Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Sunday Funnies

Wilbur Mizell was a left-handed pitcher known in the late 50s and early 60s for his fastball, his lack of control of that fastball, and his nickname of "Vinegar Bend," for a Mississippi hamlet near which he grew up.

Mizell on life in Vinegar Bend:

"Probably the worst thing that happened was the fire. It started in the bathroom. Fortunately, we were able to put it out before it reached the house."

Friday, January 18, 2019

Where they stand: Left field

Presumed regular: Eddie Rosario

Others on 40: Jake Cave, Zack Granite, LaMonte Wade, Michael Hall

Notable nonroster: None

This may be the spot at which the Twins can have the most confidence in what they're going to get. Rosario isn't as good as the "Minnie and Paul" promo ad last summer claimed ("one of the best outfielders in the league," I believe it called him), but he's certainly a productive, useful player.

What Rosario needs to be a real star, the kind of hitter you can build a productive lineup around, is better strike zone judgment. He took a big step forward in that department two seasons ago, but plateaued last season. As long as he's drawing 33 walks and fanning 105 times a year, his on-base percentages will never be particularly good.

Turn another 15 outs into walks or hits, now you have a guy who can belong at the top of the order. Find another five extra-base hits a year, now you have a guy who can belong in the middle of the lineup. Right now, Rosario's just a bit shy both ways. Almost there, not quite.

Maybe I'm picking nits. He is, as it stands, a quality supporting piece. And that's what I expected him to be when he was coming through the minors. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano were supposed to be the stars. Rosario is probably the best all-round position player on this roster. It's OK to want a bit more from him; his shortcomings are not why this team failed in 2018.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Where they stand: Center field

Presumed regular: Bryon Buxton

Others on 40: Jake Cave, Michael Reed, Zack Granite

Notable nonroster: None who figure for 2019

As with Miguel Sano, the Twins are counting on Buxton to get them where they want to be. Unlike Sano, they have some reasonable alternatives on the 40-man roster if he fails again.

Cave, who got a little more than 300 plate appearances last season and hit 13 homers, may seem the obvious Plan B. He wouldn't be for me. Two primary reasons:


  • I believe that Max Kepler, Granite, (probably) Reed and (possibly) Eddie Rosario are superior defensive center fielders to Cave;
  • Cave's walk-to-strikeout rate is horrendous, and I believe the Twins have already crossed the line on hitters with limited command of the strike zone.

My ideal Plan B is probably impractical in the era of 13-man pitching staffs, and that's a platoon of Granite and Hall. That duo would be made up of two guys with leadoff-hitter skills -- which is not to say that their skill are necessarily pitched high enough. But the Twins don't have an obvious leadoff hitter, so that would fill a lineup need.

Obviously, the ideal Plan B is not to need Plan B. If Buxton is the player we saw in the second half of 2017, the Twins don't need a Plan B, and they will have, if not a prototype leadoff man, someone who works in that lineup slot.

Buxton is Plan A. And I expect the Twins to be patient with Plan A.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A trade, a trade, a minor trade




Ozoria is an 18-year-old infielder from the Dominican listed at 5-9, 135 pounds. That sounds more like a Kentucky Derby jockey than a professional shortstop. As befits the vast majority of 18-year-old infielders, Ozoria hasn't gotten out of Rookie ball. He didn't exactly tear the Arizona League apart last year, either, exhibiting all the power you'd expect of a 135-pounder.

He's a lottery ticket. But at least the Twins got something in exchange for Curtiss other than the waiver price. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Hello, Parker; goodbye (presumably) Curtiss




Left out of that tweet was that to make room on the 40-man roster the Twins designated John Curtiss for assignment.

Both are right-handed relievers. Parker has a pretty good major league resume, mostly composed over the past two seasons. Curtiss does not. On the other hand, Parker turns 34 in June, and Curtiss turns 26 about a week after opening day.

This may be my fascination with bright shiny objects at play again, but I see enough red flags in Parker's record, and enough promise in Curtiss' stuff, that I'm not convinced this is an upgrade for the Twins. Just as with the DFA earlier of Aaron Slegers -- he was claimed by the Pirates -- I see other arms on the 40 that I would prefer to part with. I expect Curtiss to be claimed.

And as with Slegers, many of those arms are attached to bodies acquired by the current front office. Curtiss was part of the wave of college relievers drafted by the second Ryan administration. Few of those have panned out, and those relievers are being purged from the system in what has become a fairly steady flow.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Where they stand: Third base

Presumed regular: Miguel Sano

Others on 40: Ehire Adrianza, Ronald Torreyes

Notable nonroster: None

The Twins are all in on Sano at third base this year.

In 2018 and 2017, they had Eduardo Escobar as Plan B, and El De La Pica was a pretty good Plan B. It is quite possible that Escobar is a better player than Sano. In 2016 and 2015, they had Trevor Plouffe as Plan A at third base, which was part of the failed attempt to make Sano an outfielder. And overlapping with those two was Eduardo Nunez.

When Sano went down with injuries, there was always somebody to plug in at third base.

There is no obvious Plan B at third base now. Escobar is with the Diamondbacks. Plouffe is 32 and scrounging for a spring training invite after just 12 major-league at-bats in 2018. And the Twins have Adrianza and Torreyes, shortstops with no power, at the top of their infield reserve ladder.

The Twins say they have been monitoring Sano's offseason more diligently this year, that he is checking in at their Dominican complex regularly. New manager Rocco Baldelli went to the island a couple weeks ago to visit Sano, and a photo of the two on social media suggests that Sano is trimmer than we've seen him in the past.

All that is well and good, but we've see three full seasons since Sano was called up in midseason 2015, and the big man has yet to stay off the disabled list. This year, more than ever, the Twins need that to change.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Sunday Funnies

Yogi Berra was, as we know, a great player who was almost as famous for his malaprops as for his baseball exploits.

His son Dale also played in the majors. Dale Berra wasn't as accomplished a player as his father (few are), nor was he as witty. But he had his moments.

The younger Berra, comparing himself to his Hall-of-Fame father:

"Our similiarities are different."

Saturday, January 12, 2019

#OldFriends

Aaron Slegers, whose designation for assignment drew this mild dissent, was claimed on waivers Friday by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Good for him. I hope he stays healthy, gets the chance to pitch for the Buccos that the Twins were clearly reluctant to grant him, and succeeds.

---

Brian Dozier has reportedly reached a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals.

The Nats had an opening at second base that they didn't want to plug with long-term signing, as they have a promising prospect in Carter Kieboom and expect to turn the position over to him by 2020.

The Nats's signing of Dozier apparently triggered a series of other signings of free agent second basemen, with Jed Lowrie going to the Mets and D.J. LeMehieu to the Yankees. I think the Nats were seen as the most desirable landing place, and once that got filled, it was get what you can.

---

The Twins have not yet completed the signing of reliever Blake Parker. If and when that reported deal becomes official, somebody has to come off the roster.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Adding to the legend of Willians Astudillo

You've probably seen this already, but I want to have it anyway:




Game-winning homer in the Venezuelan League playoffs, off former Twins pitching prospect Delois Guerra. Willians Astudillo is apparently playing mostly outfield and first base in that league, by the way, and hitting up a storm. 

Once again, La Tortuga is not just fun. He's good. I'm going to be peeved when the Twins send him back to the minors this spring.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Where they stand: First base

Presumptive regular: C.J. Cron

Others on the 40: Tyler Austin, possibly Miguel Sano

Nonroster notables: Brent Rooker

I've put off this position for a week or so in large part because I don't really have anything new to say. Of the three position-player additions for the Twins this offseason, Cron is the one I have the most trouble with. A right-handed first baseman who hits dingers but is chronically weak in on-base percentage and spent most of 2017 as a DH ... he's pretty much the opposite of Joe Mauer.

I'm not sure he gives the Twins anything they couldn't get from Austin. Or the departed Byung-ho Park, for that matter. On the other hand, Park and Austin had have frequent injuries. Cron has had only one 500-plate appearance season as a full-fledged regular, but that's for lack of opportunity, not injuries.

Right-right first basemen don't often get repeated opportunities; some never get an opportunity. Cron got one and took advantage of it.

He's on a one-year deal here, and I think it likely that the 2020 first baseman will be Brent Rooker, who figures to open 2019 in Triple A Rochester. He didn't dominate Double A statistically in 2018 as he did High A in his limited time after being drafted in 2017, but I think he's the future at first base for the Twins. Cron is just filling the gap.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Notes, quotes and comment




The Twins don't have, as of now, a "proven closer" on their roster. They have candidates, however, beginning with Trevor May and Trevor Hildenberger, who each took a turn with the ninth inning role last year after the Twins traded Fernando Rodney. They have Addison Reed, who has closing experience but didn't have a good year last season. And apparently, they will soon add Parker, who saved 14 games for the Angels last season, which doesn't sound like much but led their staff. (Mike Scoscia really spread the saves out last year; nine different pitchers were credited with at least one for the Halos.) 

Parker turns 34 in June. He hadn't done much in the majors until 2017, and his basic numbers the past two years are quite good. But the Angels nontendered him anyway, which can be taken as a red flag, as they would know him better than anybody. 

If you're looking for the danger signs in his stat line, check out the home runs allowed (12 in 66.1 innings last year) and the FIP, Fielding Independent Pitching, which attempts to determine the pitcher's ERA given average fielding behind him (4.40 in 2018). The Twins bullpen overall was prone to surrendering homers last year, and Parker may not help that specific issue much.

The walk and strikeout rates are good, however, and he apparently is quite adept at getting swings-and-missed with his splitter.

As of now, I would expect May to be first in line for the glory job. Parker might be the first guy to get a shot at it should May stumble..

---


The image is not, obviously, real; according to the Twins website the plants will be installed in March and removed for storage in a nursery after season's end.

I've not understood why the pine trees in 2010 were panned by the hitters and removed after the season but a similar backdrop in Colorado's Coors Field has never been questioned. I hope this one works.

---

Lenny Green, the first regular center fielder in Minnesota Twins history, died Sunday, which was also his birthday. He was 86. 

As old as I am, I have no actual memory of Green as a player. The first Twins center fielders I remember are Ted Uhlaender and Cesar Tovar, who split the position in 1969 (Tovar played all over the field). Green played his last major league game in 1968.

Looking at Green's Baseball Reference page, the guy who comes to mind as a comperable player is Denard Span. Not stars, but decent leadoff men who played good defense.


Monday, January 7, 2019

Where they stand: Right field

Presumptive regular: Max Kepler

Others on 40 man: Jake Cave, LaMonte Wade, Zach Granite, Michael Hall

Nonroster notables: Alex Kiriloff

Why isn't he Christian Yelich?

That's the question the impatient part of me, the part that has been anticipating Kepler's stardom since the Twins signed him a decade ago out of Germany at the age of 16, keeps asking.

Kepler turns 26 next month. He's been an everyday player for the Twins since midseason 2016. And you really have to squint to see signs of growth in his stat line.

Glass half-full: His walk rate really picked up last season, and after a 2017 in which he was almost helpless against left-handed pitching, Kepler actually put up better numbers against southpaws in 2018.

Glass-half empty: His base numbers are consistently mediocre for a corner outfielder. Cobble together his best slash lines, and you get .243/.319/.425, which would be good for a catcher and passable for a good defensive center fielder but not for a right fielder.

Glass half-full: Kepler is a good defensive outfielder. Granted, he's not Mookie Betts in right, but the publicly available metrics really like him, not just in right but in center as well.

Glass half-empty: Paul Molitor was rather reluctant to play Kepler in center during Byron Buxton's prolonged absence, even though everything indicated that Kepler is better out there than Jake Cave.

Kepler is in roughly the same boat as Buxton and Miguel Sano. He's a high-level talent who has yet to consistently use that talent. Unlike Buxton and Sano, Kepler has managed to stay in the lineup. He just hasn't done much with the playing time.

It's time.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Sunday Funnies

It's been more than a century since Honus Wagner played his final major league game, but The Flying Dutchman is still regarded by baseball scholars as the greatest shortstop in history.

Wagner was taking it easy during spring training 1909 -- he was 35, his job was secure, and he was always in shape, So he wasn't playing much in camp. A young acquisition from a minor league team, John Barney Miller, was getting a lot of time at shortstop, and looking pretty good -- good enough, as it turned out, that shortly after the season opened manager Fred Clarke bounced a veteran second baseman and instilled Miller in his stead, and the rookie played a big role as the Pirates won the World Series.

But that was months ahead. Right now, this unknown is playing short, and opening eyes.

A writer approached Wagner as asked: Who's that at shortstop?

Hans, in his heavy accent, replied: Dot's Miller.

And John Barney Miller played his entire 12-year major league career known as Dots Miller.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Contemplating Aaron Slegers

I interrupt my position-by-position preview of the Twins presumptive lineup to note that they opened the roster space to add Nelson Cruz by designating pitcher Aaron Slegers for assignment.

I'm not particularly entralled with lopping Slegers, which isn't to claim that he's destined for stardom. He was their minor league pitcher of the yer in 2017 but wasn't as effective -- or healthy -- in 2018. It's quite likely that I have a higher opinion of his abilities than the evidence will support.

Still, I think he's got more to offer than, say, Chase De Jong, who remains on the 40-man roster. The organization clearly doesn't agree.

Slegers was brought into the organization under the old regime; De Jong was added by the current regime. That is the kind of thing that can make a difference. The decision makers had no emotional investment in Slegers. They do in De Jong.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Where they stand: Designated hitter

Presumed regular: Nelson Cruz

Others on 40: Pretty much any position player could be a DH, but the spirit of this is to identify possible Plan Bs. So I'll list Miguel Sano, C.J. Cron and Tyler Austin, assuming the latter isn't the playing coming off the roster to make room for Cruz.

Nonroster notables: Brent Rooker.

The Twins made the free agent signing of Cruz official Wednesday, although they have not yet announced who is coming off the 40-man roster for make room for the veteran slugger, saying they had been unable to reach the player to notify him.

Cruz is old -- turns 39 in July -- but he remains a elite slugger:




Some of those categories are self-explanatory, some are not. But even if I don't know what XWOBA means, it's pretty obvious that Cruz's dip in batting average last season masks the reality that he still hits the ball hard more often than almost anybody else in baseball -- and hitting the ball hard with frequency is a very good sign.

I don't take Rocco Baldelli's talk about giving Cruz some outfield time very seriously. He wasn't a good outfielder when he was young, and he ain't getting better with age.

The Twins on Wednesday made a point of extolling Cruz as a teammate and role model for younger Latin players (meaning Miguel Sano). Which, OK. I'm hesitant to embrace anybody who served a suspension for steroids as a great example, even if he never tested positive. (Cruz was tangled up in the Biogenesis scandal in 2013.)

Beyond that, I'm reminded of Crash Davis's retort in "Bull Durham" when the manager tells him why he's been assigned to this high A ball team: "You don't want a ballplayer, you want a stable pony." 

Nelson Cruz is here to hit taters and chew bubble gum, and he's fresh out of bubble gum. Anything else is a bonus.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Where they stand: Second base

Presumed regular: Jonathan Schoop

Others on the 40: Ehire Adrianaza, Ronald Torreyes, Nick Gordon

Nonroster notables: None

A superficial reading of Schoop's stat lines would suggest that the Twins signed him to try to mirror the departed Brian Dozier's production.

2016: Schoop .267, 25 HR, 83 RBIs; Dozier .268, 42, 98
2017: Schoop .293, 32, 105; Dozier .271, 34, 93
2018: Schoop .233, 21, 61; Dozier .217, 21, 72

Both were traded last summer from a struggling American League team to a National League contender; each hit worse in the senior circuit and wound up riding the pine down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Each can finger injury as a reason for their downturn in 2018. Dozier played through a knee problem, and Schoop, according to the Twins front office, was hampered by a pulled oblique.

But the mirror production only goes so far. Schoop is five years younger than Dozier, a plus for the Curaco native.

Not a plus for Schoop: During those three years -- chosen because 2016 was the beginning of Schoop's period as Baltimore's regular second baseman -- Schoop's on-base percentage was .304. Dozier's was .336.

Schoop can replace Dozier's power. He's younger and, at least by the defensive metrics available on Baseball Reference, now a better defensive second baseman than Dozier. The Twins arguably brought low on him after his disappointing 2018.

But he belongs at the bottom of a lineup, not at the top or middle.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Where they stand: Shortstop

Presumed regular: Jorge Polanco

Others on the 40-man roster: Ehire Adrianza, Ronald Torreyes, Nick Gordon

Nonroster notables: Royce Lewis, Wander Javier

The signing of Jonathan Schoop put to rest the notion that Polanco would move to second base. I am of the belief that Polanco is stretched to play shortstop, and I thought that the ouster of Paul Molitor as manager removed the organization's biggest advocate of playing Polanco at short.

And maybe Polanco will eventually wind up at second. Schoop is on a one-year deal, and Lewis is charging up the organizational ladder, and even if the Twins step up their reliance on shifts to mask a lack of range in the infield they may well conclude at some point that they have to sacrifice some offense in the middle infield to help the pitching staff.

For now, however, "Hip-Hip Jorge" is the shortstop, and probably their most reliable on-base guy as they enter the post-Mauer era. Polanco isn't a notable base stealer, but he might be their best bet to hit leadoff.

He also isn't a notable long ball threat, but he's had (very slightly) more plate appearances as the No. 3 hitter than anywhere else in the lineup in his brief major league career, and he hit third a lot in the minors.

Polanco perpetually feels to me like a round peg in a square hole. He doesn't really fit at shortstop. but this will be the third straight season in which he's the Twins best option for the position. He isn't a classic leadoff or No. 3 hitter, but he is probably going to lock down one of those two crucial lineup slots this year. He'll certainly hit in one of the first three slots in the batting order.

It's entirely possible that I will spend his entire Twins career grumbling about him being misused. And I probably shouldn't. He may not be a perfect fit, but he certainly makes the team better.