Monday, August 31, 2015

More bullpen thoughts

The Monday print column praised the midseason revamping of the Twins bullpen. But in a multi-tweet rant this weekend, LaVelle Neal made this point about why the revamping was necessary:

Which, yeah, I was surprised, and not pleased, that the Twins went into the season with Casey Fien and Brian Duensing as the primary setup men to Glen Perkins.

The Twins during the offseason discarded recent mainstays Jared Burton and Anthony Swarzak. Neither is currently in organized ball. The Twins replaced them with Blaine Boyer and J.R. Graham. They supplanted second LOOGY Caleb Thielbar with  Aaron Thompson. (Thielbar was later lost to the Padres on waivers; San Diego last week designated Thielbar for assignment.)

It was an opening bullpen to make a would-be contender uncomfortable. But in fairness: I don't think the Twins seriously thought they were going to contend with that bullpen, I think they expected to remake the bullpen.

But they expected to remake it from within. They expected some of the young power arms in the minors to emerge by midseason. They actually tried Alex Meyer briefly, and the transplanted starter's control wilted so drastically that they abandoned that after just two appearances. Nick Burdi, J.T. Chargois, Zach Jones, Jake Reed -- none of them advanced beyond Double A, and some of them had to be demoted from where they opened the season. I fully expected at least one of them to push his way to the big leagues. That didn't happen.

And the young guys who've been on the roster before -- Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin -- didn't grab key roles either. Tonkin has been yo-yo'd all season between Minneapolis and Rochester. Pressly, despite a good ERA, never really muscled past Boyer and Fien the way that Trevor May did when he was put in the bullpen.

The opening bullpen was never intended to be the final bullpen. But going outside the organization for the remake wasn't the idea either.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Pic of the Week

Cubs catcher Miguel Montero blocks a pitch, literally,
with his nose Friday in Los Angeles. He then committed
a throwing error that allowed a run to score.

Every once in a while there is a photo of a catcher whose equipment doesn't quite succeed in protecting him from the ball. Such as this one.

And I think of a bit of old-time baseball verse, penned by a former player scoffing at the softer current generation -- in 1880:

We wore no mattress upon our hands
No cage upon our face
We stood right up and caught the ball
With courage and with grace.

Yeah. Right. Sure you did.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The really young shortstops

On Friday I examined Eduardo Escobar's grasp on the shortstop job and, in passing, mentioned the shortstops in the lower levels of the minors.

These guys aren't threats to Escobar -- yet. But they do make it a lot easier to imagine the Twins doing something with the shortstops above them in the system in the coming offseason.

With the minor league seasons winding down, here's who's where:

Danny Santana is hitting .289 for Triple A Rochester. I don't know how likely he is to come up when the rosters expand.

Jorge Polanco was moved back to Double A so he and Santana could both play short on a regular basis. He continues to have difficulty in the field, and Doug Mientkiewicz had him playing second base Friday night. I think second base is his best position, and that probably makes him trade bait during the offseason, since Brian Dozier has a lock on that position, Polanco's bat will play in the middle infield; I don't think his arm will play at short.

Those are the guys who might challenge for the big league job next spring. Now for the up-and-comers ...

Engelb Vielma is the shortstop at high A Fort Myers. His slash line there is unimpressive: .267/.315/.306, slightly worse than at Low A Cedar Rapids in 2014. In truth, Fort Myers is a much more difficult hitting environment, so essentially maintaining his production is a good sign for him.

Vielma is a 21-year-old out of Venezuela and something of a mirror image of Polanco. Observers rave about his fielding, and his bat is questionable. He definitely needs to get stronger if he's to be a major league regular, but that's pretty common among A ball prospects. There are few big league bodies at that level. Expect Vielma to move up to Double A next year.

I devoted a Monday print column earlier this month to Nick Gordon , the shortstop at low A Cedar Rapids. The Twins invested the fifth overall pick in Gordon in 2014, and I liked what I saw from him in a four-game glomming of the Kernels. He's the only one of these lower level shortstop I've actually seen play (Vielma was injured when I saw CR last summer), but it's my guess that he's the most likely of the bunch to wind up a big league regular.

Jermaine Palacios is the shortstop at Elizabethton. The latest issue of Baseball America has a short piece on him (written by the Star Tribune's Phil Miller). A 19-year-old Venezulean, Palacios is said to be a hitter, and his minor league numbers to date back that up, although one should be cautious about rookie ball stats.

Then there's Wander Javier, a 16-year-old Dominican the Twins signed this summer. They invested $4 million in him, so they clearly expect big things from him, but those big things are far down the road. Javier has yet to play in organized ball.

I've commented many a time on the sorry record the Twins have at developing their own shortstops. This crop has the potential to reverse that record. But it won't come immediately.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Eduardo Escobar, shortstop

Eduardo Escobar hits his second homer of Wednesday's game.
He hit three in the Tampa Bay series.
Question: How many games did the Twins cost themselves this year by insisting for months that Danny Santana was their best shortstop option?

For the second year in a row, Eduardo Escobar began the season as Plan B at shortstop and emerged as the regular. And for the second year in a row, he has provided some thump from a position commonly occupied by slap hitters. LaVelle Neal of the Star Tribune refers to him on Twitter as "Eddie The Stick."

This intrigues me, even though they involve too few at-bats to mean much: When playing shortstop this year, Escobar's slash line is .308/.361/.519 (entering Thursday's play, which means those numbers are even better this morning); as a left fielder, .224/.261/.388.

The defensive metrics I've seen have Escobar as an average shortstop, maybe a touch below average, and I'll buy that. That's acceptable, especially with the extra bases he's provided the past two years from the position.

I assume that Escobar will be the Twins' regular shortstop down the stretch. I also expect that he won't be a lock to be the regular at the start of 2016. I doubt the Twins have given up on Santana's athleticism, and Jorge Polanco has been a very productive hitting middle infielder in the high minors. Even now, Paul Molitor hasn't truly embraced Escobar as the starter, so he's probably inclined to look for alternatives.

And given Escobar's limitations, that's sensible. But I doubt the Twins have a better alternative on hand until 2018 or so, when one of the shortstops in the low minors might be ready. Certainly for now, Escobar should be Plan A at shortstop. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Blaine Boyer, J.R. Graham, Glen Perkins and a deeper bullpen

The expectation had been that the Twins would wait until September and the expanded rosters to reactivate Blaine Boyer from the disabled list, but on Wednesday Boyer and J.R. Graham traded places.

Graham's injury was announced as "shoulder inflammation," and the cynic/skeptic in me whispers that it's really an inflamed ERA.  Graham can't be readily sent to the minors because he's a Rule 5 guy, and he last had an appearance in which he (a) got at least one out (b) without allowing a run a month ago. Literally, July 26, against the Yankees. (In fairness, I should add that Graham had a major shoulder problem a couple of years ago, and there is good reason to be cautious if he does indeed have an issue.)

Now he's sidelined for two weeks, and the Twins can easily meet the requirements to hold Graham's rights while not having the problem of carrying a relief pitcher they don't want to use in key situations.

Boyer immediately wound up working two innings Wednesday night as the Twins pushed their winning streak to six. This took his ERA down to 2.86, and I'm quite comfortable with asserting that this has been the best season of his nine in the majors.

Paul Molitor had Boyer handle the seventh and eighth innings, but that doesn't figure to be his standard role at this point. Wednesday's usage was more about trying to give Casey Fien and Trevor May a day off, and, perhaps, about Kevin Jepsen filling in as closer for Glen Perkins.

The latter is again a matter of concern. Apparently Perkins, who had been trying to pitch with a bad disc in his neck, is now having back spasms. I've had enough back issues myself over the years to suspect that the two issues are related.

Taking Perkins out certainly thins the bullpen, but it also has to be said: The acquisition of Jepsen (and to a lesser extent Neal Cotts), plus the shift of May to relief work, has really deepened the relief corps. A month ago the bullpen was a serious problem. Today it isn't, and kudos to Terry Ryan and Co. for a midstream repair job.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Why Miguel Sano won't be Rookie of the Year.

The future is now: Byron Buxton (25) and Miguel Sano (22)
before a game in Baltimore last week.
Miguel Sano hit another home run Tuesday night. That makes 12 dingers in 45 major league games for the 22-year-old.

It's been an impressive performance, even considering how anticipated (hyped) a prospect he is. And still, he has no chance at winning the Rookie of the Year Award.

That will assuredly go to Carlos Correa, the Houston shortstop. Correa's got a bit more than 100 plate appearances more than Sano, so his counting stats are ahead of the Minnesota DH, even though his slash stats -- batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage -- lag.

The long and the short(stop) of it:
Carlos Correa (left) is 6-4; his double play
partner, Jose Altuve, is is 5-6.
But Correa is also a shortstop, and a good one. You've got to give credit for playing a premium defensive position. Sano is primarily a designated hitter, which isn't completely his fault, but in terms of their defensive value, there's no way he matches Correa.

Correa, as you may recall, is the Puerto Rican the Astros took No. 1 in the draft the year the Twins landed Byron Buxton. The general consensus at the time was that Correa wasn't a bad choice for 1-1, but that Buxton was the better prospect and that the Astros went with Correa as part of a plan to game the new bonus pool system.

The Astros did game the system -- Correa signed for considerably less than Buxton did -- but Correa may have been the better pick anyway. A lot of scouts figured that Correa would "outgrow" shortstop and wind up a third baseman. That hasn't happened, and within a week or so of his midseason callup, there were people calling Correa the best shortstop in the American League.

And you know something? If Correa isn't the best shortstop in the league, another rookie -- Francisco Lindor of Cleveland -- might be. Lindor doesn't have the power of Correa, much less Sano, but he certainly hits enough to help a lineup, and he is a marvelous fielder.

Baseball Reference credits Correa with 3.0 WAR, Lindor with 2.1 and Sano with "just" 1.6. Part of that comes from the advantage in playing time the two shortstops have, and part of it comes from defense. But no matter how you slice it, Correa and Lindor have to stand ahead of Sano in the rookie rankings.

Which is no knock on Sano, certainly. This has been a golden year for midseason callups, when a guy like Eddie Rosario has no realistic chance of appearing on any ROY ballots.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sean Gilmartin for J.R. Graham revisited

Sean Gilmartin spent one season in the Twins system
before the Mets took in in the Rule 5 draft last December.
I wrote about this "Rule 5 trade" back in May, and after Sean Gilmartin's performance Monday for the Mets -- 3.1 shutout innings in the Amazin's comeback win -- it's worth revisiting.

The Twins acquired Gilmartin, a lefty the Braves had drafted in the first round in 2011, from Atlanta for Ryan Doumit after the 2013 season. Gilmartin opened 2014 in Double A for the Twins and went 7-3, 3.12 in 12 starts, 72 innings. They moved him up to Triple A halfway through the season, and he was 2-4, 4.28 in 14 starts, 73.2 innings there. Combined, he was 9-7, 3.71 at the two highest levels of the minor league ladder in 145.2 innings, with good walk (2.8) and strikeout (8.2) rates.

The Twins left him off the 40-man roster. They used that roster slot instead to take J.R. Graham from the Braves in the Rule 5 draft. The Mets took Gilmartin.

Rule 5 picks can't be optioned. They are use or lose, and most are returned to their original organization, Both Gilmartin and Graham have stuck, however, and with less than a week until the rosters expand, it is certain their drafting teams will retain their rights.

It's quite likely that the Twins will option Graham out next year. The righty has a big arm, but he also has a 5.05 ERA in 57 innings, and Paul Molitor has never been comfortable using him in winnable games. (The Twins have won just 12 of his 33 appearances, and most of those were blowouts.) He's given up at least one run in his last six appearances in which he's retired a batter.

Gilmartin, on the other hand, is 3-1, 2.34 after Monday's win. The Mets have used him a bit more often than the Twins have used Graham and for shorter stints -- he gets some LOOGY work, being left-handed -- and have generally avoided using him in close games, although he's gotten decisions in each of his last three outings. He doesn't have the velocity Graham does, but (again) he's left-handed. It's easier to imagine the Mets keeping him around next spring.

Here's a telling comparison: Gilmartin has been charged with 11 runs allowed all season. Graham has allowed 10 home runs.

The Twins may not regret drafting Graham and tying up a roster spot with him. That pick was about the future and about adding velocity, and he may eventually turn into a usable relief arm. But they ought to regret losing Gilmartin in the process.   

Monday, August 24, 2015

The overworked bullpen

Today's off day is well-timed for the Twins bullpen. Trevor May and Kevin Jepsen pitched Sunday for the third day in a row, Glen Perkins worked an inning two days ahead of "schedule," Casey Fien had been ruled off limits and Tommy Milone, Friday's starter, wound up getting the save.

The rosters expand in about a week, and the bullpen can use some reinforcement. Blaine Boyer went on the disabled list 10 days ago and therefore isn't eligible to return yet, but he did some throwing during the weekend. My guess is that he will be activated sometime after Sept. 1.

Who else is likely? Jose Berrios isn't on the 40-man roster, and the addition of Neal Cotts filled the 40, so they'd have to make room for him. Ditto the Nick Burdi-Zach Jones-J.T. Chargois group of power arms lower in the system, none of whom have the results this year to match the scouting report.

On the 40, right-handers A.J. Achter and Michael Tonkin, each of whom has had some big-league time this year, are likely to come up, although Achter might have to wait a little bit because he was optioned to make room for Cotts. Alex Meyer's big arm is an intriguing possibility. And there are a couple of lefties, Logan Darnell or Aaron Thompson, who could either be called up or designated for assignment to make room for Barrios.

Boyer is somebody Paul Molitor would use in a game situation. I have my doubts about the others. I don't think there's a K-Rod circa 2003 in that bunch.

In terms of meaningful bullpen help, the Twins have the deadline trade for Kevin Jepsen, the shift of Trevor May from the rotation, and the addition of Cotts on waivers. That's not insignificant. It also may not be enough, but I don't know how likely it is that somebody else is going to slip far enough through waivers to reach the Twins.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pic of the Week

A jubilant Mike Fiers after completing
his no-hitter Friday night against the Dodgers.
When Mike Fiers completed his no-hitter Friday night, I remarked to a colleague that it has been my observation that the vast majority of no-hitters are thrown by pitchers of genuine talent.

Some come from young pitchers who got hurt and never got to turn their talent into sustained accomplishment. Bud Smith, for example. Dallas Braden. Phil Humber, whose perfect game I referenced in a Pic of the Week post earlier this month about Safeco Field and no-hitters, got hurt before his no-hitter and never really regained the stuff he had in college. But he was the number two overall pick coming out of Rice.

Fiers, I said, was the exception. He's a 30-year-old back-of-the-rotation arm. He's not young, and he's not accomplished.

But then I actually looked at his stats. 22-28 lifetime record. OK, that's unimpressive. 3.57 career ERA. Lots of pitchers would take that. 2.8 walks per nine innings (career) and 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings (career). Wowzers. No wonder Houston wanted him.

I differentiate between what I think of as "descriptive" stats and "predictive" stats. Descriptive stats tell us what happened. Wins, losses, RBIs are like that. Predictive stats suggest at what is to come. Walk and strikeout rates are the numbers I most care about when evaluating a pitcher. They predict future ERAs better than ERA itself does.

Fiers' walk and strikeout rates are far better than his actual accomplishments. He might have some impressive seasons ahead of him.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hello, Cotts

The Twins announced after Friday's win that they had acquired left-handed reliever Neal Cotts from Milwaukee for the always popular player to be named or cash. My guess is that it will be cash.

Cotts is a 35-year-old LOOGY who's bounced around the majors on and off since 2003 and a key component in the bullpen of the 2005 World Series champion White Sox. He had a three year gap, 2010-12, in his major league service; he's had better walk and strikeout rates since his return. Lefties this year are hitting .185 (OPS .576) against him; righties are hitting .284 (OPS .847). Like I said, LOOGY -- Left-handed One-Out GuY.

Cotts is a free agent after this season, so there's no commitment beyond this year.

The Twins had an open slot on their 40-man roster, they returned A.J Achter to Rochester to make room on the active roster. That surprised me a little, not that Achter had a significant role, but my initial expectation was that it would be Ryan O'Roarke who got dropped. He and Cotts are essentially limited to the same role. You don't want to have either face a right-handed hitter that matters. Two of them is at least one too many. That second LOOGY seldom gets the ball in important situations, and O'Roarke has pitched with only one lead since coming up about six weeks ago.

So .. does Cotts supplant Brian Duensing as the primary lefty specialist? Probably. Duensing has actually had reverse splits this season (lefties are hitting about a hundred points higher). That certainly doesn't fit his career profile and doesn't involve enough at-bats to be predictive of future results, but managers have made these decisions on less evidence before.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tyler Duffey vs. Trevor May

Tyler Duffey made his third major league start on Thursday and went 7.2 innings, just four outs from a complete game.

Trevor May, with 25 starts, has gone that deep exactly zero times. The only outs he's ever gotten in the eighth or ninth innings have come as a relief pitcher.

There was a time this summer when I thought the Twins might turn to Duffey, a closer in college, as a bullpen reinforcement. Instead, Duffey is starting, and could get almost two months of rotation time this season, while May gets late-inning relief work.

And I'm fine with that. Not that I dislike May as a starter. His strikeout and walk rates suggest that he's a better choice that most of the the "established" starters in the Twins rotation. But the Twins really need some starters to work deeper into games, and May hasn't done that even as often as Mike Pelfrey has. Pelfrey has 10 starts this year of seven innings or more, May just two, and none were more than 21 outs.

I'm open to the possibility that May will be a better reliever than a starter. And his difficulty getting through lineups three times efficiently is part of that equation.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

I don't root for injuries, and Aaron Hicks was finally playing like a legitimate major league outfielder, but I think the return of Byron Buxton to the majors is for the best.

For the best for his development, and for the best for the Twins fading postseason possibilities. This team was never going any further than its young talent could take it.

Hicks was described during Wednesday's game as "day to day," so presumably his hamstring injury is not going to keep him out beyond the 15 days he has to spend on the disabled list. By then it will be September, and Buxton was likely to be up anyway.  Ditto Max Kepler, who has been hammering the ball all season at Chattanooga.

I know who I want to see losing playing time when (if) the outfielders are all sound. We'll see in time how Paul Molitor handles that.


Trevor May got one out Wednesday afternoon. That the Twins sacrificed almost a week of his bullpen availability (beginning a week ago today) for one three-inning spot start on Friday. That would be acceptable if he were staying in the rotation, but he isn't.

That spot start made little sense strategically, and considering how badly the bullpen imploded during the Yankees series, it backfired tactically.


Dave Dombrowski took over the Red Sox operations Wednesday, and Ben Charrington, the general manager, resigned rather than have another baseball guy above him in the organization.

This is an interesting situation. Charrington's years were marked by a surprise World Series win in 2013 and what appears to be three last-place finishes. The Rex Sox have what is widely regarded as the most stocked farm system in the game, which is to Carrington's credit. They also have an unwieldy major league roster and probably pay more per win than anybody else, which is not to his credit.

Dombrowski's used to a "win-now" edict from ownership. It will be interesting to see how he plays this hand. His Detroit tenure was highlighted more by the importation of talent than the development of it, but he certainly did not merely buy established talent.

The attempts to paint his arrival in Boston as a retreat from sabermetrics are almost certainly overblown. He's also apparently blocked from bringing his key lieutenants in from the Tigers organization, and Charrington's departure may hint at others to come in the Boston hierarchy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The bedraggled bullpen

Eight relief pitchers on the roster, and nobody reliable to use.

That was the situation Tuesday night when Paul Molitor asked a lefty specialist (Ryan O'Roarke) to bridge an inning and a Rule 5 pickup (J.R. Graham) to face Alex Rodriguez with the bases loaded.

Neither could handle the task, and the Twins' 4-1 lead turned into an 8-4 defeat.

The normal bullpen roles didn't apply Tuesday because  ,,,

  • Brian Duensing, Kevin Jepsen, Casey Fien and Glen Perkins had each worked three straight days;
  • Trevor May started three days earlier;
  • and Perkins was headed back to the Twin Cities to get an MRI on his neck.

That latter piece of news wasn't known until after the game, but the idea that Perkins had something physically wrong is hardly a shocker. He's been pitching of late as if something were awry.

Presumably May could have pitched Tuesday, but not three-plus innings. And the Twins needed 3.6 innings from the bullpen to win that game.

Molitor really needed seven innings (at least) from Mike Pelfrey, and Pelfrey couldn't finish six. Eleven outs was too many to ask from from the likes of O'Roarke, Graham and A.J. Achter, and despite Dick Bremer's play-by-play call, the resulting implosion was completely believable.

Terry Ryan wasn't at Yankee Stadium to see it. He was with the Chattanooga Lookouts watching another piece of the bullpen design struggle. Nick Burdi, the 2014 second-rounder who I really expected would be in Minnesota by now, got the ball Tuesday night and ...

Burdi. J.T. Chargois. Zach Jones. Jake Reed. Even Alex Meyer. The Twins have a handful of high-velocity, high-draft-pick arms in the minors, and none of them are performing.

It's a mess. And with Perkins sidelined for however long, it isn't going to get better.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Their feet are honest

Over the course of a 162-game schedule, every team suffers some galling losses. The Twins have taken their share, and particularly so since the All-Star break.

Monday's loss seemed particularly irritating because it typified so many of the roster's unsolved problems. Starting pitchers who struggle to put away hitters. Sloppy defense at shortstop. Shaky middle relief. Base stealing that verges on incompetence.

It's the latter that intrigues me this morning.  The Twins have stolen 55 bases on the season (two of them on Monday) and been caught stealing 36 times (three times on Monday), a success rate of  60.4 percent. The well-established math says anything under 67 percent is giving away runs.

Meanwhile, the Yankees -- old and slow -- have stolen 42 bases with 19 caught stealing, a 68.8 success rate. One of those steals came Monday night from Alex Rodriguez, the 40-year-old with the surgical hips, and led to a run.

Back in 1917, columnist Bugs Baer famously wrote of Ping Bodie's inability to steal: "Larceny was in his heart, but his feet were honest." That pretty much sums up Paul Molitor's Twins, who entered Monday tied for the third-most caught stealings in the American League.

I commented earlier this year on the irony of this: Molitor as a player was a particularly good percentage basestealer (504 steals for his career, 131 caught stealings for a 79.3% success rate), but, at least in his debut managerial season, his team would be better off not trying the play.

Monday, August 17, 2015

May back in the bullpen

Trevor May is 4-0,
2.51 in 14.1 innings
as a reliever.
On Saturday I took issue with the decision to start Trevor May. On Sunday Paul Molitor said May was returning to the bullpen.

I will repeat what I said before: In the abstract, I prefer May starting. But the Twins have gone too far down this path-- at least in terms of their postseason ambitions -- to return May to the rotation.

That opinion will stand as long as the Twins are in the wildcard hunt. Right now they're 1.5 games out of the second wildcard. They are also about to begin a potentially killer stretch of their schedule: 19 of 25 games on the road, most of them against other contenders. The Yankees. The Orioles. The Rays. The Astros. The Royals. It's a gauntlet that may very well prove their postseason ambitions to be illusionary. Or, alternatively, that can propel them into the October tournament.

It is, again, the balancing act between contention and development. The best thing for Trevor May's future as a starter is for him to be in the rotation. But he's clearly the best eighth-inning option in the bullpen right now. Even as I regard him as clearly one of their best starters, I recognize that they have better rotation alternatives than they do bullpen alternatives.

Tommy Milone did well Sunday in his return from the disabled list. Tyler Duffey was good enough Saturday to merit another start. (Five walks is a bit disconcerting, however.) Those two fill out the rotation behind Kyle Gibson, Ervin Santana and Mike Pelfrey as the Twins start this ordeal. And May, at least once he's recovered from Friday's start, pushes Kevin Jepsen, Casey Fien and Brian Duensing down the pecking order.

If they fall out of the race in the next three weeks or so, it might be a good idea to work May back into the rotation once more. But winning now is, and should be, the immediate concern.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Pic of the Week

Hisashi Iwakuma and catcher Jesus Sucre celebrate the
Seattle pitcher's no-hitter Wednesday.

A few facts about no-hitters and Safeco Field in Seattle:

  • The previous 12 no-hitters were thrown in National League parks, meaning no DH.
  • The last three no-hitters in American League parks came in Safeco.
  • The last no-hitter in an American League park other than Safeco was Jered Weaver's no-no against the Twins on May 2, 2012.
  • The AL no-hitter before Weaver's? Former Twin Phil Humber's perfect game, probably the most unlikely perfecto in history in terms of the quality of the pitcher, on April 12, 2012. It came in Safeco.
There are a lot of factors involved in no-hitters. But the Seattle park seems to be pretty friendly for the feat.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The decaying Twins pitching staff

Jose Berrios was
bypassed for a call-up
as the Twins
shuffle their rotation
this weekend.
Friday was the first day of a makeshift weekend for the Twins pitching staff.

The Twins knew for more than a week that they had a hole to fill this weekend. They had called up Tyler Duffey for a disastrous start against Toronto, then shipped him back to Triple A and used the Monday off day to hide the open slot in the rotation. That slot comes up today.

Then Phil Hughes was sidelined this week with an ailing back.

The curious solution: Trevor May, relegated to the bullpen almost six weeks ago and the apparent No. 2 man in the bullpen behind Glen Perkins, started Friday. Duffey, brought back from Triple A with Hughes going on the disabled list, starts today. And Tommy Milone, whose own stint on the disabled list started this whole sequence, is to start Sunday. (Who loses his roster spot to make room for Milone is unknown.)

That translates to a bullpen game, a second start for a yo-yo'd pitcher, and a return from injury. Oh my aching bullpen.

Two weeks ago the brain trust dismissed the notion of pulling May out of the bullpen in Milone's absence. After a month of one-inning stints, he was deemed unprepared for starts. I figured he was confined to the bullpen for the duration.

And now he starts. And, presumably, will start again in five days.

Curious, I say, especially since premier prospect Jose Berrios was lined up for Friday's start in Triple A. (He threw six no-hit innings for Rochester, then failed to retire anybody in a five-run seventh.)

Duffey is a decent prospect; Berrios is a better one. I'm sure the Twins have reasons to prefer Duffey right now, but I can't identify them.

Meanwhile, saving May for Friday's start created a late-inning hole in the bullpen on Thursday, when Texas scored in the eighth to break a tie and win. No guarantee that May would have held the Rangers down, but we know Casey Fien didn't.

In the abstract, I prefer May as a starter to May as a reliever. In this specific time and place, returning him to the rotation is probably a mistake.

Further depleting the bullpen depth, Blaine Boyer -- whose season has sharply decayed since May -- went on the shelf with an elbow issue. Michael Tonkin was recalled for his fourth stint with the Twins this season. This does not disturb me; I think Tonkin has more to offer than Boyer, Obviously, the people with the responsibility to make those decisions think otherwise. And Tonkin certainly didn't help his cause with his outing Friday.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

Catching up on a few items from the past week:

Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press had this piece on Kurt Suzuki's skepticism about pitch-framing stats. The Twins catcher had so much skepticism about sabermetric evaluation that Berardino couldn't fit it all into that story and spilled it over into this blog post.

And you know what? I don't care that Suzuki hasn't read up on WAR or walked through the math that insists that the very best players (Mike Trout for example) account for only a handful of wins. That's essentially useless information for a player. It will matter if he harbors ambitions of someday having a baseball job that involves player evaluation, but for what he's doing now, it's immaterial.


Lynn Henning of the Detroit News had this analysis of the challenges facing the Tigers' new general manager, Al Avila.

Noteworthy in my eyes is his assertion about who would replace Brad Ausmus as manager should Avila make a change:

The expectation would be Avila and owner Mike Ilitch will opt for 57-year-old Ron Gardenhire, the former Twins general who wants to manage again, and who knows the division intimately.
Gardy would certainly (as Henning says in the piece) represent a return to the old-school approach to managing -- more seat-of-the-pants, less use of analytics. It would certainly run counter to the overall trend.


Josmil Pinto, sidelined for much of the season with concussion issues, is playing again. He's getting some at-bats as a designated hitter in the Gulf Coast League, the Twins' lowest stateside affiliate, and he's not expected to get behind the plate again this year.

I don't expect to see him in the majors this year.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A trip to Cedar Rapids: Photographic evidence

Yeah, you're tired of Cedar Rapids posts. Tough. I ain't done yet.

I warned you on Sunday that photos were coming. Here they are. Unless otherwise stated, they were made by my wife, Linda Vanderwerf.

Brian Navaretto takes a pitch. (Photo Edward Thoma)

Felix Jose delivers a pitch.

There were fireworks after two of the four

Luke Bard fires his warmup pitches
 Saturday night, when the Kernels wore
special jerseys for "Jimmy Buffett Night."

Navaretto sets up behind the plate. He's
listed at 6-2, but he folds up nicely.

Nick Gordon in the on-deck circle. (Photo Edward Thoma.)

Australian right-hander Sam Gibbons ran a scoreless innings
streak past 28 innings before allowing two runs in the
seventh inning on Saturday night.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A trip to Cedar Rapids: Gibbons, English, Larson

During last summer's trip to see the Kernels, I was impressed by Chih-Wei Hu, a right-handed pitcher from Taiwan who had a strong start despite unimpressive velocity.

Hu went on to have a good half-season with Cedar Rapids and followed that with a strong four months with Fort Myers this year before being traded to the Rays at the deadline. (Hu went on the disabled lis tthis week after cutting his left hand on a blender.)

Last week I saw Sam Gibbons, an Australian right-hander who is 6-2, 2.94 for the Kernels in 11 starts, 64.1 innings. As with Hu, he doesn't have a big fast ball, but he clearly has more "pitchability" than the Midwest League can handle. On Saturday he extended a scoreless inning streak into a 29th inning before giving up a pair of runs in the seventh.

I was seated for that game right behind the Kernels dugout, and after one quick inning coach Tommy Watkins turned around and barked at a player behind him: Why can't you be like Sam? 

It looks easy, but ... if pitching were easy, everybody could do it.


Tanner English is a speedy center fielder and leadoff hitter who leads the Kernels in runs, walks, steals, doubles and triples. He is also just one homer shy of the team lead in that category too (he has five).

He's also pretty small. Baseball Reference lists him as 5-10, 160, and I suspect that's exaggerated.

The Twins are pretty loaded with outfield prospects, and while English looks pretty good so far in the lower levels of the system, I'm not sure how he cracks through the likes of Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia. Size matters.


Every once in a while I find myself in a pointless argument with somebody who believes with conviction that RBIs are an evaluative stat. Get lots of ribbies, you're a great hitter. The stat savvy realized that RBIs are largely a function of opportunity.

The Kernels have a good example of that. Left fielder Zack Larson is hitting .220 and has yet to homer. But he hit cleanup in all four games I attended, and I was told by local blogger "Jim Crikket" that Jake Mauer's hit him cleanup consistently this year.

Larson leads the Kernels in RBIs not because he's having a good year, but because he's hitting behind English, Nick Gordon and others who are having productive seasons.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

On Byron Buxton's demotion

Byron Buxton hit .417 in three games with Triple A Rochester during the weekend on a rehab assignment. Now that he's established he's healthy, the Twins on Monday officially optioned him to Rochester.

I wish they hadn't done that. I understand the reasoning behind the move, but I don't agree with it.

Start with this: A healthy Buxton plays. You don't have Buxton in the majors to sit on the bench. I agree fully with that.

Which means that to justify having Buxton in the majors, one of the current three regular outfielders needs to sit in any given game: Eddie Rosario, Aaron Hicks and Torii Hunter. (One could DH one of them, but then you get into the Miguel Sano-Joe Mauer-Trevor Plouffe trio splitting first base, third base and designated hitter.) Presumably the Twins brain trust is loathe to tamper with the outfield setup.

There is also the service time factor, but that is counterbalanced by the fact that the Twins have now burned the first of Buxton's three option years. Ideally they'll never use all three option seasons, but the first is now gone. Buxton's call-up came late enough that service time shouldn't be a genuine factor anyway.

No, the real reason they shipped Buxton back to the minors is that Rosario and Hicks also need to play to develop, and they have committed too much (financially and emotionally) to the return of Hunter. This is why I disliked the Hunter signing last winter. Sooner or later, he was going to get in the way.

It took into August for that to happen, which is later than I expected, but it's official now. Today, he's in the way.

It's bad enough to let a 40-year-old who is hitting at a league average level block a prime prospect. But I fear that the Twins will double down on that bet and bring Hunter back for 2016.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A trip to Cedar Rapids: John Curtiss and Luke Bard

The Twins in the past three years have used a goodly portion of their first-10-rounds draft picks to select college closers. The payoff on those picks so far have been minimal.

Luke Bard is one of those college closers. The Twins took him with the 42nd overall pick in 2012. He pitched seven innings on two levels that year, 13 innings in 2013, none at all last year. It's not much of a foundation for a pro career.

He's 24 now, which is old for the Midwest League, On Saturday night he made his 21st appearance for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, He struck out one in his sole inning of work, allowed two hits (one a scratch infield hit) and no runs. More important, he demonstrated the kind of velocity that intrigued the Twins when he was a collegian at Georgia Tech. He was consistently in the mid-90s on the scoreboard gun; at least one pitch was listed as 97.

The Twins talked in 2012 about trying him as a starter. Two seasons lost to injury have probably derailed that notion. His ERA for Cedar Rapids (2.11) is impressive; his strikeout rate (6.6) is less so. Still, it's the kind of arm one does not discard lightly.

The Twins took John Curtiss in the sixth round last year. He came off the disabled list about the time I showed up in town, and he threw a shutout inning of relief Saturday night. He popped a few mid-90 readings on the scoreboard gun as well.

Curtiss opened the season in the Kernels rotation and made seven starts before going on the shelf for almost two months. His numbers are quite opposite Bard's: A lousy ERA (5.68) and a better K rate (8.8 per nine innings).

Nobody's going to move from the Midwest League straight to the majors, so nobody I watched in Cedar Rapids should be viewed as immediate help for the major league team's beleaguered bullpen corps. That Curtiss and Bard are still in the Midwest League typifies the futility so far of the bullpen draft strategy.

(The Monday print column is about Nick Gordon, the 19-year-old shortstop prospect at C.R. and the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft. Read it here.)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Pic of the Week

Let us pray: Umpire Hunter Wendelstadt and Cubs manager
Joe Maddon dispute a call.
There aren't as many interesting umpire-manager interaction photos these days, probably because replay has removed most of the traditional arguing opportunities. Most, but not all.


I'm not done with Cedar Rapids yet. I expect to devote the Monday print column to Nick Gordon, the Twins shortstop prospect who is spending the 2015 season with the Kernels, and upon my return to Mankato will post some photos from the trip (having, as I did some years ago, neglected to pack the cable to transfer the images from camera to laptop).

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A trip to Cedar Rapids: Randy Rosario

Randy Rosario cracked a few Twins prospects lists after compiling a 2.82 ERA in 44.2 innings for Elizabethton in 2013. He opened 2014 in Cedar Rapids, making three starts with a 5,56 ERA before having Tommy John surgery. Friday night was his sixth start of the season for the Kernels.

Rosario is a 21-year-old lefty out of the Dominican. His windup motion is at least vaguely reminiscent of Frank Viola's, and he appears to have more lower-body involvement in his delivery than does Felix Jose.

I was seated right behind two Kernels pitchers, Randy LeBlanc and Sam Gibbons, who were charting pitches, and could see their radar gun, which was giving higher velocities than the scoreboard listing. Rosario threw a few mid-90s heaters but sat considerably lower than that, 88 to 90 mph.

What he really had going was movement. He had a pitch, either a sinking fastball or a hard slider, that moved sharply to his glove side (down and in to a right handed hitter). He struck out five men in his 5.2 innings Friday; one of them reached first when the pitch eluded catcher Brian Navarreto, and Navarreto had to throw to first to complete two others.

Rosario and his teammates had an ugly first inning, with three infield errors resulting in two unearned runs. Rosario himself was involved in the ugliness. He fielded a comebacker that should have been turned into a double play but threw low and behind the second baseman covering the bag. The error was charged to the second baseman, but it was still a suboptimal throw from Rosario.

The lefty got through the fifth without allowing another run, but was clearly laboring in the sixth, with more effort showing in his delivery. After getting the first batter out, he allowed a double, wild pitch, single and double before getting a fly ball and then issuing his first walk of the game, at which point manager Jake Mauer pulled him. The reliever, Jared Wilson, issued his own walk to load the bases and then gave up a three-run double.

So Rosario's line for the game: 5.2 innings, nine hits, six runs, four earned, one walk and five strikeouts. It was a better outing than that stat line suggests.

Rosario is young -- a year younger than the Midwest League average -- and he seems to be bouncing back from the ligament replacement surgery well. I think he has a major league future ahead of him, most likely as a reliever, but good health is obviously a necessity for that to happen.


I commented Friday morning on Navarreto. On Friday evening he went 0-for-5 but gunned out two more would-be basestealers. That makes him 5-for-5 in the three games I've seen. Again, I don't know about his bat, but the catcher can throw,

Friday, August 7, 2015

A trip to Cedar Rapids: Brian Navarreto

Brian Navarreto is, for me, one of the more intriguing players on the Cedar Rapids roster. Maybe it's not so much Navarreto who intrigues me as the idea of Navaretto -- a young, projectable catcher. The Twins really haven't had one since the Wilson Ramos trade half a decade ago.

Navarreto is one of three catchers the Twins took in the first nine rounds of the 2013 draft, A Puerto Rican who attended high school in Florida, he was the only high schooler among the three backstops. The college guys, Stuart Turner and Mitch Garver, got the higher assignments and remain higher on the organizational totem pole -- Turner at Double A, Garver at High A.

Navarreto is 20 now and still rather young for the Midwest League. He hasn't hit all that well at Cedar Rapids: .242/.271/.301 slash line entering Thursday's game, with just one homer.

Navarreto had two hits in four at-bats Thursday; this followed a one-for-four performance on Wednesday. He struck out once in those eight plate appearances, and hit ground balls in the other seven. He was reputed when drafted to have good power, but power and ground balls don't go well together.

Hitting is only part of the catching job, of course, It's not only a premium defensive position, it is perhaps the most technical and the most difficult for an outsider to evaluate.

But to these decidedly amateur eyes, Navarreto looks like he can be a competent receiver. He did have an awkward passed ball in a crucial situation Thursday -- putting the go-ahead run on third base with no outs in the ninth inning -- but he looks like a quiet, stable receiver.

He certainly throws well. On Wednesday he gunned down a pair of base stealers and picked off another base runner. He's thrown out more than half the would-be base-stealers this year and did the same last year. Throwing is the easiest part of catching to see and perhaps the least important of the defensive skills a good catcher has, but he does have that tool.

The Twins have a catching problem in the majors -- they're going back to Chris Herrmann as Kurt Suzuki's backup -- and there doesn't seem to be a good all-round alternative in the advanced minors. Turner looks like the second coming of Drew Butera, and Josmil Pinto's not only a flawed receiver, he's missed literally months with a concussion.

Navaretto's youth gives him a chance to develop into that kind of catcher, but if it happens, it won't be soon,

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A trip to Cedar Rapids: Felix Jorge

I'm spending a few days looking at the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Twins' Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League.

Felix Jorge started Wednesday night for CR against the Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds). He's a 21-year-old Dominican right-hander who's been on Twins prospect lists for a couple of years but struggled last year on his first exposure to the Midwest League (9.00 ERA in 39 innings). This time around he's putting much better numbers. He entered Wednesday's start with a 2.49 ERA in 108 innings -- the lowest ERA in the league for any pitcher with at least 100 innings.

Of all the pitchers on the CR roster, Jorge is the one I was most interested in seeing. So naturally he had a rough outing Wednesday.

In truth, he had a rough inning. The Dragons scored five runs in the inning on three singles and two homers. They added an unearned run in the third -- shortstop Nick Gordon committed a two-base error on the first batter and he came around to score -- and the Dragons didn't get another man into scoring position in Jorge's six innings.

His line in the Kernels' 8-3 loss: six innings, seven hits, six runs, five earned, two walks and four strikeouts.

Jorge is very slender. The Kernels list him as 6-3, 180; Baseball Reference lists him as 6-2, 170. I'm not sure he weighs 170. He pitches with a very miminalist, upright motion that seems designed to enhance command at the expense of velocity, but the motion looks easy; he does not appear to be a max-effort guy. He topped out at about 91 mph and threw several pitches in the upper 70s (according to the scoreboard radar gun). He works very quickly -- there were times he had to step off the mound and wait for his fielders to return to their positions after foul balls.

Wednesday was clearly not one of Jorge's better outings, but he was perhaps better than his stats indicate. He's got a chance, but that's true of a lot of Low-A arms. I would expect the Twins to go slowly with him, between his struggles last year when elevated to a new level and the obvious need for him to grow into his body,

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The difference between the Twins and the Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays made a lot of moves in the final days of July. They imported a pair of stars in Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, a pair of right-handed relievers in LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe, and a bit of outfield speed in Ben Revere.

The Twins made one move: They traded for Kevin Jepsen, basically the equivalent of one of the Toronto relievers.

The Jays were the more aggressive team in the trade deadline period. They are going for it.

If you simply look at the standings, you would be justifiably mystified by that. On July 31 -- deadline day -- the Twins had the better record (53-49 to the Jays' 53-51). The Twins were eight games out in their division but in second place; the Jays were six game behind the Yankees in their division, but had an extra team to climb over.

And if you skip back to when the Jays began their roster revamp (July 28, when they acquired Tulowitzki and Hawkins), Toronto was actually below .500, 50-51, and in fifth place.

Jays management obviously deemed their team capable of a surge. And they had reason for that belief: Run differential.

That mediocre won-lost record hid the face that the Jays had the best run differential in the American League. The "pythagorean theorem" devised some 30 years ago by Bill James says the Jays "should" have a 64-43 record coming into Tuesday's game, not the 55-52 mark they actually have.

There shouldn't be an question that the July trades made the 2015 Blue Jays a better team (and probably subtracted talent from future seasons). The suspicion here is that they would have had a better record in August and September had they not made those moves, simply on the basis of the luck factor evening out. They were a good team with a poor record. With the reinforcements, they are quite capable of not merely taking a wild card berth but of winning the divisional title.

The Twins' trade season caution was justifiable under this analysis also. Their record at the end of July was slightly outdoing their pythagorean mark, and that continues during their current slide. Their won-lost record is deceptively good. The wild card is the realistic peak of their regular season ambitions, and even that goal was probably remote enough that wisdom dictates husbanding the resources for the future.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Hall of Fame note

This got lost in the trade deadline furor, but last week the Hall of Fame's governing board announced that "inactive" members of the Baseball Writers Association of America were being stripped of their Hall of Fame voting rights.

One of those, Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune, wrote this week that 130 lifetime BBWAA members were losing their voting privileges. That's about 20 percent of last winter's electorate.

Hersh's column, written to protest his lost privilege, inadvertently did a pretty good job of justifying the Hall's decision. He got the voting rules wrong (after some online ridicule, that's been corrected in the online version) and spent several paragraphs promoting Mark Belanger's HOF case. The Blade was indeed a marvelous defensive shortstop, but he couldn't hit.

Anyway, bouncing Hersh and the 129 others figures to sharpen the electorate going forward, which might -- might -- help deal with the backlog of highly-qualified candidates on the writers ballot. Those voters patting themselves on the back because they had four inductees each of the last two summers miss the point: They picked the lowest-handing fruit (seven of the eight were first-ballot candidates); they're running to stand still.

This winter Ken Griffey Jr, and Trevor Hoffman will be among the newcomers to the ballot. Griffey's a shoo-in, and Hoffman's a legitimate candidate, but so are all 17 of the holdovers. This will be an interesting test of the revamped electorate.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Interperting the use and future of Trevor May

The Twins' deadline acquisition, Kevin Jepsen, didn't exactly pay off Sunday. The big righty walked the first two men he faced in the top of the 11th inning, setting up the three-run inning that decided the game.

It was not a good day for the Minnesota bullpen overall. Glen Perkins gave up a homer in the ninth to break a scoreless tie and the Twins survived to extras only because Brian Dozier returned the favor in the bottom of the inning. And the Brian Duensing-Casey Fien combo that had until recently been favored by Paul Molitor for non-Perkins late innings allowed Jepsen's walks to score, plus one of their own,

But let's talk instead about Trevor May, who threw a scoreless 10th inning with two strikeouts. Earlier in the day, the Twins announced that Tommy Milone had inflammation in his left (pitching) elbow and was going on the disabled list and that Tyler Duffey was coming up from Triple A to take his spot in the rotation.

Duffey, not May. May has been in the bullpen for a month now (Sunday marked his first appearance in back-to-back games), and the Twins apparently doubt that he's prepared for a starter's workload now.

There's another aspect: May has, perhaps, made himself too valuable in the bullpen to shift. May has made 10 relief appearances; he has a 3-0 record, one hold and a 3.17 ERA. He hasn't given up a lead or broken a tie and been scored on in only two of his outings.

May's the primary set-up guy now, Molitor's top option for the non-Perkins late innings. It was May in the ninth inning of Saturday's tie; it was May in the 10th inning Sunday. Not Jepsen, not Duensing or Fien or Blaine Boyer.

Dan Gladden's tone in discussing the Duffey call-up suggested that he thinks Milone's injury should get May back into the rotation. Certainly it provided an opportunity to do so, and probably, had it come two weeks earlier, it would have. That's it's not happening strongly suggests that it won't happen in 2015.

Or, maybe, ever. Much as I believed and argued that May was actually the team's most reliable starter when he was put in the bullpen, he seldom pitched deep into games. He had a season high of seven innings, achieved twice in 15 starts. Mike Pelfrey, in comparison, has gotten at least 21 outs (seven full innings) nine times. Milone's had four such outings in 14 starts.

And a point I made in commenting on the Jepsen trade applies to May: There's not much room in the rotation beyond 2015. Assume Pelfrey doesn't return. The Twins still have Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, Milone, Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana under contract for 2016 -- and 2017 as well. Plus there's Duffey (one home run allowed in 132 combined inning in Double A and Triple A) and Jose Berrios knocking on the door.

Injuries happen. Trades happen. A door back to the rotation may very well open for May. But there's a genuine possibility that his destiny is in the bullpen.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Pics of the Week

On Wednesday night, Wilmer Flores was visibly teary-eyed
while playing what he thought was his final game with the Mets,

On Friday night he hit a walk-off home run and got his
fourth standing ovation of the game.

I daresay this was a week Wilmer Flores will never forget.

Flores, an infielder who turns 24 next week, has spent his entire professional career with the New York Mets, with whom he signed at age 16 out of Venezuela, It has not been a distinguished major league career; his lifetime batting average is .246, and although he has had the bulk of the playing time at shortstop this year, his defensive skills at the position are lacking.

Then came Wednesday and the trade that wasn't.

Flores was supposedly part of a multi-player deal with the Milwaukee Brewers that was to bring Carlos Gomez to the Mets. The trade was widely reported on social media as the Mets played the Padres, and word reached Flores, who was seen wiping away tears even as manager Terry Collins kept him in the game. Flores got a warm ovation from the home crowd as he took what everybody assumed was his final at-bat with the Amazin's.

Then, after the game, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson dumbfounded everybody: There was no trade for Gomez, There wasn't going to be a trade for Gomez. Not then, not on Thursday, not on Friday. (Collins on leaving Flores in the game: "I've been sobbing in the third inning before. Nobody takes me out of the game.")

There was, and remains, speculation on what happened to the trade. Gomez's hip scared the Mets off. Or the cash-strapped Mets ownership wouldn't accept Go-Go's contract. Or (largely dismissed) the Brewers were concerned about the elbow of pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, who had Tommy John surgery earlier this year.

Whatever: No trade. Flores remains a Met. And on Friday, he drove in a run in the fourth inning and hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 12th against the Washington Nationals. Of course, he got a standing ovation for that bit of heroics. But he'd had three already that day.

A few tears at the idea of leaving the Mets, and Flores is now everybody's favorite at Citi Field.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Hello, Jepsen; good-bye, Hu

Chih-Wei Hu with Cedar Rapids in
The Twins did make a bullpen trade Friday afternoon: Kevin Jepsen from Tampa Bay for two minor league pitchers, Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia.

The trade addresses the biggest need on the roster. I'm lukewarm on it only because I had already developed an emotional investment in Hu, who I saw last summer in his full-season league debut in Cedar Rapids. Having been impressed by him before I ever read a scouting report gives me a sense of discovery. (Tapia is a Venezuelan pitching at Elizabethton; I don't know enough about him to say anything beyond: He's a 19-year-old arm in Rookie ball, and good luck with that.)

But really, I cannot complain about this deal. Jepsen isn't a big name, but he does fill an immediate need: He's a power arm who has pitched in late innings for the Angels and the Rays. This is the kind of trade I said Friday morning I was looking for.

Kevin Jepsen, 31,
has a 2.81 ERA with
the Rays this season.
Hu, 21, has a chance to be a major league starting pitcher. He has four average pitches with good command of each. He was, to my self-trained eye last summer, much more polished than the higher-bonused high draft picks who started the day before and the day after, Ryan Eades and Kohl Stewart. Personally, I would rather have Hu than Eades; perhaps the Twins or Rays agree, perhaps they don't. They agreed on Hu.

Having praised Hu, I have a hard time seeing where he would fit in a future Twins rotation. As matters stand, the Twins have seven big-league starters (counting Trevor May in the bullpen and Ricky Nolasco on the disabled list). Of those seven, only Mike Pelfrey is not under team control for not just 2016 but 2017. Plus the Twins have Jose Berrios and Tyler Duffey pushing at the door from Triple A. Even at the High-A level where Hu's been so effective this year, the Twins have a bunch of starting prospects -- Eades, Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves, Tyler Jay, Aaron Slegers, Mat Batts -- who certainly aren't markedly worse pitchers than Hu and most of whom got bigger bonuses when they signed.

I'm not eager to give up Hu. But this deal helps the chances of the 2015 team snagging that wild card berth, and it doesn't do obvious damage to the long-term outlook.

Later on Friday, the Twins demoted both Danny Santana and Jorge Polanco, a pair of moves that opened roster slots for Jepsen and Trevor Plouffe, back after the birth of his son Teddy. I'll probably use the Monday print column to comment on that.