asked to get big outs. I'd rather see Hoey, or Waldrop, get that opportunity first.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

More musings on the bullpen

Let's pretend that the bullpen I projected on Wednesday is indeed the bullpen with which the Twins open the 2011 season.

It certainly won't be the bullpen for the entire season. In 2010, 16 different pitchers relieved at least once during the regular season (and a 17th made a relief appearance in the playoffs). I don't really expect the 2011 bullpen to  have that much turnover, but it's certainly possible.

Showing the 2010 bullpen in the same sort of roles that I've used this spring:

Jon Rauch: Opening
Day closer in 2010
Closer: Jon Rauch
Setup 1: Matt Guerrier
Lefty 1: Jose Mijares
Setup2/Middle relief 1: Jesse Crain
Lefty 2: Brian Duensing
MR2: Pat Neshek
Long man: Alex Burnett

By September's roster expansion, drastic changes:

Closer: Matt Capps
Setup1: Crain
Lefty 1: Brian Fuentes
Setup 2/MR1: Guerrier
Lefty 2: Mijares (or maybe Randy Flores; Mijares may have been on the DL)
MR2: Rauch
Long man: Jeff Manship

Four of the original seven were still there, but all in (somewhat) different roles. Crain had moved ahead of Guerrier in the pecking order; Mijares and Rauch had some physical issues; Ron Mahay had been activated, pitched much of the season and separated his shoulder; Capps, Flores and Fuentes had been imported; Duensing was in the rotation ...

Bullpen evolution can be rapid. I now project Jim Hoey, Dusty Hughes and Glen Perkins for the three "open" jobs (defined here as S2/MR1, L2 and MR2), with the likes of Manship, Scott Diamond, Kyle Waldrop and Burnett missing the cut. It's entirely possible that Waldrop, Diamond and Burnett would be better choices for their projected roles.

And if that's the case, they'll get their shots. Well, maybe not Diamond -- his Rule V status means the Twins aren't sure they'll have him in their inventory all season -- but if Hoey can't throw strikes or Perkins struggles to get outs, Waldrop and Manship and Burnett will be available.

There are a lot of candidates here I like. Burnett, as I've said, reminds of of Juan Rincon, who had a few good seasons here. Manship is comparable to Guerrier. Waldrop keeps the ball in the park. Carlos Gutierrez is a ground-ball machine. Hoey has the power.

They're all unproven. So was Nathan at one point, and Mariano Rivera, and Goose Gossage.

Unproven means nothing. Getting outs, that means everything.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wave of moves; COPOP IV

Per Joe Christensen :

C Steve Holm and OF Jeff Bailey were re-assigned to minor-league camp today. They plan to re-assign LHP Phil Dumatrait and catcher Danny Lehmann after Monday’s game.
Several players will travel to Atlanta for next week’s exhibition games and then be re-assigned to minor-league camp: RHP Carlos Gutierrez, RHP Kyle Waldrop, LHP Chuck James, C Rene Rivera, INF Chase Lambin and OF Brian Dinkelman.
What does this mean? The Twins have five remaining candidates — LHP Dusty Hughes, LHP Glen Perkins, RHP Jeff Manship, RHP Jim Hoey and LHP Scott Diamond — competing for three open bullpen spots.

Jim Hoey was
acquired in the
J.J. Hardy trade.

For purposes of updating COPOP — Current Outsider Projected Opening Bullpen — the interesting item here is that Kyle Waldrop is missing out.

I had dropped Hoey off my projection while in Florida, but he's had three shutout outings since then. And Waldrop, as has been noted, isn't on the 40-man roster. The Twins retain more roster flexibility if he stays off the 40, and he has to be on the 40 to make the 25.

So ... the new COPOP:

Closer: Joe Nathan
Setup 1: Matt Capps
Lefty 1: Jose Mijares
Setup 2/Middle relief 1: Hoey
Lefty2: Hughes
MR2: Perkins
Long Man: Kevin Slowey

It's all about the money

A few tidbits from the financial side of baseball:

We all have one, right?
If it sometimes seems as if a third of the state of Minnesota is wearing a Joe Mauer jersey on any given day ... well, it may be so. Mauer's jersey is second in overall sales in all of MLB. And Justin Morneau's is 15th. (The leader, as you might guess, is Derek Jeter.)

Forbes reports that the Twins value rose 21 percent because of Target Field and the accompanying increase in revenues. Forbes says the franchise is worth $491 million, which is a bit less than the MLB average -- but that average is distorted by the Yankees' $5.1 billion price tag.

Overall, even with the recession, the supposed value of MLB teams rose 7 percent, according to the magazine.

Of course, an economic asset's worth depends on what one can sell it for, and if you're not selling the asset, then it needs to generate money and cash flow. Forbes can paint a rosy picture of franchise valuation and simultaneously write of "baseball's debt disaster." Heavy doses here of the Mets and Madoff, the Dodgers and the McCourt divorce and the Rangers and Tom Hicks' bankruptcy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Twins rotation set

Reported by LaVelle Neal: Scott Baker opens in the rotation, Kevin Slowey in the bullpen.

As expected. Both have pitched pretty well this spring (Baker's ERA is 2.84, Slowey's 2.25), not that the decision should be based on 12 innings apiece. But Baker has the higher ceiling, and he has the post-surgical elbow, and it's easier to give him the longer warm-up time he apparently needs if he's in the rotation.

Barring a trade, Slowey figures to be the long man — and Plan B when one of the starters goes down. When, not if; nobody gets 32-33 starts from all five of their opening rotation.

The stories of spring

It may appear that an inordinate number of posts here during the past month have concerned obscure middle relief candidates. The Twins had numerous bullpen departures during the free-agency season, they raked up a large field of candidates, and arguably the Twins story of the month has been the winnowing of that field.

There has been a bit more to spring training than the bullpen, of course, but those stories have gotten less play here than the bullpen. Let's do a quick rundown:

Michael Cuddyer has
been out of action
until very recently.
Injuries: Joe Nathan's elbow and Justin Morneau's head were the highest-profile rehab cases entering camp, but there were a couple of starters coming off non-radical elbow surgeries (Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn) and a couple of lineup fixtures coming off knee "cleanups" (Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer), Add in Cuddyer's infamous foot wart and Delmon Young's turf toe, and the health issues were fairly prominent early on.

Things appear to be coming together, and there were hints Monday that the Wednesday game (which is to be on FSN) will feature the regular lineup, together again for the first time.

Middle infield: It didn't take long for Ron Gardenhire to ratify the expected alignment of Tsuyoshi Nishioka at second and Alexi Casilla at short. Nishioka has drawn raves for his defensive skills, and while it's too soon to say with certainty how he'll hit, I'm not worried that pitchers stateside will knock the bat out of his hands.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka will be
the second baseman.
The infield reserve job is still undecided, although I expect it will go to Matt Tolbert.

Starting rotation: Six starters, five jobs. They entered with two locks, Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano, and Gardenhire swiftly made Brian Duensing a third. Once Blackburn established that his elbow was sound, he was made a fourth. That leaves Baker and Kevin Slowey and trade speculation.

My current take: Baker in the rotation, Slowey in long relief, no immediate trade. Baker is said to need a longer warmup before pitching than usual; this is both a reason to keep him out of the bullpen and a reason to fear reinjury.

Lining up the minor league depth: Other than the bullpen and the utility infield spot, there were no roster spots obviously available this spring. The usual raft of prospects in camp were largely jockeying for position for later call-ups.

I haven't a real handle on the "no. 3 catcher" competition, which is to be the guy who gets called up if either Mauer or Drew Butera goes on the shelf. My guess is that Steve Holm is the guy, but Danny Lehmann is probably the better defensively. Rene Rivera (like Holm, a minor-league free-agent import) is third on my list, but he could be first on the Twins'. All three remain in camp.

Of the guys lopped already, Trevor Plouffe fell in my eyes, Joe Benson rose and Ben Revere remains the same. Benson and Revere aren't likely to matter much in the majors in 2011, but either could well be a starter for the Twins in 2012.

On the pitching side, Kyle Gibson's showing may embolden the Twins to make a trade involving Slowey, as he's a viable replacement if/when Baker or another rotation member gets hurt.

Opening Day is a week from Friday.

Monday, March 21, 2011

COPOP III: Life after Neshek

To hear the Twins tell it, space on the 40-man roster was behind the decision to waive Pat Neshek.

Ron Gardenhire, quoted in the Star Tribune story:

"We need roster spots. That's why we were trying to clear one. We could have put [Neshek] back on if we needed. But we needed to [clear a] roster spot to have one available if we keep one of these guys who aren't on the roster."

Kyle Waldrop may
be the biggest
beneficiary of the
Neshek move.
One of these guys being Kyle Waldrop or (less likely) Carlos Gutierrez. The only problem with that rationalization is the math. As I explained in the previous post, any scenario that involves putting a non-roster guy such as Waldrop on the 25-man roster means either waiving Glen Perkins (out of options) or offering Scott Diamond (Rule V) back to Atlanta. Now, maybe there's a deal lined up that involves sending the Braves a non-roster player in exchange for their claim on Diamond, in which case, yeah, they needed a roster spot.That's certainly possible -- but if it's not the case, the public explanation for the move is really a way to avoid saying of Neshek: He's not what he was, and he's not going to be.

But the roster spot explanation casts a light on the Twins apparent thinking about the bullpen. It hints strongly that Waldrop is likely to land a berth. And LaVelle Neal said in his blog Sunday that Dusty Hughes (who had another scoreless inning Sunday) is "pretty much a lock."

So let's update COPOP (Current Outsider Projected Opening Pen):

Closer: Joe Nathan
Setup 1: Matt Capps
Lefty 1: Jose Mijares
Setup 2/Middle relief 1: Waldrop
Lefty2: Hughes
MR2: Perkins
Long Man: Kevin Slowey

This leaves Jeff Manship on the outside looking in. He could get the nod over Perkins, but I just can't see the Twins throwing Perkins away.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fare-thee-well, Pat Neshek

Pat Neshek: Go
West, young man.
One more bullpen candidate gone: Pat Neshek, native Minnesotan and fan favorite, was waived by the Twins and claimed by the San Diego Padres.

The Twins put Neshek on waivers Friday, which was the day after he allowed two home runs to right-handed hitters. That probably popped his bubble with the Twins; getting righties out is supposed to be his calling card.

This, of course, eliminates a bullpen contender. It also opens a spot on the 40-man roster, which provides an opening for someone like Kyle Waldrop.

Addendum: Just to be clear— the Twins don't have to immediately fill that slot, and probably won't until they must.

If Waldrop makes the 25-man roster, it will almost certainly mean that at least one of Glen Perkins and Scott Diamond didn't — and if either of them don't, they'll be coming off the 40.

And there are roster flexibility advantages to having less than 40 men on the roster. Example: The Twins now have two catchers on the 40 (Joe Mauer and Drew Butera). Should either go on the 15-day disabled list, the Twins would have to move one of their minor league catchers to the 40 in order to put him on the 25-man active roster. Having an open slot makes that easy.

Addendum II: Neshek, according to the Pioneer Press, had an option left (contrary to what John Gordon said during Sunday's game broadcast). That the Twins opted to waive Neshek rather than option him out to Triple A is telling.

Ticket sales, roster cuts and trade speculation

Item: The Twins started selling single-game tickets Saturday and had technical glitches that made some customers unhappy.

It's back to Rochester
for shortstop Trevor
Comment: Given the hype and emphasis the organization put on the March 19 opening of sales, this is a black eye for the Twins. They not only expected heavy demand on Saturday, they encouraged it. To have repeated system failures as a result ... they deserve the complaints, and shrugging them off as merely a "relatively small number" doesn't live up to my expectations of the operation.

Item: Five more players were sent to the minor league complex Saturday.

Comment: Trevor Plouffe got the attention in LaVelle Neal's pregame blog, but Plouffe entered camp as an underdog candidate for the roster and played poorly to boot. He's been charged with six errors in exhibition games, and that understates his problems in the field.

The demotion that struck me was Alex Burnett, who made the squad last year. Nobody's seized one of the three open bullpen jobs yet, and Burnett's been no worse than some of the remaining contenders, but he faded in the second half last season and obviously needs to climb back up in the esteem of the decision makers.

The other guys gone: Ben Revere, Danny Rams and Matt Brown. None were serious candidates for the 25-man roster.

Item: Kevin Slowey threw three shutout innings of relief Saturday.

Comment: The Blue Jays are said to have had three scouts and a video camera on hand for the game. If the Twins trade a starter this spring — and I think it's likely — I'd rather they moved Nick Blackburn, who started (five innings, two runs allowed) than Slowey, but I think the Twins value Blackburn more than Slowey, and I also think many other organizations would prefer Slowey.

The video camera? I suspect it's to dissect pitching motions. Slowey has had repeated stints on the disabled list, and if Toronto is contemplating trading for him, they may want first to decide if the injuries are rooted in his delivery.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Luis Castillo, Mr. Met

Luis Castillo: The Mets will pay him $6 million to go away.
The Mets on Friday released original piranha Luis Castillo. They did so even though the veteran second baseman is owed $6 million for the 2011 season and even though they don't have a clearly better alternative for the job.

Read between the lines, and Sandy Alderson, the Mets' general manager, essentially admits it's a PR move:

"I don't think there's any question there's some linkage between his situation and a perception of the Mets that has existed to this point, and that's something that was taken into account. At some point, you have to make an organizational decision that goes beyond just an ability to play or not play. Those things are relevant, and you try not to make them so controlling that it dictates the final decision under any circumstances, but realistically, it's a factor."

Fairly or not, Castillo had become a walking symbol of some the worst aspects of the Omar Minaya regime in Queens. Not all of them, because you can't be simultaneously a prospect rushed haphazardly up the organizational ladder and an overpaid, ineffective veteran, but enough so that Mets fans won't miss him.

A few more disjointed thoughts about Castillo:

His future
A blog commenter wondered Friday if the Twins might pick him up. I don't see that happening; been there, done that. The Twins right now are about establishing multi-year solutions to their roster questions, not about one-year stopgaps. Castillo's 35. He may be free, but he isn't cheap; the price of adding him is that of not giving a younger player a clear shot.

I don't know that he's going to find a landing place. There are teams with holes at second base, but the perception on Castillo is that he's in sharp decline, and he doesn't have the arm to be a useful utility infielder.

The trades
The Twins got him from the Florida Marlins after the 2005 seasons when the Fish went on one of their periodic fire sales.The price was a pair of minor league pitchers, Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler.  Neither succeeded in the majors; Tyler topped out at Double A, and Bowyer, if I recall correctly, got hurt during spring training 2006; at any rate, he last threw a regular season pitch in 2005.

Castillo was a significant contributor to the Twins' marvelous 2006 run, but he showed signs of decline in 2007 and was approaching free agency; Terry Ryan, then the Minnesota general manager, traded him to the Mets on deadline day and took some criticism from Torii Hunter and Johan Santana for doing so.

This is probably reading too much into it, but I wonder if Santana's decision to accept the Mets as a trade destination was at all linked to his perception that the Castillo trade illustrated a deeper commitment to winning in Queens. If so, it would be another example of why players make lousy GMs. (In truth, I believe Santana's decision was about money.)

The Twins got Drew Butera, currently their backup catcher, and outfielder Dustin Martin in the deal; Martin has hit in the .250s in his two Triple A seasons and does not appear to be a threat to dislodge anybody in the major league outfield.

The broadcaster
The Twins replaced Castillo on the roster in 2007 with Alexi Casilla. The two names are similar enough to give Dan Gladden fits; he's spent much of the past four seasons calling Casilla "Castillo."

Earlier this week, the Twins and Mets played an exhibition and Castillo was in the New York lineup. Sure enough, Gladden repeatedly called him "Casilla."

Friday, March 18, 2011

COPOP: Neshek and Manship

Jeff Manship: A long
man, or something
The biggest question remaining for the Twins 2011 bullpen is: Who is going to be the guy called upon to get a tough right-handed hitter out in the seventh inning?

The ninth figures to belong to Joe Nathan, the eighth to Matt Capps. (Or they can be reversed.) Jose Mijares is the top lefty-killer. But who gets the role Jesse Crain commanded so well in the second half of 2010?

There wasn't a lot of encouragement in Thursday's results. Jeff Manship started the game, went two innings, allowed a run. Joe Christensen's gamer trotted out the Matt Guerrier comp for Manship, which would seem to bode well -- until one recalls that it took Guerrier a couple of years to earn a prominent role in the Twins 'pen. Manship's not there yet.

Pat Neshek had a rough
outing Thursday.
Pat Neshek's the guy I've been projecting for that role, and certainly he was superb in it in 2006-07. But he gave up a pair of home runs Thursday, both to right-handers (Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Raburn). That's a big ugly.

Christensen's piece has Ron Gardenhire saying the displaced starter is not necessarily going to be limited to long relief: "Whoever it is, I'm going to use him in a lot of big situations." Color me skeptical of the notion that either Kevin Slowey or Scott Baker are in line for the job. This is a sprinter's job; Baker and Slowey have a starter's mindset.

Here's COPOP -- Current Outsider Projected Opening Pen:

Cl: Nathan
S1: Capps
L1: Mijares
S2/MR1: Baker
L2: Hughes
MR2: Perkins
LM: Manship

This one takes seriously the notion of the displaced starter called on for big outs; if that's the idea, Baker's probably the better fit. Manship gets the long man's role and both Dusty Hughes and Glen Perkins win jobs.

A trade's more likely.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Luke Hughes scenario

Luke Hughes homered
in his first major-
league at-bat last
season, then got hurt.
Luke Hughes, an oft-injured Australian infielder whose bat has always been reckoned better than his glove, has had an intriguing spring -- lots of playing time, lots of extra base hits, plenty of strikeouts.

And now he's emerged, almost two weeks from Opening Day, as a serious contender for the backup infielder job that had been reckoned to be Matt Tolbert's.

This is a startling notion to those observers who link the utility infielder job with the departed Nick Punto, whose skill set was dramatically different from Hughes'. Punto was a glove and legs; to the extent that he contributed at the plate, it was with singles and walks. Hughes is slower, has never established a real defensive position in the minors and doesn't draw many walks.

Tolbert is a better Punto comp. Hughes is more comparable to Brendan Harris, another infielder now gone from the Twins roster. One significant difference: Harris was deemed usable, or at least most comfortable, at shortstop; while Hughes got a few innings at the position earlier this week, it's unlikely that he'll ever play there other than in an emergency.

What I find interesting in the Hughes scenario is how it suggests a different kind of bench for the Twins. To make a broad generalization, there are two kinds of bench players: specialists, who have a specific role to play in a game; and backups, who are basically waiting to start.

Fans old enough to remember Earl Weaver know that he staffed his Oriole roster with specialists, guys who did one specific thing well. Tom Kelly, particularly early in his career, tended to have professional bench guys;  one of them, Jim Dwyer, had played for Weaver. (Dwyer is now a coach in the Twins farm system.)

Ron Gardenhire has tended to go in the other direction. He has generally gone with reserves whose job is to fill in when a regular sits. Part of that is that he has generally carried just four (non-pitching) reserves, but even with short benches he frequently has somebody with no discernible role. (Remember Luis Rodriguez?)

Tolbert's job, should he make the roster, would be to start occasionally for the infielders; pinch-run for Jim Thome; step in on defense in game in which somebody, most likely Alexi Casilla, is pinch-hit for.

Hughes' job would be a bit different-- less pinch-running, more hitting. Gardenhire would/should be looking for ways to get him fastballs to hit.

Hughes is a right-handed bat for a team whose primary DHs, Thome and Jason Kubel, are lefties with significant platoon differentials. But how willing is Gardenhire to use Hughes at DH against a lefty instead of Thome or Kubel? How often will the manager push Tsuyoshi Nishioka out of his perceived comfort zone by putting him at shortstop so that Hughes can play second? History suggests the answers are "not much" and "seldom."

Tolbert better fits Gardenhire's accustomed style of managing. I'll be surprised if Hughes comes north to open the season.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dusty Hughes and the incompetency of the Kansas City Royals

Dusty Hughes: The
Royals had bigger
problems, but they
didn't recognize it.
The Kansas City Royals lost 95 games in 2010. This was not a fluke; they have lost at least 93 games in six of the last seven seasons.

The Kansas City Royals have Joakim Soria, which means they have the single best relief pitcher in the American League Central. But a dominant closer does not a strong bullpen make, and the rest of the bullpen was essentially an atrocity.

Late this winter, the Royals signed Jeff Francis, once the ace of the Colorado Rockies and now a rehab project, as a free agent — a totally defensible move, since the Royals' projected rotation after the Zach Grienke trade was even more an atrocity than the bullpen. They needed a spot on the 40-man roster.

They waived Dusty Hughes, arguably their second-best reliever in 2010 and certainly no worse than their third most effective bullpenner. They dumped him even though

  • He has options left;
  • They now have no established lefty relievers on the 40-man roster;
  • They were keeping the worthless likes of Kanekoa Texeira and Jesse Chavez around.

Hughes isn't a great pitcher; he may not make the Twins roster. But he was — and remains — better than the options on hand for the Royals. They had four or five bigger problems in their bullpen than him last season.

And now — wait for it — the Royals are scraping for lefty arms for the bullpen. Of course they are.

Even sillier than valuing Chavez over Hughes is that they were/are seriously considering the likes of Danny Duffy for a relief role. Duffy is one of the reasons the Royals farm system is about as highly regarded as any in the game — not just currently, but ever. It's not a surprise that he's not quite ripe for the majors yet; he has less than 40 innings in Double A, none in Triple A.  But when he is, there is no way that the Royals should be assigning him to LOOGY duties.

It's fairly simple, really. When Duffy's ready for the majors, start him. If he's not ready, leave him in the minors and start him there. Don't waste him in the bullpen.

Handling his development properly would be a lot easier if they had kept Hughes around. But the Dayton Moore regime has never been very astute at roster management, and this is just another example.

A Matt Anderson sighting

Matt Anderson: Still throwing hard,
still doesn't know where it's going.
If you remember Matt Anderson,  odds are that you're a longtime Tigers fan, an aficionado of power-pitching prospects, or simply a sucker for goofy injury stories.

The Tigers selected Anderson in the 1997 draft with the No. 1 overall pick. He was gifted with a right arm that threw thunderbolts — some radar gun readings are said to have clocked his fastball at 103 mph. He reached the majors the next season (1998) but never accomplished what the fastball suggested he could. He got hurt; he last pitched in the majors in 2005 and faded from organized ball in 2008.

The legend says he wrecked his shoulder throwing octopui in a promotional appearance linked to the Red Wings' Stanley Cup run. Anderson denies it; in truth, no matter how he got hurt, he never had the control or command to be a standout pitcher in the majors.

Now, at the age of 34, he's trying one more time. He signed a minor league deal with the Phillies; he's not even a non-roster invitee. He still throws hard, however, and no matter how checkered the past, teams will always look closely at somebody who can heave the horsehide in the upper 90s.

I saw Anderson pitch Sunday against the Twins, and it was not pretty. He got one out among two hits, a walk, a hit batter and two wild pitches (there was also an error made behind him). He's made three appearances for the big club this spring: 1.2 innings, five hits, ERA 16.20.

Some careers are just not meant to be.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Current Outsider Projected Opening Pen (COPOP)

Does Kevin Slowey fit better in the
long relief job, or as trade bait?
Late in Friday's exhibition game I left my seat behind home plate to visit with three other Twins bloggers -- Topper Anton, Nick Nelson and Seth Stohs -- who were sitting a section over and further up. I raved to them about the breaking pitch I'd seen a few innings earlier from Dusty Hughes (a pitch that led to my Monday print column).

Then I saw Carlos Gutierrez coming in to pitch the eighth inning, and scurried back to my seat to get a better look at his vaunted sinker.

It was a weird inning. The Hammond Stadium radar gun (which has been widely suspect all spring) gave him some of the highest pitch speeds of the game. But he got no ground balls -- two outfield flies and a baserunner cut down trying to advance on a pitch that popped out of the catcher's glove.

I returned to the trio and reported seeing nothing that resembled Gutierrez's reputed strengths.

Somewhere along the line, Anton asked how I projected the bullpen, and I responded with what I had posted a few days earlier:

Closer: Joe Nathan
Setup 1: Matt Capps
Lefty 1: Jose Mijares
Setup 2/middle relief 1: Pat Neshek
Lefty 2: Glen Perkins, Scott Diamond or Dusty Hughes (in that order)
MR 2: Jim Hoey
Long man: Kevin Slowey

But, I added, I think there's a better chance that one of the six starters will be traded or put on the disabled list than that one will wind up in the bullpen. (And while we were talking, Kyle Waldrop struck out the side in the ninth inning.)

Since that conversation, I've come to doubt Hoey's viability as a candidate. Yes, he has more velocity than anybody else in camp. It's not helping him get outs.

Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune has a fresh column  that essentially projects the bullpen jobs thusly:

Cl: Nathan
S1: Capps
L1: Mijares
S2/MR1: ? a trade target
L2: Hughes
MR2: Waldrop
LM: Jeff Manship

Reusse expects Slowey to be dealt for a relief pitcher and says the Ron Gardenhire/Rick Anderson duo like Manship, Hughes and Waldrop.

I've discounted Waldrop's chances this spring because he's not on the 40-man roster. But at least one spot on the 40 is likely to open, because Perkins and Diamond are use-or-lose. If Hughes wins the second lefty job, it's going to be tough to fit either of them on the 25-man roster, and there's no way all three will stick.

If the decision had to be made today, I think Diamond would be returned to the Braves. That would open a slot for Waldrop.

But I continue to believe that the Twins will be loathe to give up on Perkins. Hughes has options left, Perkins does not. Gardenhire may prefer Hughes, but the front office justifiably hates giving up inventory and is quite capable of overruling him on this one.

So let's make this the Current Outsider Projected Opening Pen (COPOP):

Cl: Nathan
S1: Capps
L1: Mijares
S2/MR1: Neshek
L2: Perkins
MR2: Waldrop
LM: Manship

It's a flawed projection, because it anticipates a trade of Slowey without a return. That's possible, but not likely.

COPOP will be updated with some frequency.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A morning on the minor league side

Miguel Sano (24) reacts to a ground ball to his right during
infield practice in the Twins minor league complex.
There are two kinds of uniforms at the Twins minor league complex. The coaches and managers wear the major league whites. The players wear navy jerseys and the gray road trousers.

I surmise that it makes it easy to tell at a glance if this stranger is one of the bosses or one of the underlings. And that over time it makes a visual symbol of the goal of each of these players — to wear that bright white.

Sunday was a brilliant day — easily the best weather of my four days in Fort Myers — and I spent the morning watching the tedious drills of the first days of spring training.

On Field 1, waves of pitchers took fielding practice. On Field 2, catchers — none of whom had names I recognized; the most prominent catching prospects in the organization were still in major league camp — were working. On Field 3, infielders — most, if not all, of them bound for Class A teams — took infield.

It was that group that I settled in to watch, and specifically Miguel Sano.

Tommy Watkins (61), a longtime Twins farmhand who got
a cup of coffee in the majors in 2007, is now a coach in
their minor league system.
Sano is one of the most important pieces of the Twins minor league system. He was signed in 2009 for the second-largest bonus in the history of Dominican prospects and is still just 17 (or so it is believed). Eyeballing him from the other side of the fence makes it easy to understand why some doubt the veracity of that age; his is not the body of an adolescent.

Sano split time last season between third base and shortstop. The conventional wisdom holds that he's going to outgrow shortstop — become too bulky and lose the mobility the position requires. I noticed Sunday that the coaches encouraged the players to shift positions frequently as they hit dozens of balls,  but Sano seldom left the third base group.

Another player I watched was Niko Goodrum, who the Twins took in the second round last summer. He's said to be a stellar athlete, but there are questions about his bat. Tall and slender (he's  listed at 6-foot-3, 167 pounds), he'll play short until he proves that he can't handle it.

When that drill ended, I shifted over to watch the pitchers. Again, tedious, boring drills.  Two lines, one fielding "bunts" and throwing to third base, the other line either throwing to first or covering first.

There were two things I took from that:

1) The Twins have a lot of tall pitchers in their organization now.
2) Toby Gardenhire is still around. (He was the guy taking throws at third base.) Young Gardy had been in major league camp the previous two springs as an extra catcher, and when he didn't get the invite this year I wondered if he had been bounced from the organization.

Back home again; first cuts

I missed seeing David
Bromberg pitch during
my spring training trip,
which particularly
disappointed me because
I now know his girlfriend
reads this blog.
My wife and I were winging our way back to Minnesota today when the Twins made their first round of training camp cuts.

That they would start trimming soon was obvious. The minor league camp opened Friday, so the displaced players now have a place to report. The pitchers who are going to be in starting rotations in Triple A need to do more than one-inning stints, and the pitchers who are going to be in the major league rotation are going to suck up more innings.

None of the moves really qualify as a surprise. I note that Joe Benson will repeat Double A, but he hasn't had a full season there and struggled at that level to start last season. A month or more, even, of consolidation there isn't a bad idea. I surmise that Kyle Gibson, David Bromberg, Anthony Swarzak and Eric Hacker will be four of the five starters at Rochester, and it's quite possible that Yorman Bazardo will fill out the rotation.

Fourteen cuts, six of them pitchers, none of them left-handers. Five of them were subjects of the just-completed bullpen series, but none of them were, in my view, serious candidates. I got through that one just in time.

The Twins have about two weeks left in Fort Myers. I would expect the next round of bullpen cuts will nail at least two lefties (non-roster invitees Chuck James and Phil Dumatrait) and at least two of these five right-handers: Kyle Waldrop, Carlos Gutierrez, Jim Hoey, Alex Burnett and Anthony Slama. Waldrop and Gutierrez, as non-roster guys, will be easy targets. The toughest decisions will be still to come.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring training: Phillies 6, Twins 3

Kyle Gibson faced five men and got them all on Sunday.
Great seats, hey buddy?

In this case, yeah. We were a bit to the first base side of home, four rows off the field. We could tell which Phillies hitters had shaved that morning when they were in the on-deck circle.

The Twins weren't so good. They were no-hit through five innings. And they played some really sloppy defense, some of which showed up on the scoreboard.

Trevor Plouffe committed at least three misplays at shortstop, only one of which was scored an error. None of them resulted in runs, but it wasn't pretty. Ben Revere turned a seemingly routine flyball into a double (triggering the six-run Philadelphia inning in the fifth), and Delmon Young dropped a foul ball, although that may have been intentional (it would easily have scored a runner from third, and the Twins were playing the infield in).

Plouffe's struggles accounted for two of the four "hits" the Phillies got off Francisco Liriano in his three innings. Liriano worked out of the jams.

Joe Nathan couldn't. He gave up all six runs. Revere almost got skulled by the first batter. (It was a cloudless day, and the glare off the outfielders' glasses was noticeable from my seats, but still ... gotta catch that ball.) The next guy pushed a bunt past Nathan for a base hit. Then came a pair of legit doubles, and in some order, a single, a walk, a stolen base, capped off by a three-run home off the right field foul screen. A rough outing, and Nathan wasn't very good, but it started with Revere's misplay.

Kyle Gibson relieved Nathan in the middle of the inning, He breezed through five hitters. I fully expect him to be sent to the minor league camp soon, maybe even Monday, but by all accounts he has impressed the decision makers. He certainly impressed me.

Eric Hacker, another pitcher I expect to be demoted soon, tossed a pair of scoreless innings, but it's probably too little too late for his opening roster chances.

I have more to talk about, particularly what I saw in the minor league complex Sunday morning and a Matt Anderson sighting, but ... we have a flight to catch early in the morning, and stuff to do in order to make that flight.

Bullpen candidate profile: Matt Capps

Matt Capps has 109
career saves.
Pitcher: Matt Capps
Throws: Right
Age: 27
Roster status: 40-man roster, arbitration eligible
Chance of making team: He only misses if injured

I started this series with one of the few certainties in the Minnesota bullpen (Jose Mijares); I close it with another.

Matt Capps is a Proven Closer, with the $7 million contract such status "earns." But the early indications are that Joe Nathan will be the first choice to close out wins, leaving Capps to be the primary set-up man.

Which figures to be less lucrative in the long run, but carries a different reward. This is Capps' first spring training with a team that thoroughly expects to be in the playoffs come October.

He'll get another run at the closer job someday -- if not with the Twins, with somebody else. But he's not a big strikeout guy, which means he's never going to be looked upon as one of the very best closers in the game. Successful second-tier closers like Capps have a tendency to play second-fiddle to a bigger name down the stretch after a midseason trade. In this case, it's starting in April rather than August.

But this won't last past this year. Nathan is on the last year of his contract; Capps is on a one-year deal. The Twins are paying the two a total in excess of $19 million, which is substantial coin for the privilege of having the closer job backed up.

One of them may well be back in 2012. I doubt both will be.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The perks of a broadcaster

This is the scene: It is late Friday morning in Fort Myers. On a practice field on the Twins complex -- the field furthest from Hammond Stadium, physically and symbolically -- the Twins minor leaguers are gathered. It is reporting day for the dozens of players who are too young, too raw, too lacking in current ability, to be in the major league camp, which has been in session now almost a month.

There is no actual practice today. The players check in, have their physical, are divided into small groups and timed on a four-lap run around the warning track. They don't even have numbered jerseys yet.

There is little to see here. But the major league workouts have ended on the other end of the complex, there's still a couple of hours before the exhibition game with the Red Sox begins, and a few dozen fans have wandered to the minor league side.

And in a one-mound bullpen squeezed between the field where players are running laps and the path where the spectators stand, a scrawny lefty is throwing to another left-hander in a catchers' crouch. The catcher is wearing a fielder's glove. He is Gary Lucas, former major league pitcher, now a coach in the lower levels of the Twins system.

It is quickly apparent that Lucas is deconstructing the pitcher's delivery to such an extent that one wonders How did this kid get signed? And then one notices, standing in the corner of the bullpen taking it all in, Dick Bremer, the Twins TV play-by-play man.

A spectator calls out to Bremer about Bert Blyleven's whereabouts. Bremer says he does't expect Bert to be around until Monday (the Monday game is to be televised back home). Lucas tells the youngster he's letting go off the ball "up here" and needs to let go "out in front," which will bring the pitch down. The kid throws a lower pitch. See how that one moved? Lucas exclaims.

Lucas is ready to wrap up this semi-private tutoring session; so is the kid. Lucas coaxes him to throw a strike. We're going to end this with a strike, or a least a neighborhood pitch. I know you've got it in you. The lefty finally fires one over the plate, and Lucas bounces up, chats with the youngster a bit, accepts thanks from the senior Bremer, assesses the youngster's fastball at about 70 mph, inquires as to his age, and heads to the field.

The broadcaster joins his son, who says something quietly about not expecting the spectators. The father is not exactly sympathetic.

On the warning track, the first group of runners is staggering to the end of their final lap.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spring training: Twins 3, Red Sox 2

A fearsome foursome of Twins bloggers:  (from left)
Nick Nelson, Topper Anton, Edward Thoma and Seth Stohs.
Justin Morneau and Delmon Young made their "official" spring training debuts on Friday -- that "B" game on Tuesday was an unofficial exhibition game -- and they were the first to leave. Young had a well-struck single to right in two at-bats; Morneau struck out his first time up and reached base his second time up with Carl Crawford dropped a fly ball.

So that's probably the headline of the day. A few other observations:

We got there early and watched some PFP (pitchers fielding practice), infield practice and batting practice for the guys who weren't starting. Nothing too remarkable there, although I did overhear Ron Gardenhire saying before it go started, Let's do it right. This is, apparently, something that strikes players from other organizations: Everybody does PFP in spring training; the Twins have a real focus not just on doing it, but doing it right, not sloppily, not in a let's-get-this-out-of-the-way manner.

Joe Mauer did some hitting in the batting cage under the stadium, which drew a crowd of onlookers several rows deep (the cages are visible from the outside). It felt a good bit like looking over the shoulder of somebody trying to type.

I was wondering if Tsuyoshi Nishioka was going to play, given the earthquake/tsunami in his homeland, but he did, saying that he would honor his countrymen by doing so. I paid more attention to him than to Morneau, to be honest about it; Morneau's play I'm familiar with. Nishioka is a novelty.

He had a well-struck single to left in his first at-bat, right-handed against Jon Lester. Later he faced a lefty and drew a walk. His stance right-handed appears conventional; left-handed he has that odd trait so many of the Japanese hitters have of starting the body forward while leaving the hands back.

On defense he made a very nice diving back-handed stab of a grounder on which he was leaning the wrong way initially. He appeared playful, even flamboyant (flipping the ball to Morneau behind his back during pregame warmups, for example). He's going to be fun to watch.

Ben Revere beat out a bunt and stole third base. He's  fast and, unlike Carlos Gomez, appears to have an idea of how to apply his speed. (Revere is wearing No. 11, which used to belong to Chuck Knoblauch and Jacque Jones.)

Dusty Hughes threw a wicked breaking ball for a strikeout to end his one inning of work. One pitch, but it really elevated his status in my eyes.

Carlos Gutierrez and Kyle Waldrop worked the last two innings. They're similar style pitchers, but Waldrop was the more effective. Gutierrez didn't get a groundball in his inning; Waldrop stuck out  two men the side.

And the infield substitutes had a very sloppy rundown behind Gutierrez. Matt Tolbert finally took control of it and got the out, but I expect that tomorrow's morning drills will involve a heavy dose of executing the rundown.

Which they will do without me dancing attendance. Tomorrow is our non-baseball day for the trip.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring training: Toronto 7, Twins 4

Kent Hrbek and Kirby
Puckett, in their
bobblehead form.
Joe Nathan pitched today, but I didn't see it because I was busy collecting these lovely bobbleheads I won in a drawing.

There's the highlight of the game, right? Well ... yeah.

A few other notes:

Nick Blackburn was unimpressive. Lots of line drives. Two home runs. (The wind was blowing out, but still ...) I found myself wondering if Ron Gardenhire is wondering if he committed too soon to Blackburn in the rotation. And I'm sure he isn't.

Glen Perkins looked good in his one inning of work. So did Phil Dumatrait, who struck out a pair of batters. Eric Hacker didn't; his defense didn't help much, but he had a bunch of 3-2 counts and deserved to give up the two runs he allowed.

Luke Hughes hit a long double. It's still early in camp, but the man keeps getting extra-base hits. I have no idea where they can play him, at least as long as Tsuyoshi Nishioka's at second base. Hughes was at first base today, and the closest thing to a test was a bad throw from Blackburn in the first inning that he kept from becoming an error.

Danny Valencia lived up to the poor-defense label he carried at this time last year. One ball was ruled a hit, another an error, but I expected both plays to be made.

The game was delayed more than an hour by rain. It was a "cold" 65 degrees when it started. I put cold in quotation marks because I know what it's like back home.

With the morning showers, my wife and I made our excursion to Bell Tower Shops today. Tomorrow I intend to see the morning practices. And I'm likely to encounter some other Twins bloggers.

Bullpen candidate profile: Carlos Gutierrez

Carlos Guterriez has allowed
14 home runs in more than
258 minor-league innings.
Pitcher: Carlos Guterriez
Throws: Right
Age: 24
Roster status: Non-roster invitee
Chance of making team: Not this spring

Carlos Guterriez was taken by the Twins late in the first round of the 2008 draft. He had been the closer for the Miami Hurricanes, a rather limited-inning role prompted by his limited array of pitches and Tommy John surgery earlier in his collegiate career.

His numbers in the Twins system aren't impressive, but they've been skewed by development issues. He's done a lot of starting, both to give him innings and to force him to develop some secondary pitches to complement his sinking fastball. He walks a few more than the Twins would like; he doesn't have a strikeout pitch.

But he does have the good sinker, and he has a future. But he and Kyle Waldrop are very similar in style, and Waldrop has been more successful so far. I suspect that at least one of them will get a callup at some point this season. Right now, I would say Waldrop deserves the first shot.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spring training, here I am

Drove up to MSP this morning through the snow, landed in Fort Myers this evening. It was 81 degrees.

Tomorrow I hit the Twins complex to see what I see.

Bullpen candidate profile: Eric Hacker

Eric Hacker has three
major league innings
on his resume,
with Pittsburgh in
Pitcher: Eric Hacker
Throws: Right
Age: Turns 28 later this month
Roster status: On the 40-man roster; probably has option left
Chance of making team: Slim

Eric Hacker was named pitcher of the year in the Pacific Coast League last season, an honor that is not to be confused with being reckoned the best pitching prospect.

He went 16-8, 4.51 for Fresno, the Giants' Triple A team; the ERA, in the overall context of the hitter-happy PCL, isn't bad, but his key component ratios aren't nearly as impressive.

The Giants didn't need his help last season; they used a mere seven starters, and one of them made just one start. Basically, they replaced Todd Wellemeyer halfway through the season with Madison Bumgartner; the other four starters (Tim Lincecum. Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito) made 33 starts apiece. Hacker didn't get so much as a September callup; he may not even have been on the 40-man roster.

That won't be an obstacle for him with the Twins; they signed him to a major-league deal early this offseason, a move that many outsiders found curious and would be completely inexplicable if he's out of options.  Despite his presence on the 40-man roster, he appears to be another piece of Triple-A depth brought in from the outside.

I rather expect Hacker to be a relatively early cut this spring. He figures to be in the Rochester rotation, perhaps the first starter in line for a call-up if needed, and as such will need to be stretched out this spring.

He's not, as matters stand. Plan B for the Twins rotation; Plan B will be whichever of the established starters winds up in the bullpen. He may not even be Plan C; it could be him, it could be Jeff Manship. And it's expected that by midseason Kyle Gibson will be deemed ready for the majors.

He's more a rotation candidate than bullpen candidate, and there's no room in that inn either.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Morneau plays a B game

The Twins lined this game up just a few days ago, with the stated intent of getting more innings for some of the 27 arms in camp. But it also provided a low-profile chance to but the former MVP into the lineup.

Links here, here and here.

Good sign.

Bullpen candidate profile: Dusty Hughes

The Twins picked up
Dusty Hughes on
waivers in January.
Pitcher: Dusty Hughes
Throws: Left
Age: 28
Roster status: 40-man roster; at least one option left
Chances of making team: Better than they ought to be, but probably only fair.

Option status may be key for Dusty Hughes, who is in a competition with fellow southpaws Glen Perkins and Scott Diamond for one, possibly two, spots on the roster.

Perkins is out of options and would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors; Diamond is a Rule V player and would not only have to clear waivers but be offered back to Atlanta. Perkins and Diamond are use-or-lose; Hughes can be stashed away for future use. (I base this on a Kansas City Star article last summer on the problems in the Royals bullpen, one of which was that their most effective relievers had options left and the more incompetent ones didn't.)

The Twins apparently see more in Hughes than I do. He was OK for the Royals last year, but nothing impressive. He did get outs against the Twins, however -- a slash line against Minnesota of .209/.288/.279 -- and I fear a case of Craig Monroe Syndrome at work here. The Twins struggled to get Monroe out when he was with Detroit; they overpaid to get him; and once they had him, they discovered that the rest of the league could get him out. Which they'd have known if they had merely compared his numbers against the Twins to his overall numbers.

Hughes had a .209 batting average allowed against the Twins in 43 at-bats; his overall BA allowed was .273 (216 at-bats). Which strikes you as the better gauge of his ability?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bullpen candidate profile: Scott Diamond

As a headline writer
given to puns, I hope
Scott Diamond shines.
Pitcher: Scott Diamond
Throws: Left
Age: 24
Roster status: Rule V draftee
Chance of making team: Fair to poor

I wrote this about Scott Diamond shortly after the Twins plucked him off the Atlanta Braves' roster, and it still holds.

He's still a soft-tossing lefty with a good curve, a history of durability and a knack for keeping the ball in the park. He could fit as a second LOOGY, he could fit as a long man.

And he's still a Rule V draftee, which means he's use or lose. The Braves chose to leave him off their 40-man roster, and the Twins drafted him onto their 40. If the spends the full 2011 season on the Twins 25-man roster, he's theirs. If he doesn't:

  • The Twins put him on waivers, with any claiming club bound by the same Rule V restrictions.
  • If he makes it though waivers, Atlanta can take him back. And as I noted in December, it sounded then as if the Braves want him back.

So far this spring, Diamond has been unscored upon in four innings highlighted by a pickoff, but his two-inning outing on Sunday was a bit ragged.  He, Perkins and Hughes have all put up goose eggs in the early exhibitions.

It's possible for two of the three to make the roster, but barring a trade or injury, I don't see it. Pat Neshek is looking very good, and Jim Hoey's fastball is at least 10-mph faster than Diamond's.

As of Sunday, my guess on the bullpen composition:

Closer: Joe Nathan
Setup 1: Matt Capps
Lefty 1: Jose Mijares
Setup2/MR 1: Pat Neshek
MR 2: Jim Hoey
Lefty 2: Perkins, Diamond or Hughes (in that order)
Long man: Kevin Slowey

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bullpen candidate profile: Chuck James

Chuck James struck out
65 batters in 60
minor-league innings
in 2010.
Pitcher: Chuck James
Throws: Left
Age: 29
Roster status: Non-roster invitee
Chance of making team: Not for Opening Day.

Chuck James spent about a year and a half in the Atlanta Braves starting rotation, 2006-07, and appeared at that point to be a passable back-of-the-rotation guy. He had a decent strikeout rate and an acceptable BB/K ratio but gave up a lot of home runs.

Things fell apart completely in 2008, and he had significant shoulder injuries. He hasn't been back in the majors since. He missed all of 2009 and spent last season in the Nationals system, splitting time between Triple A and Double A.

Like yesterday's subjects, Yorman Bazado and Phil Dumatrait, he was signed primarily with Triple A roster depth in mind. The fact that he's had some form of success in the majors probably puts him ahead of Dumatrait on the list of potential lefty relievers, and the fact that he's not on the 40 puts him behind Jose Mijares, Glen Perkins, Scott Diamond and Dusty Hughes.

Which doesn't slam the door on James for the full season. Perkins and Diamond would have to clear waivers to be sent down, so if either of them doesn't make the team for Opening Day, they are likely to be lost for good. James may be number 5 on the LOOGY depth chart right now, but could be as high as number 3 by April 1.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The middle infield alignment is set

Ron Gardenhire said today that Tsuyoshi Nishioka will be the second baseman, which makes Alexi Casilla the shortstop.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka: No. 1 on his uniform,
No. 2 in the lineup,
No. 4 in scoring parlance.
Nishioka and Casilla have been linked together this spring; they start games together and they sit out games together. They did two games with Casilla at shortstop and Nishioka at second, then two games with Nishioka at short and Casilla at second.

This was foreseeable. Nishioka had a throwing error at short, and his throwing arm is said to be clearly weaker than Casilla's. Gardenhire has said in the past that he thinks Casilla is better suited for short than for second.

Gardy, quoted in Joe Christensen's blog:

"I just wanted to see [Nishioka] out there moving around, and I wanted to see his arm strength," Gardenhire said. "It’s not like I said, 'He can’t throw from [shortstop].' 
"I talked to Nishioka and got him to admit that he’s more comfortable at second, and that pretty much told me what I needed. More than any of the drills, I wanted him to say something to me, and I knew it would take time. He always says, 'Whatever you want me to do.'"

One aspect: It appears to foreclose on Luke Hughes' chances to find a lineup spot. Hughes is limited to playing third base or second base, and those spots are spoken for. If Casilla flops as a shortstop and Gardenhire wants to keep Nishioka locked in at second, the primary in-house option figures to be Trevor Plouffe.

Bullpen candidate profiles: Yorman Bazardo and Phil Dumatrait

Yorman Bazardo
pitched in 2006-07
for the Tigers.
Phil Dumatrait was
a first-round draft pick
by Boston in 2000.

Pitcher: Yorman Bazardo
Throws: Right
Age: 26
Roster status: Non-roster invitee
Chance of making team: Nil

Pitcher: Phil Dumatrait
Throws: Left
Age: 29
Roster status: Non-roster invitee
Chance of making team: Nil

Behold two examples of the "Quadruple A" pitcher: Good enough to put up decent numbers in Triple A, not good enough to make it in the majors.

Not that either man has gotten a truly clean shot at the bigs. Dumatrait -- the radio boys the other day were pronouncing it "Du-ma-trey" -- has all of 109 major league innings (and a 7.09 ERA); Bazardo just 60.1 innings (6.86).

Odds are that neither is truly that bad, but the initial results were lousy, and they aren't going to be first in line anywhere to get another chance.

The Twins signed both as minor league free agents to deepen the staff at Rochester. They're in major league camp because a non-roster invitation is a common sweetener for a minor league veteran, and they'll probably hang around longer than the younger guys who are on the 40-man roster but are clearly not making the 25-man roster (such as David Bromberg).

That doesn't mean either is a serious contender to come north. I've seen both mentioned as bullpen possibilities, but the Twins will not, and should not, bypass candidates on the 40-man roster for either.