Thursday, February 28, 2013

Take and rake: Hicks and Benson

Aaron Hicks greets Ryan Doumit at home plate
after Doumit's fourth-inning home run Wednesday.
My Monday print column was partly, maybe mostly, about the importance of plate discipline in some of the Twins spring training competitions. Two of the players mentioned specifically were Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson.

Hicks appears this spring to be living up to his minor league reputation as a patient hitter. The radio boys on Wednesday (Corey Provus and Dick Bremer; no Dan Gladden for a few days, apparently) repeatedly praised his fourth inning at-bat, in which he fell behind 0-2, fouled some pitches off, worked the count to 2-2 and then lashed a double.

Deep counts leading to walks or well-struck balls have been fairly frequent for Hicks, an indication that he's not becoming impatient now that he has an opportunity to win a big-league job. And that's very much a point in his favor.

Benson's track record is the opposite -- few walks, plenty of strikeouts. On Tuesday, Benson homered in his first time up, then drew a walk the next time up. So far, so good, right? Then he struck out the next three times.

Benson entered Wednesday's game about halfway through and came up twice -- and drew two walks.

In a game in which the Twins had 17 hits and 12 runs, Benson's walks are easy to overlook. And three walks in two games isn't proof of anything, any more than three hits would have been. But considering how much his poor plate discipline has hamstrung Benson's rise, it's a good sign.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Eddie Rosario getting noticed

Eddie Rosario
turned 21 in
For a guy who wasn't supposed to be in major league camp, Eddie Rosario is collecting a lot of playing time.

And hits. And notice.

On Tuesday, Rosario homered and singled in two trips to the plate. On Monday he had one at-bat and made an out. On Sunday he rapped a pair of singles in two at-bats, and he drew a walk. Saturday he was 1-for 3.

The Twins have played four games so far, and he's played in all of them, going 5-for-8 with a home run and a walk.

He's only in camp to prep for the World Baseball Classic — he was put on the Puerto Rican team after a dominating season the winter league there — and sometime this week he and fellow farmhand J.O. Berrios will leave Fort Myers to join the island's squad. When the Puerto Ricans are done in the tournament, Rosario and Berrios will almost certainly report to minor league camp, not to the major league camp.

But Ron Gardenhire is certainly taking advantage of this period to take a hard look at Rosario. Gardy has to like what he's seen at the plate — Tuesday's homer came off a veteran, if marginal, major league pitcher — and less so in the field.

Rosario is most comfortable in the outfield, but Gardy has deployed him strictly at second base, where the Twins hope to make him at home. Rosario has had a mental flub on a relay play and booted a grounder.

It's no surprise that Rosario is at best a work in progress as an infielder. In that respect, the WBC may not help; Puerto Rico is out to win, not develop players, and Rosario is listed on its roster as an outfielder.

But their outfield is pretty loaded — Carlos Beltran, Alex Rios, Angel Pagan, Andres Torres — and the infield is comparably thin, with only Mike Aviles an established major leaguer. As I look at their roster, I can't help but think that Rosario might get some time at second base after all in the WBC.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Do the Twins need a pinch-hit specialist?

Chris Colabello
hit .284/.358/.478
in his first season
in the affiliated
minors last year.
For most of 2012, the Twins carried three catchers, two of whom were generally in the starting lineup. Joe Mauer had about half his playing time behind the dish (72 starts) and split the rest between first base (30 starts) and designated hitter (42 starts); Ryan Doumit started 56 games at catcher, 48 at DH, 16 in left field and six in right field; Drew Butera started 32 games at catcher; and Chris Herrmann picked up the other two catcher starts.

The primary reason for carrying the third catcher was the 90 games — a bit more than half the season — of DH duties for Mauer and Doumit. Catcher is a highly specialized defensive position, and managers are loathe to be without one on the bench in case of injury. While a DH can take the field, the result is that the pitchers would have to hit for the remainder of the game.

Mauer, at least in theory, is to catch more this year, and if that does occur, Doumit is likely to get a heavier share of the DH duties. In which case the basic motivation for granting a roster spot to Butera remains intact, even though the playing time would diminish.

But Ron Gardenhire said last week that he's not committed to carrying three catchers, and that he wants to have a pinch-hitting threat on his bench this year — probably thinking in terms of hitting for Pedro Florimon, the front runner for the shortstop job.

This line of thought, coupled with Jim Thome's public appeal for a job, has a goodly portion of the Twins twitterverse hoping for Thome's return. I'm not in favor; I think Thome's about done, and even if he isn't, he's not a particularly good fit for the Twins roster.

Thome's tried being a pinch-hit specialist a couple of times for National League teams, and has found he needs a steady dose of at-bats. Using him as a DH would necessarily take at-bats away from one of the Doumit-Chris Parmelee-Mauer-Justin Morneau-Josh Willingham collection of catchers/first basemen/corner outfielders. While it's not a bad idea to spell Doumit (and perhaps Parmelee) against left-handed pitchers, Thome is not the guy to do that with.

If the Twins do forego a third catcher in order to carry a bench bat, better that it be a right-handed hitter. I don't know that they have that guy in camp — maybe non-roster invitee Chris Colabello, a 29-year-old refugee from an independent league who had a big season with the Twins Double A club last year. Colabello will be leaving camp soon to play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, but he's gotten a couple of notable hits in the early exhibition games.

If Colabello, or someone of his right-handed ilk, wins the roster spot, he could get his "stay-sharp" at-bats against lefties and, at least in theory, improve the lineup by limiting Doumit's right-handed at-bats.

Gardenhire has shown little concern over the years about maximizing the platoon advantage with his hitters, and would probably prefer Thome to Colabello (or any right-handed hitter). That scenario appears to me a case in which the front office — meaning general manager Terry Ryan — needs to protect Gardenhire from himself.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Notes, quotes and comment

Curtis Granderson fractured his right forearm on
this pitch by Toronto's J.A. Happ on Sunday.
Catching up on weekend developments:

*The wrangle over how to fit a baseball field into the coming Vikings stadium was resolved Friday. I had earlier cast doubt on the good faith of the football team in this issue, and even though the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the amateur baseball side, I can't help but think that it never should have become an issue of contention.

Anthony Slama has
been twice exposed
to the Rule 5 draft
and gone unclaimed.
*Yankees outfielder and former Mankato Masher Curtis Granderson broke his right forearm Sunday when hit by a pitch. The Grandy Man is to be out about 10 weeks, which would keep him out of action into May. The Yankees were tentatively shifting Granderson to left field and Brett Gardner to center; now there's little question that transition will take place. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees deal with the loss of their one power-hitting outfielder.

*I am frequently amused by the fervor with which certain online observers of the Twins campaign for Anthony Slama. Slama's appearance in Sunday's exhibition game was greeted with a predictable enthusiasm in my Twitter feed, but it didn't go well. It's not so much Slama's sour results (two-thirds of an inning, two hits, two walks, no strikeouts, three runs) as how he got there.  He had his usual lack of velocity and his usual lack of pitches in the strike zone. Only one of runs was earned, but the game sure slowed down when he entered. Yeah, it's early in spring training, but he merely confirmed the organization's skepticism of his skills.

* Two Peter Gammons tweets Sunday about the Twins:

"Ron Gardenhire has completely brought in on Mike Pelfrey"

"Twins think even though Eddie Rosario has a 70 arm he can be near star level as a second baseman, quickly after his Puerto Rican winter."
"70 arm" is a scouting grade that says, basically, that Rosario has a right fielder's arm. (The range scouts use is 20 at the bottom, 80 at the top— so 70 isn't top of the line, but it's well above average.) It's a confusing tweet by Gammons, because a strong arm is hardly a disqualification for second base, which is what the sentence implies. I think he's suggesting that Rosario throws too well to be "wasted" at second base, but that's the Twins plan. (The strong arm may wind up being a saving grace for other inadequacies at the position; it was Rosario's fielding error that resulted in the two unearned runs yielded by Slama.)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pic of the Week

Snow and ice cover a playing field at the Rockies
training complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Thursday.

Spring training got started a week or more earlier this year around the majors, mostly (entirely?) to give more prep time to the players scheduled to compete in the World Baseball Classic tournament, which begins early this month.

Perhaps as a result, the teams have encountered some squirrelly weather. The Twins had a couple of days in Fort Myers, Fla., in which workouts at least began in temperatures in the low 40s or upper 30s — warmer than Target Field on one day by just nine degrees.

Then there was the strange snow and ice that hit a few places in the Phoenix metro area, home to a number of spring training complexes.

Maybe it was timing. Or maybe it's just another case of the weather being the weather, and anything can happen.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Thome resisting the inevitable

Jim Thome hit 37
homers in a bit less
than two seasons
with the Twins.
Most playing careers end not when the player chooses, but when the game chooses. Winter runs its course, and nobody makes the player an offer; spring comes, and the player has no team.

And the game moves on without him.

This is happening now to Jim Thome, he of the 612 home runs and, for Twins fans, the heroics of Target Field's debut season.

He's 42. He cannot help a team in the field, cannot help it on the bases, cannot help it against left-handed pitching. He found last year with the Phillies that he doesn't cope well with a strict pinch-hitting role, and over the past several seasons has found that four days in a row in the lineup as a DH is pushing the envelope with his health.

He still wants to play, albeit on his terms (such as a major-league contract, not a minor-league deal).  It's just difficult to see the situation where he can — a contending team that can use a platoon DH who needs a pinch runner. That's a mighty specific role in an era in which benches are thin and versatility is prized.

He's on the outside looking in, and the game will move on without him.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Feeling a draft: February edition

The Twins have the fourth pick in June's draft, and with the college season getting under way it's worth taking a quick look at the chatter about who might be their pick.

Last year, of course, the Twins had the second pick and, despite their need for power arms, used that pick on prep outfielder Byron Buxton, regarded as the top overall talent in the pool.

The hope, then and now, was that the Twins would be able to focus on high-level pitching prospects this time around. But the outlook right now isn't good.

As matters stand, Baseball America says, the first three picks are likely to be a trio of college pitchers — righty Mark Appel of Stanford (who was in the mix for the No. 1 pick last year, slipped to No. 8 and declined to sign with Pittsburgh); lefty Sean Manaea of Indiana State; and righty Ryan Stanek of Arkansas.

Behind them are a couple of high school outfielders from Logansville, Ga., Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier. The Twins system has plenty of toolsy outfielders, so the Georgians aren't a particularly good fit for them.

A lot can happen between February and June, of course. Last February BA had a five-player list of candidates for the top slot; the two college pitchers who wound up going highest, Kevin Glausman and Kyle Zimmer, weren't among the five.

The Twins would certainly welcome another pitcher emerging from the pack toward the top of the heap.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Links: Morneau and Gardenhire

I'm feeling a mite guilty about such a meatless post this morning, so here are a couple of more chewable items:

1) Jon Morosi provides this piece on Justin Morneau, his health and his future. Nothing ground-breaking here, but a decent overview of his status.

I noted this factual error in it:

Of the 20 Twins to appear in their riveting one-game playoff victory over Detroit for the 2009 AL Central title, only (Joe) Mauer and Morneau are still with the team.
The truth is, Morneau didn't play in that game. He saw his last action that year on Sept. 12, then was found to have a stress fracture in his back. That was really the beginning of his shaky health status.

Justin Morneau,
February 2012
Justin Morneau,
February 2013
Regarding Morneau's health and conditioning status, check out these two mug shots. A little different, aren't they? This year's model's a little beefier, I dare say.

2) Emma Span of Sports on Earth provides this analysis of the managers on one-year deals and their likelihood of getting fired during the season. As she sees it, Ron Gardenhire is on thinner ice than anybody else on a one-year deal. (She may have less esteem for his managerial abilities than I do.)

Photo day on this end

The Associated Press has supplied
a sharply focused photo of Joe Mauer's bat.
Why is another matter.
Tuesday was Photo Day at the Twins spring training camp, with the players spending a big chunk of the morning moving through 10 different photo stations. Photos for scoreboard use, for media use, probably for baseball cards ...

When photo day comes, I know that I'll be spending a few hours downloading and preparing mug shots from the Associated Press feed. Which I did Wednesday, about two hours of work on something like 71 photos.

It's not a complete set. It never is. Last year I didn't get a Casey Fien mug, and figured, well, he's not going to make the team, I won't miss it. He wound up pitching 35 innings with a 2.06 ERA for the Twins, and yeah, I wanted a Fien mug in August. In 2011 it was Ron Gardenhire's image missing, of all people.

This year's missing guys are Lester Oliveros and Nick Blackburn, both of whom I have from previous seasons anyway. And bullpen coach Bobby Cuellar, who I don't.

I may never need a photo of the bullpen coach; I think the only time I used a Rick Stelmaszek mug was when the Twins let him go last year. On the other hand, if in midseason Gardenhire and Rick Anderson get the ax, Cuellar is the most likely successor to Anderson as pitching coach.

Much of my work today will go for naught; if Ray Olmedo or Eric Fryer ever play for the Twins, it will be a bad sign indeed. But I'm ready if there ever is a time when their image is relevant.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

One final prospects list

Baseball America on Tuesday released its Top 100 prospects list. Six Twins prospects are on the list -- Minnesota was one of three organizations with six, and nobody had more -- and it was the same six who top everybody's Twins prospects lists, with only the order in question:

Miguel Sano, 3B (9)
Byron Buxton, OF (10)
Oswaldo Arcia, OF (41)
Alex Meyer, RHP (59)
Kyle Gibson, RHP (68)
Aaron Hicks, OF (72)

Somewhere on the outside looking in is Eddie Rosario, who was likely held back by concerns over his defensive position; J.O. Berrios, who has only a couple dozen professional innings under his belt; and Trevor May, who has to demonstrate that he has command of the strike zone to get back on the list.

BA, as I've said repeatedly, is a good reflection of the industry consensus. If BA ranks Arcia that far above Hicks, it indicates that the two are generally seen that way -- that Arcia, a corner outfielder who figures to hit in the middle of the lineup, is more valued that Hicks, a center fielder who profiles as a top-of-the-order guy.

The Twins have a well-regarded stockpile of hitting talent in their minors, and some pitchers of promise, but little of it figures to be a factor in 2013.

Hicks is the most likely to matter in the coming season; he may well open the season in center field, even though that would mean skipping Triple A. Gibson should get some time in the big league rotation this year, but his innings will be limited as they monitor his reconstructed elbow. Sano and Buxton, of course, are high-ceiling players scheduled for A ball this year, as are Rosario and Berrios -- and, for that matter, Max Kepler, the consensus No. 10 prospect in the system.

Somewhere between the Hicks-Gibson "they matter this year" duo and the A ball buys are Meyer,Mays and Arcia, who all got at least some Double A time last year. They might rise to the majors at some point in 2013, or they might not.

Arcia is, at the moment, blocked by Josh Willingham and the Chris Parmelee/Justin Morneau duo; since Arcia has yet to play in Triple A, the Twins aren't in any hurry to unblock his route to the majors. Arcia's arrival depends as much on what moves the Twins make with the veteran sluggers as with how well he performs in the minors,

Meyer and Mays are in a different space. The Twins need quality starters, and they have as high a ceiling as anybody in the organization. Unlike Gibson, there are no physical restrictions; unlike Barrios, they are advanced in their development. If they perform, they'll move up. There is nobody ahead of them, majors or minors, who should be allowed to block them.

Which is another reason to expect the Twins to ultimately regret the $10 million committed to Kevin Correia.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bunting Josh Willingham

Bunting drills are a staple of the early days of spring training.
One of the fixtures of Twins spring training in recent years has been Rod Carew teaching bunting. There may be no man alive better qualified for the task.

The sight of slow-footed slugger Josh Willingham working his way into the bunting instructionals Monday morning set off a minor Twitter flurry from a couple of the beat writers.

This appeared to be completely Willingham's idea. Manager Ron Gardenhire, asked about Willingham bunting later, said he'll have Willingham bunt when he's trying to get fired, and as far as having him sacrifice, that's the mindset I'd want the manager to have.
The most recent of
Josh Willingham's
two career sac bunts
came in 2008, when
he played for the

So why was Willingham volunteering for bunting drills? One possibility that entered my noggin is that he has the notion of coaching (even if only on the youth level) after his playing days end, and that he recognizes that the bunt is an art he's not very familiar with — and why not learn something of it from a master?

A more immediate purpose might be the wish to make infielders play him honestly — or at least pay a price for taking exaggerated defensive positions.

The reports Monday said Willingham didn't look particularly good in his bunt attempts, but that, as Carew told him, "They're going to give it to you."

There are situations in which I wouldn't object to Willingham bunting for a hit. Down three runs late, a righty on the hill, and Willingham's leading off with left-handed sluggers like Justin Morneau, Ryan Doumit and Chris Parmelee behind him, why not? As long as Willingham's confident that he can get the bunt down and past the pitcher, it can get him on base to start the inning — and that, in turn, will force the infielders to play the following hitters more conventionally and open things up for them.

There's a big qualifier to that idea — that he has to be confident that he can execute the plan. It's not going to help if he fouls the bunt off or pops it up.

It's not unheard for a slow right-handed bopper like Willingham to have the bunt base hit in his arsenal. Steve Garvey, the first baseman of a legendary Dodger infield a generation ago, was no faster than Willingham, but he had a goal of getting a bunt hit each month. It was part of his formula for 200 hits a season, something he accomplished with regularity.

But I'll guarantee that Garvey worked at the bunt more than one brief session in the first week of spring training. If Willingham's serious about this, he'll need to work at it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sorting out the infielders

Pedro Florimon is
the front-runner for
the shortstop job.
The Twins position players, with one exception (Delbinson Romero), are all in camp now, and full-team workouts began Saturday.

And the first, if expected, steps were taken to sort out the infield.

Ron Gardenhire said Pedro Florimon will work strictly at shortstop, and Brian Dozier -- who started at short in half the Twins' games last season and didn't play an inning for Minnesota at another position -- will be at second base. Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar will work at both spots and at third base, although Trevor Plouffe will be the starter at third.

As I say, expected. Florimon and Dozier are the two guys the Twins want to see come out of camp with the shortstop and second base jobs. What can get in the way: Neither hit much in the majors last season, although Dozier has hit in the minors; and Dozier hasn't played a lot at second base.

I saw a tweeted report that Tom Kelly was complementary about Dozier's footwork in early infield drills. Kelly's not noted for empty praise, so that's a good sign. A small sign, but a good one.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pic of the Week

Wally, the Red Sox mascot, is supposedly digging
his way out of the snow dumped upon Fenway Park
by Nemo.

Yeah, I think we all need spring. (This photo was tweeted by the Red Sox PR staff.)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Starting pitcher change and stability

The Twins 2012 starting rotation had roughly the same outcome as the recent Carnival Triumph cruise.

The Twins deployed 12 different starting pitchers, each of whom got at least five starts; with the exception of Anthony Swarzak, each of the 12 got at least a full month in the rotation. Only Scott Diamond truly thrived.

And so there are no fewer than 19 starting candidates in training camp right now, almost enough to fill four five-man rotations.

The Twins were destined for a major makeover of the rotation this spring regardless of how poorly 2012 went; four of the five veterans who entered training camp a year ago as projected starters were due for free agency at the end of the year. All four -- Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Jason Marquis and Carl Pavano -- are gone now. (Baker never pitched in the regular season, so he's not one of the 12.)

The odd thing, looking at today's spring training roster, is that only three of last year's dismal dozen (Liriano, Marquis and Pavano) aren't still in the organization. The other nine -- Nick Blackburn, Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries, Diamond, Brian Duensing, Liam Hendriks, Swarzak, Esmerling Vasquez, P.J. Walters -- are still on hand.

Some are rehabbing from surgery or other injury, some are more likely to be used in the bullpen, some are destined for Rochester or New Britain or even for release. Other than Diamond, all have an uphill battle to be in the major league rotation. There are, after all, another eight candidates for the rotation, eight guys who weren't part of last summer's problem.

One might have expected a more drastic turnover from last year's disaster. Certainly some will see the continued presence of so many of 2012's starters as a failure of accountability.

But that only Diamond is truly a frontrunner for a starting job this spring tells a different story. I think three of the holdovers -- De Vries, Hendriks and Deduno, in that order -- probably deserve a better opportunity than they're likely to get this spring. The odds are against any of the three emerging as reliable major league starters, but I'm quite certain that at least one of the current rotation locks (Kevin Correia) has established that he never will.

In that sense, the failure of the 2012 rotation casts a shadow over the survivors.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Contemplating Rafael Perez

A few days ago I suggested that one sign that the Twins figure to keep Brian Duensing in the bullpen is that they didn't import any left-handed relief candidates. They have holdover Tyler Robertson, prospect Caleb Thielbar and Duensing — and, of course, closer Glen Perkins.

Well, now they have imported an established LOOGY — Rafael Perez, signed Thursday to a minor-league deal.

Cleveland cut him loose after he barely pitched in 2012, and he had shoulder surgery last September. That surgery follows pretty obvious signs of deteriorating stuff — his strikeout rate has fallen and his walk rate risen over the past four years. Those are some pretty obvious warning signs.

Still, the Twins are clearly hoping that he may return to being the devastator he was five years or so ago.

What's more, they're even talking about trying him as a starter — something he hasn't done in the majors. Conceivably, it could be Perez in the rotation and Duensing in the bullpen.

I find this interesting: For his career (seven years with Cleveland), Perez  really didn't display a strong platoon split. Righties had an OPS of .694, lefties .678. My prevailing image of Perez against the Twins is his unleashing an excellent slider against the Mauer-Morneau-Kubel array of left-handed bats, but he clearly wasn't limited to a LOOGY role.

He threw more innings against the Twins (38) than against anybody else, and he racked up an ERA of 1.89 against the Twins, so this may again be a case of Craig Monroe Syndrome at work — that the Twins overvalue him based specifically on what he's done against them.

Even if that's the case, it's a minor-league deal. By definition, the Twins aren't staking a whole lot on him.


Tampa Bay shortstop watch concludes: The Rays on Thursday shipped Reid Brignac to Colorado. So they've moved out both their "designated for assignment" infielders, neither to Minnesota.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Notes, quotes and comment

When I composed Wednesday's off-the-cuff assessment of the Cleveland Indians, I hadn't seen this item on how Terry Francona intends to deploy his defense.

In a nutshell: Michael Bourn in center, Drew Stubbs in right, Nick Swisher at first, Mark Reynolds as the primary DH and Carlos Santana at catcher.

Francona hasn't seen all that much of Santana behind the plate, and it's possible that once he has, he'll rethink that plan. Or perhaps he's not as concerned about defense from his catcher as predecessor Manny Acta was. Acta found plenty of reasons/opportunity to have Lou Marson catch, with Santana at first base or designated hitter. Francona apparently intends to handle Santana differently.


Elliot Johnson, one of the two shortstops DFA'd by Tampa Bay, went to the Kansas City Royals as the player-to-be-named in the James Shields deal.

That's an unusual PTN. Usually they're minor leaguers. Seldom are they players with appreciable major league service time. Anyway, one of the two out of the way, one to go.


Rich Harden, the talented but oft-injured pitcher the Twins signed to a minor league deal this winter, was one of the first to take a bullpen session when camp officially opened Wednesday in Fort Meyers, Fla. He later told the writers that he was at about 80 to 85 percent of his arm strength -- which isn't particularly worrisome, as no pitchers should be ramping it up yet -- and that he hasn't felt this good in six years.

Harden didn't pitch at all in 2012 after extensive shoulder surgery. One wishes to be optimistic about him, but his track record is riddled with injury and disappointment, and shoulder damage is notoriously difficult to come back from. On the plus side, the Twins aren't really counting on him, so anything they get is to the good.

It's too soon to tell if he's going to pay off or add to the medical bills, and too soon to know what role he would play if healthy. I've assumed all along that he's a starting candidate, but there is considerable chatter about a bullpen role for him.


Crowded camp indeed: The Twins have three extra players in camp -- non roster guys who aren't official invitees, but who are there to get ready for their participation in the World Baseball Classic: Left-handed pitcher Andrew Albers (Canada), right-handed pitcher J.O. Berrios (Puerto Rico) and second baseman/outfielder Eddie Rosario (Puerto Rico).

Rosario's time in camp may be interesting. The Twins, of course, are trying to turn him into a second baseman. He played mainly outfield in winter ball, however, and will be an outfielder for Puerto Rico in the WBC. I wonder if the Twins will try to work him at second while he's with the major league staff, or if they'll let him focus on the outfield he'll be playing in the tournament.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Around the division: Cleveland Indians

Terry Francona is the
new manager of the
Cleveland Indians. Doesn't
he look thrilled?
Cleveland has had an interesting winter after a disappointing 2012. The hiring of Terry Francona as manager suggested that, despite their 68-94 record, the Tribe has a sense it can contend. The Indians followed up on that hiring by surrendering two draft picks to land veteran outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn in free agency, signing high-strikeout slugger Mark Reynolds and by trading for pitching phenom Trevor Bauer.

This flurry of activity -- the Indians this week also picked up Daisuke Matuzaka and Jason Giambi on minor-league deals -- has some ranking the Indians as the second-best team in the AL Central coming into camp. I'm not so sure.

Here's the deal: Cleveland was really bad last season. They won two more games than the lowly Twins, to be sure, but their stats suggested they should have lost more. They gave up more runs than even Minnesota (845 for Cleveland, 832 for Minnesota) and scored fewer than the Twins (701 for Minnesota, 667 for Cleveland) They started the offseason in a deep hole.

Swisher theoretically replaces Shin-Soo Choo in right field, which is at best a wash and more likely a slight downgrade (Swisher might also see time at first base and DH, with Reynolds also at those spots; a lot depends on how much they want Carlos Santana to catch.) Bourn will provide superb defense in center field and acceptable production as a leadoff hitter -- I don't view him as likely to be worth the $12 million a year the Indians have committed to him over the next four seasons, but he should help.

Let's see: Outfield has Swisher, Bourn, Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs; infield has Reynolds, Jason Kipnis at second, Lonnie Chisenhall at third and Asdrubal Cabrera at short; Santana catches about half the time, Lou Marson the other half, with Santana at first or DH most of the other half.

Line 'em up:

Bourn CF
Kipnis 2B
Cabrera SS
Santana C/DH/1B
Swisher RF/1B/DH
Reynolds 1B/DH
Brantley LF
Chisenhall 3B
Marson C or Stubbs RF

That's not bad. That lineup shouldn't finish next-to-last in the AL in runs scored, as the Indians did last year. But it's not great either. The middle of that lineup doesn't match up with the middle of some of  the other orders in the AL Central: M. Cabrera-Fielder-V. Martinez, Mauer-Willingham-Morneau, Konerko-Dunn-Rios.

On the plus side, Bourn shoves Brantley from center to left, which should make the outfield defense better. In fact, the more Stubbs plays, the more they figure to have a three-center-fielder outfield, which can make the pitching look a lot better. On the other hand, the more Stubbs plays, the more Santana catches, which might make the pitching worse.

Ah, yes, the pitching. Cleveland went last year with a rotation of heavy sinkerballers -- Jason Masterson, Derek Lowe, Ubaldo Jiminez -- and had little success. (The Cabrera-Kipnis middle infield is better with the bat than with the glove, even if Cabrera is a fixture on Web Gems.) Lowe's gone, but the rest of them are still around.

Bauer strikes me as the key addition, but his 2013 impact may be limited. Arizona lost patience with him, apparently deciding he was essentially uncoachable; he may be a guy who has to take his lumps before agreeing to change his approach. Masterson and Jiminez need to regain their footing, and that's hardly certain.

Cleveland might be the second best team in the division, but they might not, and even if they are, that's not saying much; there's a big gap between the Tigers and everybody else in the AL Central.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Benchmarks for 2013: Final thoughts

This sporadic series started more than a month ago, an attempt on my part to identify areas that the Twins in general and manager Ron Gardenhire in particular needed to fix or at least improve.

The idea was to answer this question: Wins and losses aside, what does Gardenhire need to accomplish in 2013 to remain manager of the Twins beyond the coming season?

What I wound up answering might be more along the lines of: What does Gardenhire need to accomplish to win more games in 2013?

The Twins lost 195 games the past two seasons, so it figures they would have a long list of things to improve.

I started with a list of six missions and added a seventh. The thing is, those seven are so broad as to encompass the vast majority of the roster: Much of the pitching staff needs to have names plugged into roles, the middle infield is uncertain, center field is vacant, the lineup lacks table-setters, and the clear front-runners for third base and right field have yet to establish themselves.

Gardenhire is set at catcher, first base, left field and DH. He has a closer and a top set-up man. Beyond that, he has projects, prospects and problems.

How fixable is this team? Recapping the areas:

  • The putative starting rotation entering camp -- some order of Kevin Correia, Scott Diamond, Mike Pelfrey and Vance Worley, plus a starter-to-be-named -- appears no better, and probably worse, than the one that came to spring training last February: Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, Jason Marquis and Carl Pavano. The 2012 rotation imploded so quickly and so decisively that it would be difficult to avoid improvement, but even cutting the runs allowed by 100 -- which is a lot -- would still leave the Twins in the bottom half of the league. My conclusion: This is a multi-year project, and the primary figures for 2013 on the major league level are Diamond, Worley and Kyle Gibson.
  • The vacancies in the middle-of-the-diamond defensive positions (shortstop, second base and center field) and at the top of the batting order are intertwined. If those issues are to be solved in 2013 with the talent on hand, Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier have to emerge as the center fielder and second baseman, respectively. Hicks and Dozier aren't guaranteed to succeed, but the other candidates are either short-term fixes or not suited to regular use in key offensive roles.
  • Trevor Plouffe and Chris Parmelee should get sustained playing time. Given the lack of realistic alternatives to either, that shouldn't be an issue.
  • The bullpen roles -- well, bullpens are always works in progress. Gardenhire has a pretty solid track record with his bullpens, and of the areas of concern, this is the least concerning.

A lot of work awaits Gardenhire and his staff -- and the players they will teach and evaluate -- this spring. Time to get it started.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Benchmarks for 2013: Bullpen roles

Ron Gardenhire has managed the Twins for 11 seasons, some good, some bad. In most of those seasons, he and pitching coach Rick Anderson have had strong bullpens.

2011 was a horrid exception. The 2012 bullpen was better -- it could hardly have been worse -- but it was still short of the excellence displayed in some previous seasons.

The Twins are to have 34 pitchers reporting to camp this week. I view 17 of them -- exactly half -- as more likely to be in a starting rotation (majors or minors) than relieve, and the other 17 as primarily bullpen candidates. (And yes, I have Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak in the bullpen group.)

Seventeen pitchers for seven, perhaps eight, bullpen jobs, some of which have definite incumbents who aren't losing their job this spring unless they get crippled. Let's look at the roles and who exited 2012 with the jobs, all of whom are back:

Closer: Glen Perkins
Setup 1: Jared Burton
LOOGY 1/Setup 2: Duensing
Middle relief 1: Casey Fien
Middle relief 2: Alex Burnett
LOOGY 2/MR3: Tyler Robertson
Longman: Swarzak

Three of those guys figure to be safe in their jobs: Perkins (who will be out of Twins camp for a while to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic); Burton (who set career marks for appearances, innings and effectiveness in a season in 2011 and won a multi-year contract); and Duensing (who might claim a rotation job instead).

That's a good start on a bullpen, especially if Duensing is indeed part of it. But with Gardenhire's established preference to use his relievers frequently but in short bursts, three late-inning arms aren't enough.

Breaking it down by roles

Right-handed middle relief: Fien had an impressive half-season in the majors last year -- 35 appearances, 2.06 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 35 innings. Burnett's 3.52 ERA was acceptable, but his walk and strikeout rates were weak, and they have steadily deteriorated over his three seasons in the majors.

Fien should have a stronger grip on a job than Burnett does, but neither is as secure as Burton.

Primary competitors for their jobs: Ryan Pressly, Anthony Slama, Tim Wood.

Pressly is a Rule 5 draftee, taken from the Red Sox, a 24-year-old reformed starter whose chances of a big-league career rose sharply when shifted to the bullpen last year in Double A. He doesn't have an extensive track record of success, but he does have a good arm, And, of course, Rule 5 picks either stick on the 25-man roster or get offered back to their original team.

Slama is a non-roster invitee and an Internet favorite. He's dominated the minors at every level, but the Twins have been reluctant to give him a sustained opportunity in the majors, and he's also missed significant time the past two seasons. My guess is that Slama will again be in Rochester to open the season, but if he stays healthy he'll get a chance. The Twins clearly don't think his pitch-outside-the-strike-zone approach can work in the majors, but certainly even Triple A hitters can't make him change it.

Wood, 30, had a big season in Triple A for the Pirates last year, but like Slama, the big club never saw fit to call him up, and the Twins signed him as a minor league free agent, then added him to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft.

I'd rather see one of those three in the Twins bullpen than Burnett.

LOOGYS: Pretend for a moment that Duensing shows early in camp that he's got a pitch with which to effectively attack right-handed hitter. If so, he's a genuine starting candidate. Then what?

The Twins, for all their activity in bringing in pitchers, didn't add much in the way of left-handed bullpen candidates, which leads me to suspect that they expect Duensing to be the primary lefty specialist.

Behind him is  Robertson, who hung a few too many sliders to left-handed hitters to be secure in his position, and behind him is Caleb Thielbar, a Minnesota native who climbed from A ball to Triple A in 2012 and won a spot on the 40-man roster.

I expect the Twins to have two of the three in the 2013 bullpen. Right-hander Josh Roenicke, who I'll deal with as a threat to Swarzak's role, was better after lefties than righties in 2012 and might be seen as an alternative. The question is, does he really give lefties problems, or was 2012's success a fluke? I'll assume the latter until given good reason to believe otherwise.

Long man: Swarzak's 5.03 career ERA breaks down thusly: 4.03 in relief, 5.79 as a starter.

That's fairly well known. What's less well known is that he's been more effective in low-leverage situations than in games the Twins have a chance to win. Teams will always carry pitchers whose jobs are to work the innings that don't matter, but it makes sense to use the role to graduate to more important innings.

That hasn't worked with Swarzak, and after two seasons and an injury that has to be described as an act of self-inflicted dumbness (although not as dumb as the Red Sox prospect who shot himself in the leg), the Twins might be inclined to try someone else in the role.

Roenicke figures to be a primary contender. He had something of a breakthrough year with Colorado as a "bridge" reliever in their experiment with a four-man rotation with very low pitch counts -- a role somewhat akin to long relief -- but the Rockies took him off their 40-man roster early in the offseason anyway. I went into some detail on him here after the Twins picked him up on waivers.

If the Twins do see Roenicke as somebody who can deal with lefties late in games AND give them a couple of innings in long relief, and if they doubt they can ever entrust key innings and at-bats to Swarzak, I can see this switch coming.

This might also be a place to stick Pressly. Or one of the starting candidates who doesn't secure a rotation spot.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Sunday Funnies

Pitchers and catchers report this week, so let's wrap up this offseason's Funnies with a spring training classic:

It's the late 1930s, and the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees are each holding their spring training in St. Petersburg, Fla. Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch assembles his squad and delivers an opening of camp address in which he informs his charges that they will hold two workouts a day.

Pepper Martin interrupts the Fordham Flash. Martin notes that the Yankees, across town, are holding just one practice a day, and they won the World Series last year; maybe the Cardinals would do well to do the same.

No, Frisch says, the Yankees might be champions, but we want to be champions, "and the way to get there is to work twice as hard as them, and that means two practices a day and -- what is it this time, Pepper?"

"Frankie," Martin says, "I got me a mule back in Oklahoma, and you can work him from sunup til sundown, and he ain't never gonna win the Kentucky Derby."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Three left-handers: Diamond, Duensing, Liriano

Scott Diamond: Will
he be the starter
or Opening Day?
LaVelle Neal tweeted Friday afternoon that Scott Diamond, who had elbow surgery in December to remove a bone chip, "has begun his throwing program but it's really iffy if he will be ready for Opening Day."

Obviously it would be ideal for him to make all 32 or 33 starts, but in the grand scheme of things it's more important for Diamond to be healthy when he takes the mound. If he isn't ready to pitch the opener on April 1, so be it.

Given Ron Gardenhire's preference for a veteran for the opener, I rather expect him to give the ball to Kevin Correia anyway. True, he's not close to being the best starter in the likely Twins rotation, but he is a veteran. And besides, whoever gets the ball on April 1 figures to be matched against Justin Verlander anyway. The Twins aren't particularly likely to win that one.


At the end of the 2012 season, Terry Ryan said (more than once) that Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak had been told to prepare this winter to compete for rotation jobs.

Since then, of course, the Twins have signed veterans Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Rich Harden and traded for Vance Worley. And, as noted earlier this week, Swarzak has broken a couple of ribs and won't be ready to throw when camp opens next week.

I never really took Swarzak's candidacy very seriously. Duensing is another matter.

Duensing is a theoretically viable candidate because he's had some success in the past (2009-10) as a starter, and because he's left-handed.

He's been much better as a reliever the past two years, largely because he's struggled to get right-handed hitters out. My theory last winter, which is still my notion, is that he needs a better change-up.

If that's the case, it should be pretty easy for the Twins to decide this spring if he's a realistic option for the rotation or if he should be in the bullpen. If he's got a good change going, he can start. If he doesn't, he'll be of greater use as a lefty-killer out of the 'pen.


Friday morning's post contained a reference to Francisco Liriano's on-again, off-again deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Friday afternoon it was reported, again, that the Liriano deal has been finalized.

Since this time the Pirates themselves have said it, I guess it can be believed.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Notes, quotes and comment

Tampa Bay this week designated shortstops Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson for assignment, removing them from the 40-man roster and starting the clock ticking for some sort of disposal of their contracts.

Last year I would have been in favor of picking up either; now I'm ambivalent. Both are good-field, no-hit types; so are Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar, or at least they figure to be. I don't know that the Rays refugees would be a true upgrade over the unproven guys, and their periods of team control would be significantly less.

--- on Thursday released its Top 20 list of Twins prospects, and certainly in the Top 10 there's no significant break from the consensus.

The same 10 show in the top 10 of every list I've seen, and in these groups: Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are the top two; No.3-6 are some order of Oswaldo Arcia, Kyle Gibson, Aaron Hicks and Alex Meyer; No. 7-9 are some order of J.O. Barrios, Trevor May and Eddie Rosario; and Max Kepler takes up the rear.

The divergence begins after Kepler. The MLB list has three pitchers in the Top 20 -- Corey Williams (16), Ryan Pressly (18) and Hudson Boyd (19) -- not in Baseball America's top 30. BA listed middle infielders Jorge Polanco (14) and Levi Michael (16) in its Top 20; com didn't, but did squeeze Niko Goodrum into its list at No. 20 (while expressing doubt that he'll stay in the middle infield).

Consensus of the type seen in the Top 10 tells us something; divergence of the type seen in the Second 10 tells use something else. ranks guys whose big league futures, if any, are clearly in the bullpen over almost all the middle infield propects in the system; Baseball America didn't. I think BA has the more correct idea there.


Francisco Liriano was reported in December to have reached a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates; then it hit a snag over an injury to his non-pitching arm. A couple of weeks ago it was reported that the two parties had rewoked the deal. Well, it still hasn't become official.

And meanwhile, the Pirates have signed Jonathan Sanchez, another left-hander with outstanding stuff and sub-optimal "pitchability." I begin to wonder if Liriano's deal is going to happen, or if the Pirates are moving on.


Recent ex-Twins free-agent signings: Jon Rauch with Miami; Kyle Waldrop on a minor-league deal with  Pittsburgh. I continue to believe Waldrop can be an effective reliever, but I also understand that there are a lot of marginal guys like that, and I can't be all that critical of the Twins for looking elsewhere.

One way of looking at the Waldrop departure is that the Twins essentially swapped Triple A relief arms with Pittsburgh: The Pirates got Waldrop, the Twins got Tim Wood (much earlier this offseason). Wood had a big year in Triple A in 2012, but the Pirates never saw fit to call him up. We'll see how they fare in new environments.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Anthony Swarzak's injury

Anthony Swarzak's
batting average allowed
with the Twins behind:
.260. With the Twins
ahead: .329.
When the Twins announced Wednesday that Anthony Swarzak had cracked two ribs during "non-baseball activity" around the time of Twinsfest, I had a pretty good idea of what had happened. If he'd gotten hurt during a workout, or even snow shoveling, they'd have been more open about it. "Non-baseball activity" is code for "immature behavior."

And sure enough, it didn't take long for Terry Ryan to say that Swarzak had gotten hurt wrestling with teammates at a post-Twinsfest party.

Swarzak's not the first player to get hurt that way, and he won't be the last. It's the kind of thing that happens when the room contains more testosterone than brains.

The word Wednesday had Swarzak out for a month, which suggests that he'll be ready to resume throwing a week or so after exhibition games begin. That leaves time, certainly, for him to get ready for a bullpen gig, but probably takes him out of the running for a rotation slot.

I always viewed that idea as a long shot anyway. Swarzak has been much more effective the past two seasons in relief than as a starter -- and, moreover, more effective in long relief/mopup innings than in his opportunities to pitch late in close games. The Twins have needed starters, they've given him chances, and he hasn't done anything with them. The Twins have needed middle relievers/setup men, they've given him chances, and he hasn't done anything with those either.

Swarzak is an incumbent, but an incumbent for low-leverage innings on the worst staff in the league. He shouldn't be secure in his position. Getting hurt in this manner probably counts against him.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Law list

Another day, another prospect ratings list. This one comes from Keith Law of ESPN (and formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays front office).

He has seven Twins prospects in the top 100 -- really, in the top 65: Miguel Sano (11), Byron Buxton (22), Kyle Gibson (41), Aaron Hicks (49), Oswaldo Arcia (59), Alex Meyer (61) and Eddie Rosario (65).

Law's stuff is behind ESPN's paywall, and I decided a while back that I contribute quite enough already to the ESPN Leviathan through my cable bill without popping for Insider status, so I'm not the guy to turn to for truly informed commentary on Law's analysis.

But the differences between his ratings and the others we've seen so far are strong enough to be worth discussing.

I don't know that anybody else thinks Hicks is a better prospect than Arcia; I surmise that Law is more sold on Hicks as a top-of-the-order table setter than the other list makers. Having Gibson well ahead of Meyer suggests that Law values Gibson's readiness more than the others do. And having Rosario that high indicates that Law (a) thinks Rosario will be a second baseman and/or (b) will retain the power he's displayed so far.

On Monday Law ranked the Twins farm system as the second best in the majors (behind St. Louis); Baseball America has the Twins system 10th and John Sickels ranks it seventh, so Law is more impressed with the Minnesota organization than those observers are. And since at least two of the BA guys have said the Twins have the best collection of hitting talent in the minors, that probably means Law thinks more highly of the pitching in the Twins system than they do.

Is there reason for that? Well, the Twins have spent a number of high picks the past two years on collegiate bullpen arms, some of whom they are trying as starters. If one or two of them do establish themselves as power-armed starters, the pitching depth in the system will be a lot better than it appears right now. I don't know that that's a particularly good bet; there are reasons guys like Luke Bard and Mason Melotakis were relievers in college.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What to make of all these catchers

Ryan Doumit started
56 games at catcher in
2012, 48 as the DH,
16 in left field
and six in right field.
One of my Tweeps expressed surprise last night that the Twins would have nine catchers in training camp. My response was that, with 34 pitchers scheduled to be in camp as well, they need a lot of catchers to handle all those throwing sessions. (Last year they also had nine catchers in camp.)

The truly noteworthy thing is that so many of the nine -- five -- are on the 40-man roster:

  • Joe Mauer, three-time batting champ, former MVP, perennial All-Star, future Hall of Famer -- and the starter of just 119 games the past two seasons behind the plate;
  • Ryan Doumit, whose left-handed bat is strong, whose right-handed bat is relatively weak and whose defense (at catcher, in the outfield or at first base) is weaker still;
  • Drew Butera, a fine receiver who cannot hit;
  • Chris Herrmann,who had a good season in Double A and is probably ticketed for Triple A Rochester; and
  • Josmil Pinto, who made Baseball America's Class A all-star team for his .295/.361/.473 season at high-A Fort Myers and matched those numbers in a brief Double A stint.

The four non-roster invitees, who will be there to handle bullpen sessions and ease the strain on the other five:

Danny Lehmann
hit .185 in 164
plate appearances
last season in
Double A and
Triple A combined.

  • Eric Fryer, a minor league free agent and Triple A veteran;
  • Danny Lehmann, a Butera type who split 2012 between Double A New Britain and Triple A Rochester;
  • Dan Rohlfing, who split 2012 between Fort Myers and New Britain; and
  • Kyle Knutson, a former Gopher who spent 2012 at low A Beloit and figures to move up to Fort Myers.

A few years ago, when the Twins were carrying Mauer, Butera, Mike Redmond, Jose Morales and Wilson Ramos on the 40, they were the only team with so many backstops on the roster. It's not so unique now -- both Boston and Tampa Bay currently list five catchers on their 40-man rosters, and I only checked the one division -- but it still seems like a lot of catchers. Five catchers is 12.5 percent of the roster space.

In the Twins case, at least two of the five -- Doumit and Herrmann -- figure to see considerable time in the outfield. Mauer is supposed to see his time behind the dish escalate, and it will be worth watching to see who loses time as a result, Doumit or Butera. One hundred twenty starts for Mauer leaves 42 for the reserves, and that's a fourth of the season. That's a good slice, but it's about half the load they had to carry in 2012.

Drew Butera has a
$700,000 contract for
the coming season.
Butera, we can easily see from his stats, is a terrible hitter. It's less easy to see in the stats that Doumit is a terrible catcher, but that's his reputation. And the sabermetric research into catching, primitive as it is, backs his reputation as a lousy receiver.

If Mauer is really going to start 120 games behind the plate, do the Twins need to carry three catchers? My guess is that Doumit would see most of his playing time at designated hitter, and given the uniqueness of the catching job, Ron Gardenhire's going to feel a lot more comfortable with Butera as his defensive insurance policy. If Doumit truly gives away as many runs as the piece linked to above surmises, the pitchers will be a lot better with Butera getting the bulk of those 42 games anyway.

These, then, figure to be the catching battles to come in training camp:

  • For playing time behind Mauer, between Doumit and Butera;
  • For a roster spot, between Butera, Herrmann and every option that doesn't include a third catcher (the two-catcher approach being more of a threat to Butera this March than Herrmann is);
  • For jobs in the high minors behind -- probably -- Herrmann at Triple A and Pinto at Double A, between Lehmann, Fryer and Rohlfing. Their positions get all the weaker if Butera doesn't stick in the majors.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A busy weekend for prospect lists

Aaron Hicks and a fan at a Twinsfest autorgraph table.
Last week I noted that's Top 100 prospects included six Twins.

This weekend John Sickels released his top prospect lists in an email to people who have ordered his annual prospect book. Sickels does two lists: 50 position players and 50 pitchers. This makes his listings difficult to compare directly to the others, which lump everybody together.

There are seven Twins on the Sickels lists, five hitters and two pitchers.

The hitters: Miguel Sano (7), Oswaldo Arcia (16), Byron Buxton (19), Aaron Hicks (44) and Eddie Rosario (46). The pitchers: Alex Meyer (29) and Kyle Gibson (37).

A few comments:

Sickels obviously likes Arcia a lot more than's panel, which put him at 93. For that matter, so does Baseball America (see below). I'm inclined to think Arcia was underrated by

Sickels has been less enthusiastic about Buxton than most prospect followers, but putting Buxton 19th among position players is hardly an insult. He does have Buxton behind Carlos Correa, the No. 1 overall pick last summer -- No. 11 on the Sickels list -- and that's consistent with Sickels' evaluation immediately before the draft; he preferred the 17-year-old shortstop to the 18-year-old outfielder.

Unlike, Sickels did not slide Hicks down for having his best season. Hicks didn't make Sickels' top 50 a year ago; now he's number 44. Much more logical than's treatment.

Rosario was No. 47 on Sickels' list last year, 46 now. didn't rank him.

A year ago, with Gibson recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Twins had no pitchers on Sickels' list. Now they have two. Trevor May, acquired in the Ben Revere trade, was No. 20 last year, but he's fallen off the chart after a season of control issues in Double A.

Meanwhile, my copy of Baseball America's Prospect Handbook arrived Saturday.

BA released its Top 10 Twins prospect list early in the offseason, before the trades of Denard Span and Ben Rever, which brought Alex Meyer and Trevor May into the organization. Both pitchers make the revised Top 10, which now runs:

1) Miguel Sano, 3b
2) Byron Buxton, of
3) Oswaldo Arcia, of
4) Alex Meyer, rhp
5) Kyle Gibson, rhp
6) Aaron Hicks, of
7) J.O. Berrios, rph
8) Eddie Rosario, 2b/of
9) Trevor May, rhp
10) Max Kepler, of

Middle infielder Daniel Santana and rhp Luke Bard slip to No. 11 and 12, respectively, on the BA list.

BA hasn't released its consensus Top 100 yet, but the Handbook does give the Top 50 selections by each of the four editors. Sano is ranked 13, 17, 8 and 7 (average a bit over 11); Buxton is ranked 8, 21, 10 and 8 (average just under 12); Arcia is ranked 44, 34, 44 and 42 (average 41). No other Twins were mentioned in the Top 50 of any of the four.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Sunday funnies

June 17, 1962: "Marvelous" Marv Throneberry, first baseman and symbol of the hapless '62 Mets, hit a drive into the gap one day and trundled to third base, where he perched beaming from his apparent triple.

The unfazed opposition promptly ran the appeal play, and Throneberry was ruled out for missing first base.

Mets manager Casey Stengel trundled out to argue the call, and Cookie Lavagetto, his first base coach (and incidentally, the first manager of the Minnesota Twins), intercepted him.

"Don't bother, Casey. He missed second base too," the coach said.

Stengel glared at Lavagetto. "Well, I know he touched third base, 'cause he's standing on it!" Casey barked before retreating to the dugout.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Two Twins who starred in winter ball

Deolis Guerra is the
sole remaining piece
from the Johan
Santana trade.
Baseball America has posted (subscribers only) a piece entitled "Ten Players Who Helped Their Stock in Winter Ball." Two of the 10 are Twins.

Eddie Rosario is No. 2 on the BA list (behind Cardinals mega-prospect Oscar Tavaras). BA notes that Rosario  hit .338/.386./.496 in 133 at bats for Mayaguez in his native Puerto Rico, second in the league in batting average and fourth in slugging percentage.

The concluding sentence:

Scouts have questions about whether Rosario has the defensive chops to play an up-the-middle position -- he played mostly right field in Puerto Rico -- but his hit tool is impressive.

Deolis Guerra was No. 10. The reliever (who lost his spot on the 40-man roster this winter but is a spring training invitee) struck out 31 while walking five in 25 innings for Navegantes in the Venezuelan League. A bad final outing bumped his ERA up to 3.81.

The concluding sentence:

The ceiling here is limited, but Guerra might not be a total bust after all.

I don't know that their good winter seasons change much for either. Rosario is still going to open 2013 in High A ball, and the Twins are still going to try to make him a second baseman. I expected Guerra to reach the majors last year, but he missed a good part of the season with injury. Now he's got more hurdles in his way, and even a strong spring training probably isn't going to get him on the Opening Day roster.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Matt Capps, Cleveland Indian (probably)

Matt Capps: 3.68
with 14 saves — and
three months on the
disabled list — in
2012 with the Twins.
Matt Capps finally knows where he'll report when spring training camps open — the much-criticized former closer for the Twins signed a minor league deal with invitation to major-league camp with the Cleveland Indians on Thursday.

So much for the recent blogger speculation that Capps might return to the Twins yet again.

That Capps had to settle for a minor-league deal suggests that his one-game return in late September didn't do much to assure potential employers that he's sound. He made only 29 appearances in 2012 for the Twins.

Presumably he has an out clause in this contract — if he doesn't make the major league roster by Day X, he can opt for his release. He's only 29, and he does have a career ERA of 3.52 and 138 saves. He's not great, but he shouldn't be on the fringe of a roster either.

Assuming, of course, that he's sound.

Cleveland has a closer — Chris Perez, who is a rather Capps-like closer himself (75 saves the past two seasons with a combined 3.45 ERA). There's been speculation that the Tribe would trade Perez this winter, but that hasn't happened.

I would think that Capps would have taken a major-league deal from anybody over a minor-league deal, but that none was available. To the extent that he was picking from comparable minor-league offerings, he may have chosen Cleveland on the theory that the glory job might become available.