Saturday, March 25, 2017

A bad sign for the bullpen.

J.T. Chargois had
a 8.64 ERA in 8.2
innings this spring.
 
The Twins optioned out J.T. Chargois Friday, deleting from the roster -- at least for the beginning of the season -- the bullpen arm with the most upside.

Later Friday Michael Tonkin, who may be the beneficiary of Chargois' rough spring, fed his gopher again. Dick-n-Bert, broadcasting the game from Fort Myers, preferred to dwell on Tonkin's K-rate last season, and certainly there's nothing wrong with 80 strikeouts in 71 innings. There is with 13 homers in that same span.

I opined in an earlier post that if the Twins demote Chargois to avoid putting Tonkin on waivers, they were making a mistake. That opinion still stands.

But it may well be that Alex Wimmers -- removed at the start of the offseason from the 40-man roster and thus a non-roster invitee -- is ahead of Tonkin. He pitched before Tonkin did Friday. I may be even less enthused about Wimmers than I am Tonkin.

The Twins seem, again, headed in the direction of a bullpen of mediocre stuff. Bullpens are always a work in progress, and I can't claim that Chargois has pitched well this spring, but this is a bad sign.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The new disabled list

I've seen nothing more about the planned confab about the status of Glen Perkins' rehab. One of the reasons for it: The new labor agreement apparently requires the player to agree both to being put on the disabled list and to which list.

There are, I believe, three disabled lists: the seven-day concussion DL, the 10-day DL, and the 60-day DL. (It's possible that doing away with the 15-day DL involved merged the concussion list with the "regular" list, but I doubt it.) Besides the mandatory minimum durations, the significant difference is that the 60-day DL removes the player from the 40-man roster.

The Twins have already put Trevor May on the 60-day DL this week; this opened a 40-man spot that they filled by elevating Craig Breslow. I expect at least one more non-roster invitee to make the 25-man roster, and the Twins would probably like to open a 40-man slot by putting Perkins on the 60-day DL.

Probably. Let me emphasize: I have no inside information on this. I don't know the status of his rehab (and apparently the front office doesn't either). I don't know if Perkins is inclined to resist a mandatory two months on the sidelines.

But considering this new DL protocol in the abstract: This may have simply codified something that was already standard practice. Certainly there have been numerous occasions -- with the Twins and with other teams -- in which Player A sustains an injury, resists being DL'd, and the team goes along with that, going shorthanded in  the expectation that Player A will be able to take the field in a matter of days.

Sometimes that works. Sometimes it backfires.

I have the sense that the Twins were intentionally less patient with the self-diagnosis approach with Paul Molitor as manager than they were with Ron Gardenhire. They may not have that option now.

Presumably trimming the minimum stay on the DL by five days will make it easier for a player to accede to going on the shelf. (It should be noted: active roster, 10-day DL, 60-day DL -- they all get paid; nobody's getting a pay cut by going on the disabled list.)

But I can envision a player -- or, more likely, an agent -- trying to use the player's DL veto to leverage a new contract. You want my roster spot? It's gonna cost you. If and when that happens, it will probably be ugly.

Presumably this provision was something the union sought, and presumably it was on the basis that players are being DL'd unnecessarily. I suspect it will lead to more friction between teams and individual players.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The four Twins on Puerto Rico

Paul Molitor was making noises of impatience earlier in the week about getting the four Twins on Team Puerto Rico back into camp. And now that the tournament is over, the Minnesota manager will get his wish.

How did their absence from spring training affect the four? There are, no surprise, four answers.

For Eddie Rosario, the World Baseball Classic had to be a net plus. He played regularly in right field and he impressed with big hits and big throws. He left Fort Myers the presumptive left fielder; he returns the same, only having raised the question in the minds of many: Why is he the left fielder with an arm like that?

For Hector Santiago, it was neither a detriment nor a springboard. He pitched, oddly, exclusively out of the bullpen and fared well, although he did walk a few hitters -- which is Santiago's M.O. It's possible that the Twins would have liked him adding to his pitch count, but he left camp with a rotation berth and he returns with a rotation berth.

For Jose Berrios, it was possibly a minor impediment to his ambitions of making the opening rotation. He pitched twice -- a start against Italy in the first round and a relief outing in the championship game Wednesday night that showed both his impressive talent and his flaws.

That wasn't enough work to help his cause -- but his cause was probably doomed from the start. I doubt that the Twins ever wanted Berrios to open 2017 on the big club. Giving themselves means of filling the rotation without him was part of bringing the now-released Ryan Vogelsong to camp.

For Kennys Vargas, the WBC was unquestionably a problem. He was glued to the P.R. bench, and without playing time and at-bats not only could not make strides toward winning a job with the Twins but couldn't give scouts a chance to see him.  Byungho Park is now the front-runner for the DH job, and Vargas is almost certainly destined for Triple A once again.

For the Twins as a whole, their absences were probably beneficial. Other pitchers got a chance to show their stuff with the starts and innings vacated by Santiago, Berrios and Ervin Santana. The men competing for a reserve outfield job got more at-bats with Rosario gone.

And nobody got hurt, at least as far as we know. Overall, more good than bad for the Twins out of this.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Vogelsong's last note?

Ryan Vogelsong had
spent his entire career
with the Giants and
Pirates.

The Twins on Tuesday released veteran Ryan Vogelsong, a non-roster invitee, at his request after informing him that he would not win the fifth starter job.

This comes a week before his contractual opt-out date and theoretically gives him a better opportunity to find a new team. Which seems unlikely. He's 39 and had a 7.27 ERA this spring. The Twins signed him with an appreciation for his resume -- rotation piece for two World Series winners, an All-Star team -- and probably really wanted him to emerge with the job, but they have better options.

Still in the running for the rotation: Aldaberto Mejia, Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey, Justin Haley and (supposedly) Nick Tepesch. Tepesch, another non-roster invitee, will get his first start of the exhibition season Thursday; that was to have been Vogelsong's.  Haley, the Rule 5 guy, will piggy back with Tepesch.

In other Twins pitching news Tuesday:

  • The Twins announced that Ryan O'Rourke would open the season on the disabled list. He's in competition for that is presumed to be one of two bullpen jobs ticketed for left-handers.
  • Non-roster invitees Jake Reed and Raul Fernandez were reassigned to minor league comp.
  • Berrios will not start tonight's WBC championship game for Puerto Rico against Team USA. It will be Seth Lugo of the Mets.  
  • Tuesday was Craig Breslow's contractual opt-out date. He's still in camp, and general manager Thad Levine said he had not been added to the 40-man roster. Presumably that will come.
  • Trevor May said on Twitter that he would have his Tommy John surgery today. 
  • Glen Perkins and the training staff is to meet with the decision makers this week to discuss the future of his rehab program.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rosario, Santiago and Mejia

Eddie Rosario watches his
game-ending sac fly head out to
center field at Dodger Stadium.
Paul Molitor claims that Eddie Rosario gets better in big moments -- "he likes the bright lights," the manager says of the player -- and while I am dubious about that kind of evaluation, Rosario did provide the game-winning RBI Monday night in the 11th inning to put Puerto Rico in the WBC championship game.

He also had a marvelous throw from right field in the bizarre top of the first, in which the Netherlands lost two baserunners before Wladimir Balentien homered. Rosario didn't nail a runner himself, but his throw held a Dutch runner at third and was followed by a Yadi Molina throw to first that caught a celebrating Jurrickson Profar off the base.

Rosario has a better throwing arm than Max Kepler does, which makes it odd that Kepler is the one playing right field for Molitor with Rosario in left. That may be balanced a bit by the fact that left field is a bit more spacious in Target Field (and in most other parks, for that matter).

I noted a few days ago that a Baseball America writer said Rosario was having a breakout WBC. He is having a good one, certainly.

---

Also having a good tournament is Hector Santiago, who threw 3.1 innings of relief Monday, allowing one run. In true Santiago fashion, he walked three in his outing. But he was also pumping his fastball at 93-95. a good bit better than his usual velocity as a starter.




All those innings came in relief, I'm a bit baffled that Edwin Rodriguez chose to start less experienced pitchers in this tournment, but it's worked so far; Puerto Rico is not only in the finals, it's undefeated. I'm not sure where this use pattern puts Santiago in terms of being ready for the regular season.

The WBC's pitch count rules make Satinago ineligible for Wednesday's championship game. Jose Berrios is a strong candidate to start against either Team USA or Japan. If he does, it will be the biggest game of his life so far.

---

In the humdrum of Twins camp. Tyler Duffey and Adlaberto Mejia split Monday's exhibition game at the Blue Jays camp. Duffey threw five shutout innings, easily his best performance of the spring, and Mejia threw the final four, allowing back-to-back solo homers but continuing to show impressive stuff. I still like Mejia for the final rotation spot.




Berardino went so far as to compare Mejia to the young C.C. Sabathia. Other than that they are both left-handed, large and too dark to have played in the pre-Jackie Robinson era, I ain't buying it. Sabathia was a more highly-regarded prospect 16 years ago than Mejia is. But if he has half the career Sabathia has, I'd sure take that.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Roster moves and new roles

A  newsy weekend out of Twins camp. Let's start with the lesser stuff:




The closest thing to a surprise among those eight Saturday demotions is Mitch Garver, who was supposedly in contention for the backup catcher job. But he didn't get much playing time in exhibitions. Priority one among the catchers appears to be giving Jason Castro a chance to learn this pitching staff, and they are giving veteran Chris Gimenez a real opportunity to make the team as a non-roster invitee. Garver has plenty of options, and he has a future.

On to the more important decisions:







Nick Gordon was taken with the fifth overall pick in 2014. Tyler Jay was taken with the sixth overall pick in 2015. These decisions suggest that both were overdrafts.

Start with Gordon, He's been a shortstop, but the decision to have him start splitting time at second base suggests that the Twins are skeptical of his defense at short, particularly his arm. The problem with Gordon as a second baseman: He's not a strong enough hitter for the keystone. He has almost no power.

I keep coming back to this: The Twins have not signed and developed a quality shortstop since setting up operations in Minnesota in 1961. Their best homegrown shortstop in more than a half century was probably Pat Meares.

Jay is a lefty drafted out of college, one of the many collegiate relievers the Twins have drafted in the last three years or so. The idea was that Jay has the pitches to be a starter. But he didn't make it through a full season last year and only threw 83 innings, and the new regime has pulled the plug on that notion.

It's possible for Jay to shoot quickly to the majors as a relief pitcher. Indeed, when the Twins signed in in 2015, when they were in a pennant race, there was chatter that he could get to the majors that year.

But they didn't spend the sixth overall pick with the intent of getting a reliever, even if he proves the equal of Glen Perkins at his best. They took him with the intent of getting a quality starter. And the very next player taken was Andrew Benitendi, who will be the Red Sox' starting left fielder this year.

Deron Johnson, the scouting director whose name is on the decisions to draft Gordon and Jay, won't be making the decisions this June. The Gordon and Jay selections may have had something to do with that.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pic of the Week

Tim Tebow makes a diving catch during Monday's
Marlins-Mets exhibition game.

Tim Tebow, famous college quarterback, famous failed NFL quarterback, is trying to play baseball.

The Mets signed him, sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .194 with 20 strikeouts in 62 at-bats in between trips to do college football broadcasts for ESPN. This month the Mets have given him a few games in spring training. He will, apparently, be assigned to a minor league affiliate, but which one is unknown,

Whichever team he plays on, he's expected to be an attendance magnet. Whether that justifies giving playing time and at-bats to a 29-year-old nonprospect is ... well, I'm glad it's not the Twins doing this.

That's not a sneer at Tebow's persona or beliefs. It's a statement of practicality. If the minor league system is intended to develop future major league players, Tebow doesn't belong. The years when he could have been grown into a baseball player were spent playing football. Now he's merely a marketing gimmick.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A rough draft of a bullpen

We're a bit more than two weeks away from opening day. Let's try a rough draft of the opening bullpen:

Closer: Brandon Kintzler
Setup 1: Ryan Pressly
Setup 2: J.T Chargois
MR 1: Matt Belisle
LOOGY 1/MR 2: Craig Breslow
LOOGY2: Buddy Boshers
Long/mopup: Justin Haley

My long distance sense is:

1) Glen Perkins hasn't faced hitters yet and isn't close to being ready.

2) The absolute locks to be on the roster are Kintzler, Pressly and Belisle,

3) Breslow, who is not on the 40-man roster, entered camp with management wanting him to make the team. He's been effective with his new delivery, and I think he'll stick.

4) Haley got a start this week and may get another before the WBC contingent returns next week, but I doubt the Twins are bold enough to give a rotation berth to a Rule 5 pick. I assume they want to keep him, however,

5) Chargois has options, and that might work against him. He also has the biggest arm of the genuine bullpen candidates. If he gets shipped out to avoid putting somebody like Michael Tonkin on waivers, the Twins are making a mistake.

6) I count three genuine candidates for that second LOOGY spot: Boshers, Taylor Rodgers and Ryan O'Rourke. There's probably not a dime's worth of difference among them. I have no specific reason to pick Boshers for this guess, and no reason to pick against any of them.

Friday, March 17, 2017

BA's first mock draft

We are more than three months away from the baseball draft, with a lot of college and high school ball to be played, even in the warm weather states.

But on Thursday John Manuel of Baseball America issued that publication's first mock draft of the season. And since the Twins have the first pick, his projections start there.

This piece is best viewed as an introduction to the candidates for high selection and the issues facing the talent evaluators than as a hard prediction of the draft itself. Manuel's forecast -- that the Twins will take prep pitcher/shortstop Hunter Greene -- may very well be correct come June; he's been viewed as a front-runner for that distinction virtually since the 2016 draft closed. But there's a lot of slips, slides and helium between now and then.

And, perhaps, skulduggery. An interesting phrase from Manuel regarding San Diego and the third selection: "Everyone expects the Padres and GM A.J. Preller to try to do what it takes to push Greene down to them at No. 3 ..."  My interpretation is that the Padres are likely to make quiet promises of X money if Greene and his camp discourage the Twins and Reds from selecting him. Greene is from the San Diego area.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Kyle Glaser of Baseball America says Eddie Rosario is using the World Baseball Classic to emerge as a full-fledged regular.

Certainly the Twins outfielder -- playing right field for Puerto Rico rather than his accustomed left field -- is hitting a ton so far (6-for-11 with two doubles and a triple). It's worth noting, however, that most of Puerto Rico's games have been played at altitude.

Rosario is 25, and maybe he's ready to take the next step.

---

I am truly enjoying a series of videos the Twins have been posting this week, "the Escobar Name Game," in which Eduardo Escobar attempts to identify his teammates. This is Wednesday's, the position players segment, which isn't quite as funny as the pitchers (posted Tuesday):




Speaking of which:




---

Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press wrote about Glen Perkins.

The good news: He is throwing without pain.

The less good news: He is nowhere near major league velocity. Not yet, at least, and perhaps not ever.

Bottom line: He's destined to open 2017 on the disabled list.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Twins rotation and the WBC

It's hardly a crisis, but Paul Molitor this week hasn't anything close to his season opening rotation on hand.

Ervin Santana left camp to join the Dominican Republic team for the second round of the World Baseball Classic, and Hector Santiago and Jose Berrios were already with Team Puerto Rico. Toss in the season-ending injury to Trevor May, and the Twins are without two rotation locks and two primary candidates.

Not that Molitor is short on pitchers. Indeed, the absent ones have opened innings for a number of "lesser" candidates, specifically non-roster invitees Ryan Vogelsong and Nick Tepesch and Rule 5 pick Justin Haley. Vogelsong and Haley each drew their first spring starts this week, Vogelsong on Sunday, Haley on Monday.

May's injury in particular seems to have amped up the possibility of Vogelsong landing a rotation spot. The 39-year-old would seem to have limited upside and I'm not sure that his floor is very high, but the Twins seem to value his experience.

An interesting quote (via the Pioneer Press and Mike Beranadino) from Vogelsong:

"... I know there’s a competition, so there’s definitely a fine line of where you go, ‘I’m working on stuff but I need to get results too.’ I think the powers that be here are smart enough to see spin and pitches being executed and doing the things you need to do to win a ballgame.”
My translation of that: Vogelsong is taking the established veteran approach to spring despite knowing that he's not established. He's confident that the new front office will look beyond the spring training ERAs and examine the data gathered from their TrackMan system -- objective data on his pitches, the spin rates and the movement and location.

Will that be enough to get him the fifth starter job? My personal bias is for the guys with some growth potential, and that ain't him. I can't see Vogelsong as anything deeper than a placeholder.

---

Hector Santiago, as noted in the Monday print column, is working out of the Puerto Rican bullpen. Tuesday night he threw 2.2 shutout innings as Puetro Rico beat the powerful Dominicans 3-1. Santiago has now thrown 5.1 innings in the WBC, allowing one run.

My grasp of the pitching rules for the WBC is incomplete, but I believe Santiago has been burned for the rest of the second round. Berrios is to start against Venezuela in Puerto Rico's third game of the round.

---

This will be interesting to see play out: Ervin Santana had resisted the urge to play for the Dominicans, saying he wanted to focus on making his opening day start, but relented after the first round.

Reportedly he insisted that he be a starter -- he didn't want to go to San Diego to throw a couple innings of relief -- and the Twins apparently expected that he would be kept on their schedule so he remained on track to pitch on April 3, the Twins opening day.

That would have meant pitching Tuesday night. Instead, Carlos Martinez (St. Louis Cardinals) got the start against Puerto Rico. Santana is to start on Saturday against Team USA, which is as far off the schedule as he can be.

I don't know what Santana and the Twins were told before Santana agreed to play, but it's quite possible somebody thinks they were lied to. Tuesday was an off day for the Twins, and major league camp was closed, but Thad Levine issued a bland statement saying that he was sure the Twins could adjust things so Santana can start the opener.

And I think that's true. This isn't optimal, but the Twins should be able to work around it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The first cuts

The Twins on Monday shipped out half a pitching staff -- all them prospects who had no realistic chance at theopening day roster.

Optioned out: Felix Jose, Mason Melotakis, Fernando Romero and Randy Rosario.

Reassigned to minor league camp: Stephen Gonsalves and Aaron Slegers.

The difference being that the first four are on the 40-man roster, and the latter two were non-roster invitees.

Before the news of Trevor May's elbow injury led me to change plans, I had figured to write the Monday print column (which didn't see print on Monday after all) on "the pitchers who aren't there" -- two starting pitcher prospects who were taken above Gonsalves and Slegers in the same draft but clearly at this point aren't regarded well enough to merit big league camp time.

Kohl Stewart was the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft. Gonsalves -- like Stewart a high schooler, unlike Stewart a left-hander -- went in the fourth round. He almost certainly would have gone higher but for a suspension that wiped out his senior season. Stewart's ERAs last year (split between High A and Double A) aren't bad, but his strikeout rates have been unimpressive, and particularly so in his 16 starts for Chattanooga.

Ryan Eades was the Twins' second round pick in 2013, a right hander out of LSU. Slegers, another college righty (Indiana) went in the fifth round. Last year Eades racked up a 4.61 ERA in Chattanooga. Slegers, at the same level, had a 3.41 ERA and more than 30 more innings.

Four pitchers taken in the first five rounds that year by the Twins, and the latter pair are looking better than the first two.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Santiago, Berrios and the Puerto Rican rotation

Jose Berrios -- as described in the Monday print column -- is among the competitors for the fifth spot in the Twins rotation.

Hector Santiago is not. The veteran lefty is a given. Indeed, as Paul Molitor set up his rotation at the start of Grapefruit League play, Santiago figures to pitch the second game of the season.

Both are pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, and the Puerto Rican team went 3-0 in the first round of pool play and has advanced to the second round.

Santiago pitched in relief in Game 2, against Mexico, on Saturday. Berrios started Game 3, against Italy.

This would suggest that Puerto Rican manager Edwin Rodriguez views Berrios as a better starter than Santiago, but it's not necessarily so simple. Mexico, on paper, is a better team than Italy, certainly with a more potent lineup. And the pitch count rules in effect for the WBC, especially in the first round, make it almost impossible for a starting pitcher to work even five innings.

It's certainly plausible that Rodriguez set up his first round pitching with the notion that Italy was a softer opponent, and that he needed a a lefty starter to piggy-back Milwaukee's Jorge Lopez against Mexico.

Lopez is 24, right-handed, unproven in the majors -- and had a terrible 2016 season in Triple A. It's not easy for me to look at the stat lines and see why he ranks ahead of Santiago or even Berrios. For that matter, PR's Game One starter, Seth Lugo of the Mets, doesn't have Santiago's resume.

It will be interesting to see who Puerto Rico starts in Pool F, which includes the United States and the Dominican, with a fourth team to be determined with a tie-breaker today between Venezuela and Italy.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Pic of the Week

Team Israel coach Pat Doyle passes the "Mensch of the Bench,"
the unofficial mascot of the World Baseball Classic team.

Not much was expected of Israel's entry in the World Baseball Classic, but it stormed through Group A's round robin in Seoul undefeated.

And one appealing aspect, at least here, of this team of American Jews, a collection of over-the-hill major leaguers, prospects and suspects, is its sense of humor and self-deprecation. The "Mensch on the Bench" is an example. So too the t-shirts players have worn depicting a bat-wielding rabbi and the words "Jew Crew."

Of course, a key motivation for the WBC's existence is growing the game globally. It doesn't seem that a collection of Americans with "Israel" on their jerseys is much of a selling point in Israel.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A shortstop comment

A Mike Berardino tweet from Friday:




Well ...

Molitor has had Gordon in camp for about a month now, and between games and drills has certainly seen him throw more than I have. And the notion that Gordon may not have the tools for shortstop echo the commentary on Gordon in this year's Baseball America Prospect Handbook, so Molitor is not alone in this thinking.

But I am confident in this assertion: Gordon has a better arm than Jorge Polanco, and Molitor seems determined to fit that round peg into the square hole of shortstop.

Gordon isn't making the team this spring and never was in the running, and I wouldn't be surprised if he turns out to be among Monday's first dose of cuts. On the other hand, those cuts are expected to focus more on 40-man roster guys who aren't serious contenders for the opening roster (because if they get hurt while in big league camp, they go on the major league DL, and that's more expensive than the minor league DL). On that basis, Engelb Vielma would be a more likely demotion than Gordon.

But the playing time in exhibitions is going to go to Polanco, Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianaza, and maybe Danny Santana as well. These are the serious contenders for the starting job and the bench.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The WBC and job competition

The Twins minor league camp opened earlier this week, yet there have been no cuts from major league camp.

Blame (or credit) the World Baseball Classic, in two ways. First, the numbers in camp have already been reduced a bit by players leaving to join their national teams -- most prominently the quartet of Puerto Ricans (Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, Hector Santiago and Kennys Vargas). Second, the now-concluded pair of exhibitions against Team USA and Team Colombia, for which the Twins supplied their rivals with a handful of players to supplement their rosters. Those games required extra bodies in camp.

With those games behind them, the decision makers may feel free to start making decisions.

Rosario's absence is interesting because he's expected to be the regular in left field, and now there's more playing time for the guys trying for the fourth outfielder role. Somewhat tied into that, too, is the DH job, for which Vargas is one of three primary candidates.

What connects the two is Robbie Grossman, who had a fine 2016 with the bat and a terrible one with the glove. He has, apparently, been a primary project for Jake Pickler, the new outfield coach, who has been working with Grossman on such basics as how to position his glove. This sounds more like something to teach Little Leaguers than a guy with more than 250 major league games on his resume, but ...

Anyway, the Twins would probably like their fourth outfielder to hit right-handed, as both Rosario and right fielder Max Kepler are left-handed and have shown some platoon difficulties in the past. Grossman is a switch-hitter but better from the right side. He might be the primary DH; he might be the primary reserve outfielder, especially if he can catch the darn ball. (He's not under any circumstances a likely center fielder, but both Rosario and Kepler can play there when Byron Buxton gets/needs time off.)

Then there's Drew Stubbs. The word Thursday was that, with the Twins slated to see a couple of left-handed starters today and Saturday, Stubbs was to be in the lineup to give Paul Molitor a chance to see him in a potential platoon role.




Stubbs, a non-roster invitee, has been a center fielder in the past, and it's possible that even at age 32  he's better there than Rosario or Kepler. But that's less relevant to his chances of making this team than how he looks at the plate against left-handed pitching. His bat, and specifically his tendency to strike out, has turned him from a young regular of promise to a veteran journeyman looking for a role. Some good at-bats today would help his cause. And with Rosario and Vargas off WBC-ing, he's going to get the chance.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Contemplating Danny Santana

Danny Santana
played just 43 innings
in the infield for the
Twins last season.
The Twins beat Team USA Wednesday night despite Danny Santana doing Danny Santana things at shortstop.

Earlier this spring Patrick Reusse opined that Santana was the Twins best option for the shortstop job, a conclusion I consider(ed) ridiculous. Santana gave a pretty good demonstration of why that's so Wednesday night, first by shying away from a foul pop, then with a two-base throwing error.

To be sure, Jorge Polanco didn't throw well either; Joe Mauer dug out a couple of his throws. But Polanco at least offers a better bat than Santana does.

Santana's hot 2014, when he hit .319 in 430 plate appearances, continues to delude some into believing he's a usable hitter. Since then he's hit .227 (and worse, OBP'd .259) in 535 PA, and I suspect there's more where that came from.

The Twins do not have an optimal shortstop candidate on hand. But they certainly have better ones than Santana.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Phil Hughes and the pursuit of a useable change

The Twins had a day off Tuesday. Phil Hughes did not. It was his turn to start, but with no exhibition game, he worked four innings, 59 pitchers, against Twins minor leaguers.

His fastball velocity sat, as it reportedly has in previous outings, around 90 mph. It's still fairly early in camp, and he's coming off surgery, so I don't know what to make of that. He might regain some velo. On the other hand, even in 2014 -- his career year to date -- he averaged a touch above 92 mph (according to the 2015 Bill James Handbook). When Hughes is right, he gets outs with movement and control, not with raw speed.

But the object of Tuesday's outing was the changeup. This has been a chronic thing since Neil Allen became the Twins pitching coach --- Hughes needs a changeup -- and almost half of Hughes' pitches Tuesday were changes.

I've argued before that for Hughes specifically, the pursuit of a changeup is fixing what ain't broke. He threw less than one changeup per game in 2014, and that was the best season a Twins right-hander has had at least since Brad Radke's heyday. It was also the season before Allen got the job. The next year, Hughes threw the change almost 10 percent of the time, and his results got worse. And last year the veteran's season was shortened by injury.

From Mike Bernadino's story on Tuesday's outing:

“He’s got to be a different guy, bring some different stuff to the table,” said Allen, who replaced longtime Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson after Hughes’ record-setting 2014 season. “Him throwing the change-up is going to be nothing but beneficial.”
...
"But we’ve got to make him change.”
 Allen has his blueprint for pitching success. Hughes' success in the past has been with a different style of pitching. The "we've got to make him change" line doesn't sit well with me.

In fairness to Allen, the thoratic outlet surgery may have added some urgency to the mission. It's possible that the missing 2 mph is gone for good, and that at age 30 Hughes does need to change who he is as a pitcher. I have my doubts about that, however.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Team Israel in the WBC

Spent a goodly chunk of my day off -- at weird hours, which is typical for me, as anybody paying attention to the time stamps on my posts might have figured -- watching Team Israel beat South Korea and Chinese Taipei in the first two games of the World Baseball Classic.

The two teams "expected" to emerge from Pool A at the start of round-robin play were South Korea and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Even Taiwan has a significant professional league to draw talent from.

But it's Israel with a 2-0 record and a leg up on reaching the second round. (KoN hasn't played yet.)

There is one actual Israeli resident on the Israeli squad. The rest of the roster is American Jews who qualify for Israeli citizenship, From a Houston Chronicle story on how the Israeli squad was assembled by a Astros scout who also serves part-time as Israel's general manager:

Israel offers citizenship to anyone who is a Jew, which the country qualifies as: the child or grandchild of a Jew, or the spouse of a child or grandchild of a Jew. Team Israel abides by the same laws for its players.

There are some Twins connections for Team Israel. Center fielder and leadoff man Sam Fuld played about a half season for the Twins in 2014; he didn't have a team in 2016, major or minors. Game One start Jason Marquis, who pitched (horribly) for the Twins in 2012, did have a team for a brief while in 2016, but the Reds released him after nine starts. Ike Davis, the DH and No. 3 hitter, is the son of Ron Davis, a relief pitcher remembered by Twins fans of a certain age with a mixture of fondness and loathing; Ike Davis was born in Minneapolis.





Monday, March 6, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

A few news items and links that piled up last week while I did my silly "Guess Who" series:

* Alex Kirilloff, the Twins' first-round draftee last June and their No. 3 prospect in the Baseball America rankings, will have Tommy John surgery this week and is out for the season.

Comment: Kirilloff is no longer incentive to get to Cedar Rapids before Memorial Day. I had figured that he might, as Byron Buxton did, spend only a half season or so in the Midwest League, and I wanted to see the kid hit before he moved on. Wait until next year.

* Fangraphs issued its "all KATOH" team -- minor leaguers whose stats impress but who are not, for various reasons, beloved by scouts. Three Twins farmhands make this imaginary roster: second baseman Luis Arraez, outfielder Zack Granite, and pitcher Adalberto Mejia.

Comment: Accurately judging prospects requires more than "scouting the stat line," but production matters too. If they keep producing, they'll get their chance despite the scouts' reservations about their physical limitations.

* This is set to publish less than a half-hour before the first game of the World Baseball Classic, with Pool A and Pool B opening play in South Korea and Japan.

Comment: The WBC isn't a big deal here in the States -- Noah Syndergaard turned down Team USA and said something like: Nobody goes to the Hall of Fame or wins the World Series by playing in the WBC -- but it is to a lot of the non-Amercian players, and the Twins have a goodly number slated to play in this tournament.

* And, finally, I recommend this Jeff Passan piece on Statcast and MLB Advanced Media's efforts to make advanced stats accessible and digestible.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Pic of the Week

Ariel Miranda of the Seattle Mariners delivers a pitch.
My annual visual reminder of why pitchers suffer so many arm injuries.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Guess Who, part six

We'll wrap up this silly little series with a two-fer -- a pair of good-field, no-hit shortstops, Ehire Adrianza and Engelb Vielma.

No more than one of these guys will be on the Opening Day roster, and probably neither. A bit more than a week into the Grapefruit League season, it appears that Jorge Polanco is likely to open the season as the shortstop. Polanco is, as a shortstop, good-hit, no-field -- the opposite of these two glovemen. And veteran Eduardo Escobar is the shortstop in the middle -- a better hitter than Adrianza and Vielma, a better fielder than Polanco, and apparently not good enough at either to get and keep the starting job.

Adrianza is presumably out of options; Vielma, while on the 40 man roster, is assuredly not. So Adrianza has the advantage this spring. But he's been waived twice since the 2016 season ended -- first by the Giants, then by the Brewers -- and it's certainly possible that the Twins will try to sneak him through waivers themselves before the season begins. He probably didn't help his cause earlier this week with a mental error.

If the Twins do get Adrianza through waiver, they will have a pair of very similar players vying for the shortstop time in Triple A. Certainly Nick Gordon should be the Double A shortstop this spring, so Chattanooga is not a genuine possibility.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Guess Who, part five

Guess Who No. 5a
Guess Who No. 5b

Yesterday's mystery face is Randy Rosario, left-handed pitcher who is, to borrow a phrase from some of the Baseball America writers, a "personal cheeseball" -- a prospect I like more than I logically should.

I wrote in 2015 about watching a Rosario start in Cedar Rapids, and that winter, after the Twins put him on their 40-man roster, suggested that Rosario was destined for the bullpen.

And indeed, that's what happened late in the 2016 season, when Rosario was pitching for Fort Myers in High-A. Rosario struck out 6.5 batters per nine innings for the season as a whole, but in his final nine outings, all in relief, his K-rate was over 15 per nine.

He got a taste of Double A last year, and that's where he should open 2017. But if that strikeout rate is real, he'll get to Minnesota soon.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Guess Who, part four

Guess Who No. 4
The first two "can you name me" faces were prominent prospects. Drew Rucinski is not.

Rucinski was undrafted out of college in 2011. Cleveland signed him, gave him time at three levels in 2011 and released him. He spent 2012 in independent ball and got picked up by the Angels, and got to the majors in 2014 and '15 for 14 innings. He spent 2015 in Triple A for the Cubs, who never saw a need to call him up, and the Twins signed him as a minor league free agent.

Rucinski has been pretty strictly a starter in the minors. Presumably he's rotation depth at Rochester. But the Twins have dipped pretty heavily, and with some success, into the ranks of former independent league players and minor-league free agents -- think Brandon Kintzler last season -- so it's possible this won't be the only time you see his face.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Guess Who, part three

Guess Who No. 3
Tuesday's "Who Dat" face was Nick Gordon, first round draft choice in 2014 and presumptive shortstop of the future.

Gordon spent last year at high A Fort Myers, and he had two obvious flaws: too many errora and problems hitting left-handed pitching (he hits left). He was charged with 24 errors last season, fourth most in the Florida State League and his OPS against southpaws was a dismal .530.

So it's pretty easy to tell what he has to work on this year in Chattanooga.