Saturday, March 31, 2018

Gardy's Detroit opener

Ron Gardenhire's regular season debut as Detroit's manager went extra innings, but he wasn't around to see the end. He got ejected in the 10th inning, or maybe the 11th, after the replay umps in New York overturned what sure looked to me like a run for the Tigers and ruled it an inning-ending out.
Ron Gardenhire kicks dirt; umpire Tony Randazzo
kicks him out.

Gardy's reaction was familiar to Twins fans, even if the warmup jacket wasn't.

Dingell, for those unaware, is a retired congressman from Detroit who spend 60 years in the U.S. House.

The Tigers lost 13-10 in 13 innings, which is probably indicative of how this season is going to go for Gardenhire. Dingell may get to see a lot of "mad Gardenhire."

I was following the game on MLB Network, which was carrying the Tigers broadcast. The announcers were praising the slide of Nick Castellanos, which was just silly. Had he gone to the inside of the plate, there's no way catcher Francisco Cervelli could have reached him. (I'm not sure Cervelli did as it was, but the replay crew thought so.) Instead, he slid slightly toward foul territory. It was not an ideal slide, and the announcers were silly to claim otherwise.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Random thoughts on the Twins opener

I understand and even agreed with Paul Molitor's decision to pinch-hit for Byron Buxton in the ninth inning, and the move obviously worked. But if the Twins are to get where they want to go, Buxton has to be the kind of hitter you don't even consider pinch-hitting for with the game on the line.


Welcome to the Fernando Rodney Experience. The veteran did a nice job getting out of an inherited jam in the 10th, only to serve up a first-pitch gopher ball to open the next inning.

The rebuilt back of the bullpen was a mixed bag. Addison Reed dominated in two innings of work; Zach Duke struck out four men in his one inning but also allowed two runs; and Trevor Hildenberger had trouble throwing strikes.

Duke, a lefty specialist throughout his bullpen career, faced a string of right-handed hitters, culminating with the two-run triple by the light-hitting Caleb Joseph. I suspect that by the time the season is over, Molitor will be more wary of that kind of useage of Duke.


The Baltimore Orioles had Chris Davis leading off. This is a far cry from tradition; Davis is a slow slugger. The closest thing in Buck Showalter's starting nine to an old-school flyboy, Craig Gentry, hit eighth. Which is pretty much where Gentry should hit.

The Birds just stack one power hitter after another. The Twins kept them in the park for 10 innings. They just didn't score enough themselves in that time frame.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A bench of role guys

There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of bench players. There are players -- typically veterans -- who have specific in-game roles.  And there are players -- typically younger -- who are waiting for a regular to get hurt or slump his way to the bench.

Leo Durocher, Hall of Fame manager, was notorious for dividing his teams into the guys who play and the guys who sit. Casey Stengel and Earl Weaver, also Hall of Fame managers, platooned everybody but their superstars; it was hard to tell who was their bench guys some years.

Rosters are shaped differently these days; benches are thinner when about half the roster is pitching. But the Twins bench under Ron Gardenhire tended strongly toward the Durocher model. Gardy didn't platoon much, and he liked a set lineup.

Paul Molitor has edged away from that, and it really shows in the bench the Twins expect to open with today. There are four players, and it's not difficult to identify their in-game roles:

  • Mitch Garver is the backup catcher. He's a right handed hitter, which gives Molitor a platoon option with starter Jason Castro. 
  • Ehire Adrianza, utility infielder, is a superior gloveman who started games last season at five different positions. He's a switch hitter.
  • Robbie Grossman, switch-hitter, is an on-base percentage specialist. The more he plays in the outfield, the less his bat helps. 
  • Ryan LaMarre, right handed hitter, is something of a mirror image to Grossman. Despite his gaudy spring training numbers, he's never been much of a hitter, but he's fast and a good defensive outfielder.
The Twins' nine regulars tend heavily to the left side. The bench is all right-handed or switch hitters. Molitor has some bat-first options and some glove-first options. There is nobody on this roster like Luis Rodriguez a few years ago, where one wondered what function he had. There is an obvious purpose to each of these four, and I applaud that.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ryan LaMarre and the opening roster

The Twins played their final exhibition of 2018 on Tuesday, beating the Washington Nationals in D.C. Of more importance, they set -- presumably -- their roster for opening day on Thursday.

Phil Hughes went on the disabled list with his strained oblique. This allowed both Gabriel Moya and Rule 5 pick Tyler Kinley to make the roster. There seems to be some skepticism on Twins twitter about the validity of Hughes' injury, in no small part because he's sidelined for a period in which the Twins don't need a fifth starter. I'll deploy my skepticism for people who assume that an athlete is faking an injury.

Anyway, that was one of the final decisions. Another, as noted here Monday, wasn't much of a decision. Kennys Vargas was indeed put back of waivers as soon as the Twins reclaimed him. This time he cleared, and the Twins outrighted him to Triple A. This isn't good for Vargas, who would probably benefit from a new organization, but there are 30 big-league teams and none of them want to use a 25-man roster spot on him.

The final decision may not be fully decided. The Twins optioned out Zack Granite, which presumably means Ryan LaMarre will be on the 25-man roster as a reserve outfielder.

"Presumably" because

  • the Twins haven't officially put him on the 40-man and 25-man rosters and
  • they are presumably aware that the Los Angeles Dodgers designated Trayce Thompson for assignment on Tuesday, and there may well be other right-handed hitting outfielders available this week.
LaMarre, 29, had a great spring training; he hit .475/.500/.775 and looked good at all three outfield positions. There is nothing more he could have done in Florida to win a roster spot.

The problem for LaMarre is his track record. Not so much his .054 career major league batting average; that's only 40 plate appearances and is meaningless. Nobody's as good as his spring training stats, and nobody's as bad as his major league numbers.

It's what he's shown in the upper minors in a variety of organizations. LaMarre has more than 950 PA in Triple A and has compiled an OPS at that level of .723, which isn't that impressive.

LaMarre hits right-handed, and as I've been noting all spring, that fits the Twins' specific roster needs better than the lefty bat of Granite. But Granite is the better player; if the Twins should need somebody to play everyday for a couple weeks or more, Granite is a better choice. LaMarre makes the team for a specific role -- if he indeed makes the team. That has yet to fully play out.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Chasing saves with Fernando Rodney

Fernando Rodney's Grapefruit League stats were unimpressive. His two-homer outing Sunday left him with six runs allowed in seven innings in Florida, and left Dick Bremer on the telecast expounding on how Rodney still has his fastball velocity and his changeup.

Yes, and Rodney still has the command issues that have plagued him throughout his long career.

It's spring training. Soon that line on Rodney's Baseball Reference page will go away. Nail down a couple saves in Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the coming week, and few will remember his spring training stats.

Still, he's 41 and his contract is relatively disposable (one year, $4.5 million guaranteed with a team option for 2019). The Twins have Addison Reed, who has closed in the past (125 career saves) if they decide to replace Rodney with a veteran; they also have a selection of young relief prospects if they chose to go that route.

Going young at the end of games doesn't appear to be the decision makers' preference, however. Paul Molitor inherited Glen Perkins as his closer, and when Perkins' shoulder gave out has consistently chosen an established but low-ceiling arm for the ninth inning (Kevin Jepsen, Brandon Kintzler, Matt Belisle).

You can't get much more veteran than Rodney, and with a career ERA of 3.73 over 15 seasons, the ceiling is already constucted. Expectations for the team are high; I don't think they should be as high for Rodney. Which suggests to me that his leash may be rather short. The season starts in ernest on Thursday, and it's time for him to get some outs.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Kennys Vargas and real decisions

The Twins waived Kennys Vargas when they picked up outfield Jake Cave and needed a spot on the 40-man roster. The Cincinnati Reds claimed Vargas and promptly waived him themselves in hopes that he would clear and they could outright him to Triple A as first-base insurance.

But in the middle of all that Jorge Polanco was suspended and went on the restricted list, which opened another spot on the Twins 40-man roster. So the Twins claimed Vargas. Who is almost certainly on waivers again, because the Twins aren't going to carry three first basemen on the active roster.

This defines, for better or worse, Vargas as a player: A Four-A guy, not quite good enough to secure a place in the majors but good enough to want him hanging around. The Twins arent't eager to put him in the lineup, but if something happens to take Joe Mauer or Logan Morrison out of action, Vargas can be useful.

He's not really a 35-man decision. The Twins do have a couple of them: Zack Granite or Ryan LaMarre for a bench spot, Phil Hughes, Gabriel Moya or Tyler Kinley for two pitching berths.

My guesses: Hughes, who reported an oblique issue after his most recent spring training outing, goes on the DL until the Twins need a fifth starter.  And Granite stays. He's the better player, even if LaMarre is probably a better fit for the roster role.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Pic of the week

Kaz Makita of the Padres throws a pitch in Saturday's
exhibition against the Reds in Arizona.

Kaz Makita is 33 and has pitched for seven years in Japan's Pacific League. He's been strictly a reliever the past two years there, and he's had a pretty strong Cactus League with San Diego.

All that aside, I love me some submarine pitchers.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

No suspension for Sano

MLB issued its rulings in a pair of off-field behavior investigations Friday. Steven Wright, Boston pitcher, got a 15-game suspension. Miguel Sano, Twins third baseman/slugger, gets nothing.

I wouldn't say that MLB cleared Sano. The accusation by a freelance photographer was made years after the fact, there was no police report, and, says the MLB statement, witness accounts were "inconsistent and conflicting."

Not that my opinion matters much on this, but I believe the woman, in part because the reaction to her going public from some of Sano's current and former teammates suggested that they weren't surprised and in part because of other things I've heard and read of his behavior. I expected a suspension for him, and while I understand the rationale for doing nothing, I'm a bit disappointed that there isn't.

But Sano would do well to watch his step from now on. He's not likely to get the benefit of the doubt in the future.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The opening roster takes shape

Hardly had I gotten Thursday's post published than the Twins did other than predicted. Tyler Duffey was optioned out (as was Alan Busenitz), leaving the Twins with 13 pitchers for 12 spots. The final spot figures to go to either Gabriel Moya or Tyler Kinley, with Kinley favored.

This suggests that the decison makers are confident that the starters are prepared to give them some length when the season opens next week. That hasn't been the outlook in recent years. Keeping Duffey and Phil Hughes would have given the Twins a fifth starter and a long reliever (or two spot starters/long men). Instead, it's just the post-operative Hughes.

Duffey will be used in relief in Rochester but in a stretched-out way, akin to how he was used last season. And he'll be in Minnesota sooner than later. There will be a need for innings out of the bullpen.

More surprising to me, in truth, was the lopping of veteran non-roster infielder Erick Aybar. I had been resigned to the notion that the suspension of Jorge Polanco and the uncertainty over Miguel Sano meant that Aybar, who hit well early in camp and then faded, was going to be on the opening roster.

Instead, it appears that the Twins intend to have five outfielders open the season in the majors. This may be related to Eddie Rosario's multi-week issues with his throwing elbow.

The conventional wisdom has Robbie Grossman and Zack Granite as the extra outfielders. I wouldn't rule out Ryan LaMarre, but he does have the significant disadvantage of being a non-roster guy.

And Mitch Garver will be the backup catcher. Bobby Wilson and Willians Astudillo were both told they won't be on the opening roster.


Kennys Vargas was claimed on waivers by the Cincinnati Reds, which is a bit puzzling. The Reds, as a National League team, have little need for a designated hitter, and Vargas should not be taking at-bats away from the great Joey Votto.

Best guess is that the Reds will quickly waive Vargas in hopes of stashing him at Triple A, which I think is what the Twins were hoping to do.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Tyler Kinley and the roster

A recent rash of stories out of Fort Myers have focused on Tyler Kinley, a big-armed Rule 5 pick who has opened eyes in training camp.

Rule 5 means "use him or lose him." The Twins have to either find a way to fit him on the 25-man active roster all season or return him to the Miami Marlins. (A trade for his rights is theoretically possible, but the Marlins would probably set a high price for him at this point.)

The rule of thumb is that teams with playoff ambitions -- and the Twins are definitely that -- have difficulty fitting a a Rule 5 guy on their roster. Kinley, remember, was only available because the Marlins -- a sub-.500 team getting weaker -- didn't think he was worth putting on their 40-man roster in November.

Kinley isn't the only bullpen candidate who will be an uncomfortable cut; Gabriel Moya, a lefty with outlandish numbers last season in Double A (0.77 ERA), has been outstanding as well. But the Twins can option Moya out. They can't option Kinley.

I've gone though this exercise a time or two already, but ...project the bullpen:

Closer: Fernando Rodney
RH Setup 1: Addison Reed
LH Setup 1: Zach Duke
RH Setup 2: Trevor Hildenberger
LH Setup 2: Taylor Rogers
Middle relief (power arm): Ryan Pressly
Long/spot starter: Phil Hughes
Long/spot starter: Tyler Duffey

That's an eight-man bullpen, and it assumes that the early chatter of a four-man rotation for April holds. If Paul Molitor switches back to five, either Hughes or Duffey moves from the pen to that fifth spot, at least until Ervin Santana returns, and it's the same 12-man staff.

Hildenberger and Rogers, key cogs last season, have had rough springs, but I doubt that either is in serious risk yet. (If they keep getting hammered in April, that's another thing.) I'm less enthused about Pressly than some, but he's been pretty good this spring, and I suspect he's out of options.

Upshot: For Kinley to make the team, I think it's in Pressly's stead. And I think this front office, and this field staff, is too risk-adverse to discard Pressly for an unproven Rule 5 flier. Personally, I wouldn't mind going with Kinley (especially if they can trade Pressly for somebody who doesn't have to go on the 40), but I'm overly fascinated by the guys who haven't failed yet.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Nick Gordon, shortstop or second baseman

Infielder Nick Gordon was one of a half-dozen non-roster invitees sent to the minor league camp during the weekend. I doubt that he would have stayed long if Jorge Polanco had accepted his steroid suspension earlier. Gordon hasn't played Triple A ball yet, and the Twins have other options to fill the shortstop vacancy.

Plus, Gordon played little shortstop this spring. Paul Molitor used him much more at second base, especially in the early games as he eased Brian Dozier (kidney stone) into action. Yet Derek Falvey said this week that the Twins still view Gordon as a shortstop.

It's probably pointless for me to continue to look for friction points between Molitor and the Falvine front office; Molitor got a three-year extension this winter along with fulsome praise from his bosses. And it's understandable that Molitor, who didn't know of the looming suspension, was more interested in getting Polanco ready for the season than looking at Gordon at shortstop.

But I look at Gordon and see a skinny guy who hit nine homers in Double A and faded badly in the second half. Molitor sees a hitter with pop in his bat. Molitor looks at Polanco and sees a shortstop; I see a second baseman struggling with a position he's not really suited for.

What do Falvine see in these two? My guess, reading between the lines, is that they're closer to my opinion than to Molitor's, but I don't KNOW that.  And if the Twins really do let Brian Dozier go as a free agent after this season and go with a Gordon-Polanco middle infield in 2019, I wonder who's the shortstop and who's the second baseman.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

All these switch-hitting shortstops

I had a vivid dream last night that the Twins had a new shortstop to fill in for Jorge Polanco named Ivan Embree, a switch-hitter who was built like Nick Gordon (which is to say, slight) and swung the bat like Vladimir Guerrero (which is to say, at anything white and moving).

There is, and has been, nobody named Ivan Embree in pro baseball, at least according to Baseball Reference. But switch-hitting shortstops are pretty common. Indeed, the suspended Polanco is a switch-hitter, and so are the three infielders in camp who really do figure to play short in his absence (Eduardo Escobar, Ehire Adrianza and Erick Aybar).

Back in my formative days as a fan, teams would frequently take a light-hitting, speedy shortstop prospect and force him to switch hit. The idea (illusion) was to duplicate Maury Wills. If Wills' example ignited the notion of trying to make an adult learn to switch hit as a pro, it pretty much died with Mariano Duncan, who switch hit poorly for the first three years of his career and then gave up hitting left-handed. (Ending this farce may have been the first time that Bill James' research and writing affected the game.) It is now widely accepted that one learns to switch hit early in life or not at all.

Only about 1 percent of the population is truly ambideterious, meaning they have no dominant hand at all; a lot more than 1 percent of major league hitters are switch hitters. And while there are switch-htting outfielders and first basemen (hello, Robbie Grossman), I daresay the switch hitters are overrepresented at shortstop.

Why? A quick theory: there are probably degrees of ambidexterity, and I would think that a right-handed thrower with an almost equivalent left hand would be a better fielder than one with an awkward glove hand. Meaning that youngsters who are quickly adept fielders might be better candidates to switch hit. A fairly high percentage of major league shortstops come from Latin America (as is the case with Polanco, Escobar, Adrianza and Aybar), and the buscones are probably doing with 10-year-olds what the Dodgers used to do with 18-year-olds. You can field, you can run, you're going to switch-hit.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Polanco's suspension

You probably heard by now: Jorge Polanco, the Twins shortstop, got hit Sunday with an 80-game steroid suspension. Not only will he miss the first half of the season, he's ineligible for the playoffs should the Twins get that far.

It's the second time in four years that Twins are coming out of spring training with a significant player suspended for testing positive for the steroid Stanozolol. In 2015, it was Ervin Santana.

There's nothing good in this suspension for the Twins. Polanco may not be the best defensive shortstop in camp, but he finished his roller-coaster 2017 as the Twins' No. 3 hitter.

But if there is a position at which the Twins have the depth to absorb losing their starter for half the season, it's shortstop. Presumably they can divvy up the job among Eduardo Escobar, who hit 21 homers lsst season; Ehire Adrianza, a superior gloveman; and veteran Erick Aybar, a former All-Star and Gold Glove winner whose career is on the wane.

But the possible (likely?) suspension of Miguel Sano in a #MeToo investigation complicates that. That trio may have to cover for two infield regulars, not just one.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pic of the Week

Marcus Semien of Oakland slides into the tag of the Angels'
Ian Kinzler in a stolen base attempt.
I particularly like how sharply defined the flying sand is.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Goodbye, Vargas

The Twins on Friday traded a rookie-league level pitcher named Luis Gil  to the Yankees for outfielder Jake Cave, who goes on the 40-man roster. To make room for Cave, they designated Kennys Vargas for assignment.

Cave theoretically could be another contender for the fourth outfielder job. He hit well in 2017, splitting the season between Double A and Triple A, has played center field and clearly has more power than Zack Granite. But he's another left-handed hitter, so he too is an imperfect fit on the Twins roster.

As for Vargas, who knows? The Twins will try to find a trade partner, but there's not a lot of demand for first base/DH types these days. He may well wind up clearing waivers and remaining in the organization. For his sake, I hope somebody decides they have a major-league job for him. His best chances at one with the Twins are in the past.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Low-key competitions: Outfield

When the Twins signed Logan Morrison to be their primary designated hitter, Paul Molitor made a point of telling reporters that he had warned Robbie Grossman -- 2017's primary DH  --  that Grossman would have to make the roster as an outfielder.

The issue wth that is that Grossman is a terrible defensive outfielder.

There is a prototype for fourth outfielders:

  • fast enough to play center field
  • too weak at the plate to be a regular (but still good enough to get some at-bats), 
  • left handed or a switch hitter for platoon purposes, since most pitchers are right-handed. 
In the Twins specific case, however, the third point is off kilter. Because two of the three regular outfielders, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, are left-handed hitters with problems against lefties, the Twins would prefer their fourth outfielder be right-handed. And Rosario or Kepler are capable of sliding over to play center when Byron Buxton sits.

Grossman misses on the first point. Zack Granite fits the usual form perfectly but hits left-handed, so he's not much of a platoon partner to Rosario or Kepler.

There are a couple of right-handed hitting non-roster outfielders in camp.

Chris Heisey, 33, has compiled more than 1,750 major league plate appearances over the past eight seasons with three clubs (Reds, Dodgers, Nationals). He has not, however, been notably useful as a platoon player (his OPS, On-base Plus Slugging, is notably better against righties for his career), and he's probably not capable of playing center field well at this stage in his career. He hasn't hit much the past three years in limited playing time, and he hasn't hit much this spring.

Ryan LaMarre, 29, has -- his spring training batting average is above .500, which is obviously ridiculous and not to be maintained. He lacks Heisey's track record (just 40 major league at-bats) but is obviously fast enough to play center. Despite the gaudy Grapefruit League numbers, his minor league record isn't that impressive.

Grossman should still be reckoned the most likely fourth outfielder. But even if he opens the season on the roster, his position is not secure. His fielding issues are deep enough that he's got to hit to get in the lineup, and he didn't mash lefties as well in 2017 as he did in 2016. 

LaMarre has had an impressive camp so far. And it's also possible that the fourth outfielder is in somebody else's camp waiting to be waived or traded.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Low-key competitions: Catcher

The conventional wisdom has it that the Twins bench is pretty much set: infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza; catcher Mitch Garver; outfielder Robbie Grossman. That was the presumption when camp opened, and it's the presumption today.

Garver had a big 2017 at Triple A, slashing .291/.387/.541 for Rochester. With Chris Gimenez gone to the Cubs, the job of backing up Jason Castro should fall to Garver, who is now 27.

But Garver has has a rough spring at the plate, with just one hit in his first 21 plate appearances (a home run), and while the Twins say every year that his receiving skills have improved, that they keep saying suggests that he's not a particularly good defensive catcher. So there might be an opening.

The Twins have a pair of nonroster catchers in camp worth noting as potential alternatives to Garver. Bobby Wilson, 34, has in the majors for all or part of eight seasons with five different clubs. always as a back-up. He spent last season at the Dodgers' Triple A affiliate. He won't hit, but is presumably a superior defensive catcher to Garver.

A more interesting option is Willians Astudillo, who captivated the internet with this no-look pickoff throw during the one weekend Twins exhibition I didn't attend:

Astudillo, 26, is a better hitter than Wilson (probably), and not as good as Garver. He's definitely an odd hitter; he seldom takes pitches and has excellent bat-to-ball skills. I saw him get at least three at-bats during my Ft. Myers jaunt, and none went longer than two pitches. Call him Mr. Pace-of-Play.

I expect Garver to be the back up; 21 plate appearances in spring training mean nothing. He's hit at every level. If he isn't, I would rather have Astudillo, if only for entertainment value.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Spring training trip: Final day

Lance Lynn had his introductory press conference in the morning. In the afternoon, he threw three hitless innings inhis first exhibition start. He was clearly laboring in that third and final inning.

As advertised, Lynn threw mostly fast balls, and the stadium gun had him at 93 and 94 mph repeatedly.

That was the good news on the pitching front in the exhibition The bad news: Fernando Rodney, Trevor Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers -- three key relievers -- all gave up runs, with Hildenberger and Rogers each surrendering homers.

For what it's worth:


Miguel Sano played third and made two plays that required him to move with no problem. I'm inclined to regard the concern about his mobility following his stress reaction surgery as overblown.


We're headed home this morning. The locals grumbled the entire time we were here about how cold it was. It was still pretty warn for March to a Minnesotan.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Spring training trip: A day off

The wife and I take one day of our biannual spring training trip to go to Sanibel, and Monday was the day for that.

Really, the Twins highlight for the day for me came in the evening, when my wife was checking out at the Publix on Six Mile Cypress and Tony Oliva strolled by.

While I was off on my island jaunt, the Twins were making the Lance Lynn signing official. On Sunday, with the deal not yet official, the Twins released Anibal Sanchez, which created room on the 40-man roster for Lynn.

Lynn will start today as the Twins try to ramp him up for the opening rotation.

Paul Molitor hasn't named his opening day starter, much less the rotation, but he has said that it's more important to have Jose Berrios lined up to pitch in the Puerto Rico series than in the opener. My guess, therefore, is that the rotation will go Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Berrios and Lynn. As I understand it, Berrios in game three sets him up not only to pitch in Puerto Rico but in the home opener. And pushing Lynn back to the fourth game will give him the opportunity to work in one more tune-up start in Florida.

Meanwhile, Phil Hughes had a pretty solid outing Monday night. He's probably Plan B for the rotation if -- let's make that when -- somebody gets hurt; in the meantime, he will be in the bullpen. Sanchez is already released.  The third member of what I called the Tier One candidates for the rotation, Aldaberto Mejia, will likely be sent to Triple A.

And that will probably have a domino effect on the prospect crew that made up Tiers Two and Three (Aaron Slegers, Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Felix Jorge, Zack Littell, Dietrich Enns). At least one of those six was going to be in Double A; now it's likely two of them will.

One point Derek Falvey made about the Lynn signing is that adding him doesn't really block the prospects. Both Lynn and Ervin Santana will be free agents after 2018; Odorizzi, Gibson and Hughes after 2019. The Twins will be quite happy if the prospects get to spend this season marinating in Triple A, and wait to step into the rotation plans in 2019.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Spring training trip: Day Two

After Saturday's rain out, my wife surprised me by suggesting that we go to Port Charlotte on Sunday to see the Twins play the Rays there. Which we did.

Miguel Sano played third base, drove in a pair of runs with a hard-hit single in a five-run inning, and had little opportunity to field his position. I thought he might have reacted a tad slowly on one base hit to his left, but I doubt the ball was playable from where he was stationed.

Much has been made this spring of Sano's weight and conditioning. Looking at him in his uniform, he doesn't look rotund. He is just a big man. I haven't had an opportunity to gauge his mobility, but in an earlier game he made one of his specialty charge-a-slow-roller plays with no issue.

He has yet to play two days in a row, but that's probably not unique at this stage of training camp. I'm not sure Brian Dozier has either, and no middle-aged (or older) paunchy columnist is yelling about him.

I do expect MLB to suspend Sano over the sexual assault allegation that emerged this winter. I won't hazard a guess as to how long that suspension might be. I see no reason to believe that he'll be on the disabled list when opening day arrives later this month.


One notable difference between the Twins camp and the Rays camp: Fans are free to wander over to the minor league fields at the Twins Fort Myers complex. The back fields at the Rays camp were closed off Sunday.

Charlotte Sports Park itself is a nice facility. In my (probably biased) opinion it's not quite as good as Hammond Stadium, but it's rather comperable. Both stadiums are home to teams in the High-A Florida State League; in Port Charlotte it's the Charlotte Stone Crabs, affilate of the Rays.

One advantage to the Charlotte park is the team store, which has caps and shirts for the minor league tenant during spring training. Hammond Stadium's store is, at least during spring training, devoted to Twins items, nothing of the Miracle.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Spring training trip: Day One

Officially, Saturday's exhibition game didn't happen. The Twins scored nine runs in the first inning, and they all went away when the game was called in the third inning. Which happened a few minutes after I decided we'd been rained on long enough and we left the park. The game was probably called as I was trying to turn left out of the parking area onto Three Cypress Road  Six Mile Cypress.

The big news broke sometime after the game: The Twins have a one-year deal with free-agent pitcher Lance Lynn, pending a physical.

A low-priced, short-term contract (one-year, $12 million) was certainly not what Lynn was expecting out of his free agency, but as with Logan Morrison, the Twins got themselves a bargain with a spring training signing.

The addition of Lynn almost certainly ends the rotation battle. There's Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson to start the season, with Ervin Santana added around the end of April. There's not a Cy Young favorite in that bunch, but if Kyle Gibson is your No. 5 starter, your rotation is pretty darn solid. Phil Hughes, Anibal Sanchez and Aldaberto Mejia are destined for the bullpen or off the roster.

A few other random observations from Saturday:

* Mitch Garver, the frontrunner for the backup catcher job, played left field.

He played it ... cautiously. Which makes sense; he's out of position, and the field was wet and the ball undoubtably slippery. There was a liner hit his direction that I thought was catchable, but Garver made no real effort to come in on it and conceded the single. Again, it was sensible; the Twins had a nine-run lead, and let's just not screw things up.

The fourth outfielder slot is not guaranteed to Robbie Grossman, who has his own defensive shortcomings. Paul Molitor may be looking for a right-handed hitter he can feel comfortable with in the outfield. I don't think Garver fits that bill.

* I watched Miguel Sano, Kennys Vargas and a few others who weren't slated to play take batting practice on a side field. Everybody opened BP with the traditional two bunts, including the two big men. Vargas actually appeared to take his second bunt seriously, laying it down toward third and taking off for first base out of the left-handed batters box. The way teams shift him, it makes sense for him to work on that bunt.

* Kyle Gibson allowed a lot of baserunners but also got two double plays, one of which he started himself. I no longer have high expectations for Gibson, but I do think he's one of the better fielding pitchers the Twins have had in the past decade or so.

* I was favorably impressed with the new barbeque stand at Hammond Stadium.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Nuttin' to say today

I spent Friday traveling to Fort Myers, and I am basically skipping today's post.

In further blog programming, Sunday's post will not be the usual Pic of the Week but commentary on today exhibition game, may it not rain. (Rain is in the forecast for the afternoon.)

Friday, March 9, 2018

Rotations, multi-inning relief and spot starters

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash plans to use what we might call a 'four man-plus" rotation: Four traditional starters, with a "bullpen game" when a fifth starter is needed.

It's something of a throwback to decades ago. The long-gone age of the four-man rotation did not involve teams using only four starters. There was always the need for spot starts, and teams generally had "swing men" who would start on occasion and relieve in between. The difference is that, unlike the Twins with Jim Perry in the swing man role in 1965-68, Tampa Bay isn't expecting their spot starters to get them seven innings.

Tampa Bay's approach may be more practical this season than in the past, because the schedule has been lengthened with an eye to increasing the offdays and easing travel. More off-days scattered through the season figures to limit the need for, and thus usefulness of, a fifth starter. (It's part of why the Twins think they can avoid using a fifth starter while Ervin Santana is out.)

The Rays are, as far as I know, the only team planning on regularly scheduling bullpen games. But middle relievers were the only free agents who did well this offseason. The trend -- analytics-driven, as most strategic trends these days are -- is for shorter starts, which in turn makes bullpen guys who can go two or three innings twice a week more valuable than they were a few years ago.

The past postseason was something of a template. Houston and Los Angeles, the two World Series contestants, kept their starters on pretty short leashes. If it wasn't Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw -- Cooperstown-bound veterans -- starting, two times through the batting order was pretty much it for their starters. But that was generally about four innings, which leaves the majority of outs for the bullpen. If that's the regular season approach, you almost need a second rotation of bullpenners who can get through the order once and then get a few days off. And shorter starts might mean the starting rotation can be worked more often.

Tampa Bay figures that the bullpen games will be a way to ensure that their multi-inning relievers get the long outings they need to remain stretched out. I'm sure Cash and the front office have mapped out how often they expect to need a bullpen game and what their options are if they get a series of bad starts or extra-inning games that tax their relief corps leading up to a scheduled bullpen game. Of course, the military dictum is that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.

The Rays thinned out their traditional starters by trading Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, then saw two starting prospects they were counting on to some degree this year, Blake Honeywell and Jose De Leon, succumb to Tommy John surgery. But Cash implies that the bullpen game strategy would be their direction without the injuries.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

First cuts are the deepest tiers

Almost as soon as I posted Wednesday's thoughts about Zack Littell and the other "Tier 3" pitchers, the Twins sent a bunch of them to minor league camp:

Minor league camp officially opened this week, and the four optioned pitchers -- all, by definition, on the 40-man roster -- figure to be in the starting rotations at either Triple A Rochester or Double A Chattanooga and need to start ramping up their innings.

And this is an example of why teams don't really have five or six pitchers competing for one rotation slot. That's too many. Paul Molitor has to get his set starters -- Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson -- their innings to prep for the season as well. It would be a tighter squeeze if Ervin Santana were's sidelined. 

As it is, no matter how much Littell impressed, there was no way he was going to get an opportunity to compete for the open slot. It just isn't practical.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Deeper tiers

None of the most likely candidates for the fourth starter spot -- or fifth starter when Ervin Santana returns -- seem to have helped themselves the past turn through the spring rotation.

Oh, Fernando Romero has opened eyes with his impressive stuff. But he only threw 125 innings last season in Double A  -- a career high -- and staggered to get that many in. I can't imagine the carnage necessary for him to open the season in the majors.

Aldaberto Mejia, who I rated earlier as a Tier One candidate -- had a lackluster three innings in Tuesday's start -- four hits, three earned runs. He also threw a pickoff throw away, adding to my belief that he is the worst fielding pitcher the Twins have had in decades. There are things to like about Mejia, but he's establishing himself as a very frustrating pitcher.

I earlier listed as Tier One candidates Phil Hughes, Mejia and Anibal Sanchez -- Hughes and Sanchez because they have had outstanding seasons in the past, Mejia because he spent most of 2017 in the Twins rotation.

Tier Two was made up of Tyler Duffey, Aaron Slegers and Stephen Gonsalves. I put the latter two in this group because they were actually starting games at the beginning of the exhibition season. But their most recent appearances have come in relief, as have all of Duffey's appearances.

There are other starting pitchers in camp, specifically prospects Felix Jorge, Dietrich Enns and Zack Littell. Along with Romero, they are probably Tier 3 -- less developed, or at least less experienced, than the Tier 1 and 2 guys.

Littell -- who came to the Twins with Enns in last July's selloff of Jaime Garcia -- particularly intrigues me. He lacks the firepower of Romero, but he's got a track record of effectiveness so far in his minor league career -- 19-1, 2.12 for three teams last season, split between High A and Double A. He's continued that effectiveness this spring, but he's only pitched late in games, so he's not facing major league hitters.

None of the Tier 3 guys are serious candidates for the opening rotation unless or until Paul Molitor uses them earlier in games. And I don't think any of the Tier 1 guys are going to take the job and hold it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Contemplating Tyler Kinley

Tyler Kinley's outing Monday elicted these competing viewpoints from the Star Tribune's LaVelle E. Neal III and Baseball America's J.J. Cooper:

Tyler Kinley is 27 with an ERA
in two Double-A seasons of 4.97,
but he has great stuff.
Presumably Neal meant "how the Twins leave Fort Myers without him," not "who," but there is a "who" factor in keeping Kinley, as I'll expound later in this post.

The Twins took Kinley in the Rule 5 draft out of the Miami organization, where last year he had imposing numbers in High A ball and poor results in Double A, then followed that up with a dominating 14 games in the Dominican Winter League. Rule 5 means the Twins have to keep him on the active roster or return him to the Marlins.

There has already been a opportunity cost to Kinley: The Twins lost, among others, Randy Rosario on waivers to create openings on the 40-man roster before the draft, and lost Nick Burdi and Luke Bard in the Rule 5 draft themselves. They couldn't keep all three by passing on Kinley, but they could have kept one by foregoing the draft.

I suggested in a Monday print column a couple weeks ago that the Twins bullpen lacks a reliable power arm. I didn't list Kinley as a possibility for that role, but perhaps he's worth considering. Let's imagine a possible bullpen, eight men as Paul Molitor is apparently leaning to open the season (with four starters, so a 12-man staff).

We have, in my estimation, five givens: closer Fernando Rodney, right-handed setup men Addison Reed and Tyler Hildenberger, and left-handed setup men Zach Duke and Taylor Rogers.

Most observers appear to consider Ryan Pressly a sure thing as well. I don't believe Pressly has earned the benefit of the doubt, but let's pencil him in as No. 6. (He's the closest thing to an established power arm in this bullpen,)

We don't know who the fourth starter is yet, but let's say it's Aldaberto Mejia (the only lefty in what I've dubbed Tier One in the competition.) If so, Phil Hughes goes to the bullpen, since he has some $26 million left on his contract and the Twins are unlikely to pull the plug on him with that much on the table. (And if Mejia is out of options, he might wind up in the 'pen if Hughes wins the rotation spot.)  That's seven.

My presumed eighth is Tyler Duffey, who was a pretty reliable multi-inning reliever in the early going until Molitor started overusing him.

Upshot: I agree with Cooper. It's difficult to see how Kinley sticks. The Twins could trade for his Rule 5 rights, which would allow them to option Kinley out and would also increase the opportunity cost.

Or they could decide they like Kinley's power stuff more than they like Pressly's. I don't have a problem with that, but I've learned over time to be suspicious of my inclination to favor bright shiny objects. The Twins spent this offseason trying to minimize their bullpen risks; dropping Pressly for Kinley would be increasing them, and I doubt that's going to happen.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Which way the wind blows

Phil Hughes and Anibal Sanchez -- two of the three rotation candidates I recently grouped together as "Tier One" -- each gave up homers in their appearances during the weekend.

Hughes actually surrendered two, Sanchez one. But one big difference was that in Hughes's case, the wind was blowing out; for Sanchez, the wind was blowing in.

Many factors mess with spring training numbers, and this is one of less obvious ones. I've been to enough games at Fort Myers to know that it's windy. When the wind is blowing in at Hammond Stadium, it takes a lot to hit one out.

Judging from the radio descriptions, Hughes was pitching in the reverse situation. The wind was adding distance to fly balls.

It's far too early to reach a final evaluation on any of them anyway. But it's worth remembering that the stat sheet does not reveal everything worth considering.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pic of the Week

Infield prospect Nick Gordon blows a bubble in the
Twins dugout during a game.
Nick Gordon was playing quite a bit of second base the first week of exhibitions. This was in part because Paul Molitor was holding some of the veterans back anyway, and Brian Dozier in particular after he dealt with a kidney stone. Then Gordon dinged his hand, and he's sat out the past few days.

But there might be a position change in Gordon's future. Dozier will be a free agent after this season -- there have been, apparently, no talks between the Twins and his agency -- and Gordon may be his successor at second.

I'm not sure of the wisdom of that. I don't think Gordon has enough thump in his bat to be a major league regular at any position, even shortstop, in today's game. And I'm also not sure that Jorge Polanco is a superior defensive shortstop to Gordon. If those two are the middle infield, it might be better to have Gordon at short and Polanco at second.

But that's 2019 stuff. For this spring, there's no question that Polanco is the Twins shortstop. Paul Molitor is not going to have him play any second base in exhibitions this spring.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Contemplating the rotation depth

The 2017 Minnesota Twins used 16 starting pitchers. This sounds like a lot, and it is for a team with contention in mind. Cleveland, with the best rotation in the American League, started only seven pitchers all season. The Houston Astros, who won the World Series despite having nobody pitch enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, started 11.

In a very real sense, though, the parade of starters for Minnesota was through the fifth slot in the rotation. The Twins' seven most frequently-used starters -- Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios, Aldabero Mejia, Bartolo Colon, Hector Santiago and Phil Hughes --combined for 146 of the 162 starts. The other nine combined for 16 starts.

What happened last year: They opened with a rotation of Santana, Gibson, Santiago, Mejia and Hughes, with Berrios in Triple A as Plan B. When Hughes and Santiago broke down, Berrios stepped up -- but they didn't have any other legitimate starting prospects in Triple A, and their choice was between pushing true prospects to the majors too quickly or using nonprospect minor league veterans.

The nonprospects got more calls than the prospects, although in the second half Felix Jorge and Aaron Slegers got five starts between them, and the Twins eventually added a few major league vets, notably Bartolo Colon.

The Nik Turleys and Tim Milvilles didn't get the job done. And my guess is that pitchers of that ilk won't be a 2018 factor.

Let's assume the Twins open with a rotation of  Jake Odorizzi, Berrios, Gibson and Mejia, wth Santana stepping in when the schedule demands a fifth starter and Hughes in the bullpen as Plan B / spot starter.

The Triple A rotation could feature five of Stephen Gonsalves, Jorge, Slegers, Dietrich Enns, Zack Littell and Fernando Romero, most of whom spent 2017 in Double A and all of whom are on the 40-man roster this spring.

That second six has a lot more to offer than did the likes of Adam Wilk or Nick Tepesch.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Who's left in the AL? Apparently the Twins

The other day I commented on how left-handed the Twins lineup has become and suggesting that the bench should have a right-handed lean as a result.

Well, in a related development, the great Joe Posnanski posted this piece on the odd lack of left-handed hitting in the American League. He surmises that this will have an effect on roster makeup and play an outsized role in this year's expected duel for Eastern domination between the Yankees (elite right-handed power) and the Red Sox (two top-grade lefty starters).

From the Twins perspective, they appear to be zigging when everybody else is zagging. Rattle off the names of Cleveland's imposing starting rotation -- Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar, Bauer -- and you realized, they're all right handed. A lineup stuffed with lefties seems like a good idea against these guys.

But then you turn to the Twins bullpen, with southpaw specialists Taylor Rogers and Zach Duke. Who are they coming in to face? Kansas City used to have lefties in the middle of its order, but Eric Hosmer's gone and Mike Moustakas -- still a free agent -- probably isn't returning, and Alex Gordon is a shell of his former self. The best hitters the White Sox have, Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia, are right-handed. Whatever remains of Miguel Cabrera's talent is still right-handed. The Tribe does have Jason Kipnis and (if healthy) Michael Brantley and a pair of top-shelf switch-hitters, but all told there's not a lot of demand in this division for LOOGYs.

Unless you're facing a Twins team with Joe Mauer, Logan Morrison, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, Jason Castro and a handful of switch hitters.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

One trip through

Trying to discern anything out of one baseball game is foolish. Trying to discern anything out of the first week of spring training games is just as foolish.

So I'm a fool, and what else is new?

Aaron Slegers and Stephen Gonsalves -- who are both more likely to open 2018 in the rotation of Triple A Rochester than in the Minnesota rotation -- on Wednesday became the first Twins hurlers to start twice this exhibition season.

Three observations from the first trip through the "rotation":

* Only Jose Berrios struggled. The Twins' most talented starter threw a scoreless inning but exhausted his 30-pitch allotment and didn't come out for a second frame.

* Anibal Sanchez didn't start, but he did work a pair of innings, throwing mostly offspeed stuff. The usual spring training pattern, especially for a veteran, is to spend the first outing testing fastball command. But the idea behind the Sanchez signing is to break his conventional pattern of pitching. He's on a non-guaranteed deal, and he needs to impress.

* Phil Hughes was not only effective in his start, he showed a bit more velocity than he did last season. Question: is there another velo uptick ahead as the spring moves on? Hughes is in a slightly different situation than Sanchez; his contract is guaranteed. But his role is not. If he's going to be in the rotation, he too needs to impress.

We are told that Paul Molitor plans to go with four starters to open the season, with the expectation/hope that Ervin Santana will be ready to roll when he needs to go deeper. We expect that the first three starters will be, in some order, Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson.

That leaves one slot, and a lot of candidates. "Tier One" candidates, as I see it, are Hughes, Sanchez and Aldaberto Mejia. "Tier Two" would include Slegers, Gonsalves and, apparently, Tyler Duffey, although I would prefer Duffey in a multi-inning bullpen role.

Nothing that happened the first time through hurt any of the Tier One candidates. The Tier Two guys haven't hurt themselves either, but they need not only to impress themselves but have the Tier One guys stumble.