Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Two more trades

The Twins on Monday moved out a pair of pitchers on one-year deals, Zach Duke and Lance Lynn.

Neither brought much of a return, which is to be expected of a 35-year-old LOOGY (Duke) and a started with a 5.10 ERA (Lynn).

The trades:

Costello is the more interesting of the gets in the Mariners deal. MLBpipeline.com has him as No. 28 in the Mariners system, but Seattle has a notably depleted system. Costello leads the Midwest League (low A) in homers and RBIs, but ...

  • he's old for the level and
  • in two minor league seasons he's played his way off third base and is apparently a poor defensive first baseman.
He's gonna have to mash to make it to the majors. If I were making the call, he would move up to Fort Myers and a more age-appropriate environment.

De Jong is going on his fourth organization. He got 28 innings in the majors last year, allowing five homers and a 6.25 ERA. He's been in Double-A this year. He's on the 40-man roster, but there's not much here to interest me.

Austin got most of the attention from Dick-n-Torii during the TV broadcast in the Lynn deal, probably because he hit a homer off Lynn earlier this year. He'll turn 27 before the season ends. Right-handed hitter, genuine power, lots of strikeouts. The Yankees gave him 269 major league plate appearances and spun him off; he'll be out of options next year and my guess is they weren't going to keep him on the 40 this winter. 

He appears to be high floor, low ceiling, and that doesn't do much for me. I don't see a use for him on the current roster -- unless Logan Morrison is leaving soon -- and in the future Brant Rooker, also a right-right 1B-OF, is a better bet to contribute.

Rijo is the very definition of a lottery ticket. He's a 19-year-old right handed pitcher out of Venezuela who has split his 2018 on three levels and put up decent numbers in limited exposure. He is said to have good control and secondary pitches but limited velocity. He might be something, and we might never hear of him again.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The trades and the prospects

OK, let's talk the Escobar and Pressly trades.

Three outfielders, two pitchers. Unstated in Berardino's tweet: Alcala has reached Double A. Celestino was in the short-season A level NY-Penn League, a level for which the Twins have no direct equivalent; he may well be assigned to Elizabethton in the Appy League, a half-step down.

A couple broad points: None of the five must go on the 40-man roster this winter. This is a contrast to the Jamie Garcia dump trade of last summer, in which the Twins landed two Rule 5-eligible players (one of whom has since been outrighted). None of the five are particularly close to the majors.

The consensus is that four of the five go directly into the team's top-30 prospects list but none go into the top 10.

MLBpipeline.com puts Alcala as Minnesota's No. 11 prospect. His deal is velocity; he's hit 101 at times as a starting pitcher, but his secondary offerings are inconsistent. Baseball America's report on Alcala suggests that he's most likely destined for a bullpen role. He just turned 23.

Celestino is 19 and was putting up good numbers in the NY Penn League. MLBpipeline makes him the Twins No. 14 prospect. He's a centerfielder now, but the BA scouting report suggests that he may not stick there. (MLBpipeline ranks four or five outfielders ahead of him, depending on whether you regard Brant Rooker as an outfielder or a first baseman.) Good arm, good bat speed, appears to have good pitch recognition.

Marcel, also 19 and a centerfielder but a level ahead of Celestino, is a switch-hitter out of Brazil. Celestinto appears to have a broader set of quality tools; Marcel is a burner without much power. MLBpipeline makes him No. 17 on the Twins list.

Duran, 20, is a raw RHP. He projects as a mid-rotation starter, assuming he puts everything together. Mid-90s velocity with the makings of usable breaking ball and change, but he's inconsistent with command and quality of everything. MLBpipeline puts him at No. 22.

The Twins assigned De La Trinidad, who had been in the Midwest League, to Fort Myers in the higher Florida State League. He's a 22-year-old left-handed outfielder who is the one drafted player in this haul (19th round out of UNLV). Good numbers in the Midwest League, but a bit old for the level.

I haven't (yet) made my annual jaunt to Cedar Rapids, but it appears that at least three of the five will be with the Kernels the remainder of the summer, depending on what they do with Celestino.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Pic of the Week

Eduardo Escobar tweeted out this image Friday after he was traded by the Twins to Arizona.

I can't decide whether to laugh or cry.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Waving the white flag

The only position
Eduardo Escobar didn't
play for the Twins
was first base.
Eduardo Escobar is gone, to the Arizona Diamondbacks for three players in A ball.

Ryan Pressly is gone, to the Houston Astros for two guys who have at least reached Double A.

Also gone is any pretense that the Twins still harbor playoff ambitions.

Escobar was on his way to his new team before the Twins took the field in Boston Friday evening. His departure saddens me, as I suspect it does every other Twins fan. Escobar is a fun player, eminently likable, and far better than any of us imagined he would be when the Twins got him from the Chicago White Sox in 2011.

Escobar filled the gap at third base and in the middle of the lineup opened by Miguel Sano's failures earlier this season. Now Sano, his minor league reboot apparently complete, gets a fresh shot at the job. It seems odd to say this about a guy who has long been seen as the future of the franchise, but I am not enthused about that. I have come to regard Escobar as a more reliable and productive player than Sano.

Ryan Pressly
was the Twins' best
Rule 5 selection
since Johan Santana.
But ... Escobar is a free agent to be, the Twins picked up three lottery tickets for him, and it's wise to  to get a handle on what Sano 2.0 is like. I want to hope that the Twins re-sign Escobar this winter, but that probably would require them to pull the plug on Sano, and I believe they still have too much invested in Sano.

As for Pressly: There are sabermetric analyses that regard him as one of the better relievers in the game. That's not been backed up by the results.

I'm eager to see how Houston uses Pressly. Their late-inning relief situation has been pretty ugly all year; closer Ken Giles's postseason woes carried over to this year, and the Astros sent him to the minors a bit more than two weeks ago. The Astros have had no shortage of pitching imports revise their approach and step up their game -- Charlie Morton, Justin Verlander, Garret Cole -- after arriving in Houston. Maybe the Astros see something they can tweak with Pressly.

As for the return for the two ... well, I'll grapple with that in another post on another day. Right now, the fan in me is grieving too much for the amateur GM to emerge. On the face of it, the Twins appear to have gotten better prospects for Pressly than they did for Escobar, because Pressly is still under team control in 2019.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The emergence of Kyle Gibson

Considering the quality of the opponent and the venue, Thursday might well be the best game Kyle Gibson has ever pitched.

That is not damning with faint praise, for while Gibson's career record -- 49-55, 4.50 ERA  -- does not signal a future Cooperstown inductee, his history is one of inconsistency. All pitchers have better ERA in their wins than in their losses, but Gibson has over the years taken that concept to an extreme.

  • Career ERA in his wins: 1.91
  • Career ERA in his losses: 8.00
  • Career ERA in his no-decisions: 4.07

But the horrid outings have been much more rare in the past 12 months.

The change, as Bollinger implies, started almost exactly a year ago. Gibson started on July 16 last year against Houston; after allowing four runs in six innings, his ERA for the year was 6.29. By season's end, it was 5.07. Over his final 12 starts of 2017, his ERA was 3.57, which is pretty much a match for his 2018 ERA.

He is a different pitcher now than he once was. For years he was essentially a match for Mike Pelfrey, relying heavily on a two-seam fastball with which he had uncertain command. This gave him a dismal strikeout rate. Now he has a four-pitch mix -- four-seamer, two-seamer, slider, change -- and he is much less hittable.

He remains under team control for next season. While there are trade rumors swirling around him, I would be loathe to deal him for anything less than a truly top-shelf prospect.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Santana's return

It wasn't a stellar line score for Ervin Santana on Wednesday on his first major league start of the season: Five innings, seven hits, three runs allowed. Not close to a "quality start."

But not that bad, either. The veteran walked one hitter (and hit one) and struck out five. Granted, Toronto isn't a great lineup these days, but Santana's velocity was in the low 90s and he threw strikes with 60 of his 97 pitches.

I'll take that for his first game back after finger surgery. There's a genuine possiblity that he'll get better as he gts more action.

I do expect the Twins to trade at least one of their two free-agent-to-be starters in the coming week. Lance Lynn has had a rough time of it in the American League, and Santana is in a sense still rehabbing his finger. I don't expect a robust market for either, particularly among the American League powers, but there's no shortage of  National League contenders who could stand to deepen their rotations.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Ervin Santana and the rotation

The expectation here on Tuesday was that Adalberto Mejia would lose his roster spot to make room for Ervin Santana, who is to make his 2018 debut for the Twins tonight in Toronto.

Instead, the Twins after Tuesday's game designated utility man Taylor Motter for assignment.

Motter has distinguished himself only by possessing the longest hair in team history, so his likely departure (either by waiver claim or free agency) is minor news. What is interesting is that the Twins now have six starting pitchers on their active roster.

Three possibilities:

  • Paul Molitor will go with a six-man rotation.
  • A veteran pitcher is about to be traded.
  • Somebody is getting shifted to the bullpen.

The first and last can be paired with the second, a temporary measure during this final week before the non-waiver trading deadline that avoids moving Mejia back to the minors and restarting his 10-day option clock.

But No. 2, a trade, seems the most likely reason to keep Mejia in the bigs. And it seems to me that if Santana tonight displays some velocity (say 92 mph) and command of his slider, he would be more desirable trade bait than fellow free-agent-to-be Lance Lynn.

True, Santana has done nothing in the majors to this point. A team looking to deepen its rotation for the stretch run might still prefer that lack of a record to what Lynn has produced this season.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Contemplating Aldaberto Mejia

Adalberto Mejia did not have a "quality start" Monday night in Toronto. He allowed just one run (thanks in no small part to an effective outing from Matt Belisle, who entered with the bases loaded and one out and stranded all three runners), but he only pitched 5.1 innings, not the six required by the unofficial stat.

Short starts, as I've noted before, are not unusual for Mejia. Last season he made 21 starts for the Twins but pitched just 98 innings, less than five innings a start. This is part of why I think he makes a really good candidate to be used as the innings eater in a Tampa Bay-style "opener" game.

Mondy's game, if disected, does little to support that notion. Mejia  faced 26 batters, almost three full trips through the order. It was the bottom half of the order that forced him from the game in the sixth. He got through the more dangerous part of the Toronto order without serious danger his third time through.

Thad Levine, in the same radio segment in which he discussed the organization's testing of the opener tactic in the minors, said Mejia got the call for Monday's game in part because he's out of options after this year and the organization needs to decide what they have in him.

What we've seen in the majors doesn't match his minor league numbers. Mejia has very solid walk rates in the minors (2.9 walks per nine innings this season for Rochester), but he has not replicated those strike-throwing ways in the bigs. He threw first pitch strikes Monday to fewer than half the hitters he faced.

There was no move announced after the Monday game, but the Twins have already said that Ervin Santana is to start Wednesday. Presumably Mejia will be demoted as part of that.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Notes from the Weekend

Well, that series in Kansas City should definitely put the Twins in seller mode. From Sunday morning's Twitter feed:

All together now: So you're telling me there's a chance.


Let us not dwell on a weekend in which the Twins received few breaks and deserved fewer. Let us move on to a process item rather than results. The Twins are beginning to experiment with Tampa Bay's "opener" tactic in the minor leagues. On Sunday, for example, Trevor May -- remember him? -- pitched the first inning for Rochester, and Zach Littell followed with 5.6 innings.

Thad Levine, the Twins' No. 2 in baseball ops, said on the radio pregame show that the front office has been following the Tampa Bay experiment and sees the advantage of having a "reliever" deal with the top of the opposing order in the first inning, allowing the pitcher who is expected to work the bulk of the game to get more outs before seeing the opposition's best bats a third time. (Levine also said Littell profiles as the type of pitcher the opener would probably benefit.)

I now take the risk of parsing Levine's comments too closely. Levine said the tactic has been discussed with manager Paul Molitor and pitching coach Gavin Alston. I infer that Molitor and Alston are cool to the idea of employing the opener in the majors.

Today's game would really be a good opportunity for it. Aldaberto Mejia, today's scheduled starter, is not an innings eater. (He appears to eat pretty much everything else, but that's another matter.) The hefty lefty made 21 starts last year for the Twins and got more than 15 outs (five innings) six times. He can use the help in getting deep into games.

Plus Toronto -- at least off a spot check of recent box scores -- load the top of the their lineup against lefty starters with righties and switch hitters.

It would make sense to have someone like Alan Busenitz pitch the first inning, then give way to Mejia for the middle and bottom of the order. Say Busenitz faces four batters, than Mejia faces the fifth man to start the second. That would also be the first guy to face him a third time, and he's got a better chance to work another inning than if he were facing the top of the order for the third time.

Of course, if Molitor and Alston were interested in trying the opener today, it wouldn't be Busenitz; he got sent back to Triple A after his inning Sunday to make room for Mejia. I really do not understand the organizational fascination with keeping Matt Belisle around to be a mopup man, but that's another problem.


Ex-Twin watch: The Twins drafted Dereck Rodriguez, the son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez, in the sixth round of the 2011 draft. He was an outfielder, but he didn't hit, and the Twins converted him to pitching in 2014.

He had his ups and downs on the mound in the Twins organization, and never made it on the 40-man roster. He left as a minor-league free agent after last season and signed with the San Francisco Giants.

And he's now in their major league rotation with a 5-1, 2.72 ERA after 10 appearances, eight starts.

San Francisco and the National League are a different environment than Minnesota and the American League, but I'd sure take that.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Pic of the Week

Pittsburgh first baseman Josh Bell reaches for
a wild throw Friday as Cincinnati's Michael Lorenzen
near the bag.

This magic moment -- the falling helmet and the reaching glove so perfectly aligned with the back of Lorenzen's head.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

More of the same

The Twins opened the unoffical "second half" Friday night with a game that echoed far too many games from before the break: Fall behind early, rally in the ninth, fall short.

There is a sportswriting trope, born of our desire for a narriative, that the conclusion (of a game, a series, a season) matter more than the beginning. I heard it again this week on MLB Radio while driving around the state this week for family events -- Team X has to fortify itself for September, when the games matter. Team Y needs a better back end of the bullpen because the ninth inning is so important. The great Bill James observed years ago that a team that loses a close pennant race from behind has a better reputation than the team that loses from ahead. The first made a gallant run. The second choked,

But every game the Twins lost in May counts against their record just as much as this one in July did, and equally with the games they will assuredly lose in September. The Twins scored three runs in the ninth; each one counted for just that, one. They didn't get extra credit for scoring late.

So when somebody says -- actual Paul Molitor quote per the Pioneer Press coming up -- something like: “It was nice to see us make a run there. You try to keep pushing until the game is over,” identify it as false positivity. It was yet another one-run loss. The Twins are 5-17 in one-run games. If they were just playing .500 ball in those games, they'd be right there with Cleveland.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Give 'em a Hand and they'll Cimber up.

As you may have noticed, I took a few days off for the All-Star break.

And while I was gone, the Cleveland Indians made a trade to address their bullpen problems, acquiring two relief pitchers from the San Diego Padres.

One of them is Brad Hand, Minnesotan (born in Minneapolis, high school in Chaska) and All Star, and he's the obvious big get for the Tribe. He figures to step into the role played by Andrew Miller in the second half of 2016 and almost all of 2017 -- left-handed wipeout reliever called upon at any point in the game by Terry Francona. If Miller were healthy, Cleveland probably isn't that interested in Hand, but he's not, and presumably there's little reason to believe that he will be.

The Tribe also picked up right-hander Adam Cimber in the deal. He's an old rookie (turns 28 in August) who's put up pretty solid numbers out of the Padres bullpen. He's not as big a name as Hand, but in some regards he's been more effective.

Hand and Cimber have thrived with Petco Park as their home grounds, and Petco is a rather pitcher-friendly environment. So we may well wonder how well their numbers will translate to Cleveland and the DH league. But they definitely figure to deepen the Cleveland bullpen, and that has been a problem all year for Francona.

All this matters for the Twins, because to the extent that they still harbor legitinate playoff ambitions, they have to catch Cleveland. The wild card really isn't an option for Minnesota this year. The Indians are better today than they were on Monday.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Into the break

Well, that was a wacky one Sunday, and the Twins go into their four-day vacation on a hgih note. A few comments:

* Did a 9-2 homestand take the front office out of their expected/projected sell mode? My guess is not.

That came against a fairly weak set of opponents. Tampa Bay is a competitive team; the Orioles and Royals are not. Yes, the Twins made up four games in the standings, but they remain 7.5 games behind Cleveland, and the schedule is about to get a bit tougher.

* The Twins got a dose of Tampa Bay's "opener" strategy Sunday, with Ryne Stanek working the first two innings and making a planned early departure. (The Twins scored a run against him, ending his streak of nine straight "opens" without allowing a run.)

As I understand what the Rays are doing, they have basically three kinds of pitching plans:

  • Traditional starter. We saw this in the first three games of the series, with Blake Snell, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Archer. They are the only true starters on the Rays staff at the moment, and Eovadi and Archer have each been on the DL in recent weeks.
  • Starter in the middle. The opener goes an inning, maybe a batter or two more, and then a pitcher enters with the intent of working through the order (18 hitters) at least twice. This is generally how Ryan Yarbourgh has been used. 
  • "True" bullpen games. This is what we got on Sunday. The Rays used nine pitchers, none of whom got more than six outs.
Yarbourgh, who pitched Sunday and got five outs, is basically a misplaced starter. The rookie lefty is second on the team in innings pitched with just five official starts in 24 games pitched. He's averaging almost four innings an appearance.  Sunday's outing was a bit briefer because he pitched three innings on Wednesday and an inning on Friday.

* So we aren't to read anything into the fifth inning use of Fernando Rodney; he pitched early because he had a plane to catch in order to make his appointment to become a citizen, which is an excellent excuse. 

Unfortunately, Trevor Hildenberger blew the save in the ninth, which means Dick-n-Bert will be vocally worried about the lack of a proven closer the next time Rodney isn't available for the ninth inning.

* Botton of the 10th. Jake Cave leads off with a double. Mitch Garver bunts him to third, and Dick-n-Bert are happy. The real result of that bunt is that the bat was taken out of the hands of the Twins two best left-handed hitters, because Joe Mauer and Eddie Rosario were walked.

It worked out for the Twins, obviously, as Brian Dozier's fly ball got over the wall for a grand slam. But I was sitting there muttering that the Twins deserved to see him ground into a double play. I'd rather they take three shots at scoring Cave from second with Garver, Mauer and Rosario against a righty than two shots at scoring him from third with Dozier and Escobar Adrianza.

* I've read game stories out of both the Twin Cities and Tampa Bay, and still have no idea what the two bench-clearings were about. 

Were the Rays peeved that Dozier took advantage of their extreme shift and provoked a balk?Probably, but that's as much their own fault as were the throwing errors that put Dozier on third base to begin with. 

I'm going to chalk it up to general crankiness and forget about it. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Pic of the Week

George Rusch, 4, of Alexandria, Va., swings
 a bat at the virtual reality home run derby
Saturday at the All-Star FanFest in Washington.
I'm old. I have no experience with virtual reality and no real interest in trying it. "Real" reality is challenging enough for me.

That said, he looks like he's having fun.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A few thoughts on the shift

My Free Press colleague Jim Rueda had a piece in today's edition about the shift making inroads in amateur baseball as seen in the Mankato area -- colleges, high school, town ball, Northwoods League.

Executive summary: The local coaches are seeing more shifts from opponents, particularly a few opponents, but seem wary of the tactic themselves. They cite lack of specific data on individual hitters and, by implication, doubt that their pitchers have the command to "pitch to the shift."

My sense of this, which applies what the data says about hitters in professional ball (majors and minors) to amateur ball -- which may not be the wisest assumption to make -- is that those are not sound reasons to avoid shifting.

Point one: Almost all ground balls are pulled. It does not matter if it's a left-handed hitter or right-handed. Very few grounders go the other way. Balls hit the other way are almost always hit in the air -- line drives, popups or outfield flies.

And that's what the shift is for, ground balls. Line drives are likely to be hits regardless of defensive alignment (the batting average on line drives is over .750). Popups to the opposite field might test the range of that lone infielder, but they're still generally catchable. Outfield flies, the shift is irrelevant.

Conclusion: More shifts equal fewer ground-ball hits allowed.

Point two: That data comes without pitching to the shift. Logan Morrison (to drag a specific MLB example into this) doesn't try to hit where it's pitched. His approach is about launch angle -- get the ball in the air. Pitchers don't need to try to get him to pull the ball; they need to try to get him to hit it on the ground.

That's a different concept. Don't worry about in and out. If you get ground balls, they're going to pull.

Point three: These rules are universal enough that some MLB organizations employ blanket shifts all the way through their minor league systems. The book Big Data Baseball tells how the Pirates' farm director took short lengths of PVC pipe to their various minor league locales, drove them into the ground and told the infielders: You will play all left handed hitters here, all right handed hitters there, no exceptions allowed or tolerated.

Specific individual data? They don't need that. The general principle is enough to act on.

There is a fourth point, however, that does undermine the shift in amateur ball: Bunts. High school and college teams bunt more than pro teams do, often a lot more. You can shift on Morrison or Chris Davis of Baltimore with impunity; they might bunt once a year if that, and they just aren't very confident in that skill. That's probably not the case with high school and college teams.

Maybe that's enough to keep the shift from becoming as prevalent in amateur ball as in the pros.

Friday, July 13, 2018

No LoMo (for a few games)

Logan Morrison was placed on the disabled list Thursday; with the All Star break coming up, the slumper-slugger may miss only six games with what is described as chronic hip impingment.

The way he's played, we might wish it were more. He has a dismal slash line (.193/.287/.367) and has looked at least as bad afield when he's playing first base in Joe Mauer's stead.

That last may be deceiving. Morrison grades out in the metrics, at least as listed by Baseball Reference, as a slightly better than average first baseman. It may be that Mauer is so good that Morrison's flaws are glaringly obvious, or it may be that Morrison's miscues have been particularly costly and thus stand out in our memories.

But the biggest issue with Morrison is the bat. He simply hasn't hit. Part of it may be, again, bad luck -- he has lost a few "home runs" to Target Field's high right field wall, and his batting average on balls in play is a dismal .213. But it should also be noted that Morrison's 38-homer outburst in 2017 was markedly higher long-ball production than in his previous seasons.

Most of us thought the Twins had made a coup by signing Morrison late in spring training. It certainly hasn't worked out that way.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Contemplating Addison Reed

The Twins put Addison Reed on the disabled list (triceps) Wednesday and recalled Alan Busenitz from Triple A. This is at least the third call-up for Busenitz this year, maybe four. None have been for very long.

This is apparently Reed's first time on the DL, which is rather impressive for a hard-used reliever in this era. It probably ensures that he won't be traded this month, not that his pitching of late was making any contenders salivate at the thought of adding him.

Reed was supplanted weeks ago in the bullpen heirarchy as the primary set-up man by Trevor Hildenberger, which seemed plausible even after Reed's signing. Hildenberger had a rough spring training, I think in part because he was working on a breaking ball, and there was no question coming into the season that Paul Molitor trusted Reed more.

But that's changed. Reed's now allowed eight homers in 41 innings, and several of those long balls led directly to losses.

To a degree, heirarchy matters less than depth. Good teams need deep bullpens, the deeper the better. Whether as the primary eight-inning guy or a seven-inning guy or a strand-these-runners specialist, Reed was supposed to deepen the Twins 'pen. By the time he conceded that there was a problem affecting his pitching, he was unusable in game situations.  Now it's Busenitz's turn, at least for a while.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Taking stock

Jake Odorizzi stated the obvious the other day: The Twins have dug a deep enough hole for themselves that it isn't enough to win series. They need sweeps. They need a long winning streak.

Tuesday's loss to the punchless Kansas City Royals ended a five-game winning streak and contained way too many of the elements that have made 2018 a disappointment for the Twins:

  • A disasterously short start (this time by Aaron Slegers)
  • A baserunning blunder (Logan Morrison trying to turn a leadoff double into a triple down four runs)
  • A leaky bullpen (Addison Reed, who ballooned his ERA to 4.83)
  • A ninth-inning rally against mop-up relievers to make the final score look better.

Just a dreary, noncompetitive game. Just another in a season riddled with them.

Mike Berardino suggested in a game story during the weekend that the Twins might be able to move themselves out of the "seller" category before the nonwaiver trade deadline at the end of the month. Ken Rosenthal, as plugged into the web of trade rumors as anybody, said from the FS1 studio that the Twins were in wait-and-see mode -- talking trade but not yet ready to pull the trigger.

Games like Tuesday's should make the decision easier.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Gone and back

Ryan LaMarre, who made the Minnesota roster out of spring training, bounced up and down, got some regular playing time in center with Byron Buxton's rehab assignment/demotion and was finally waived by the Twins, was claimed by the Chicago White Sox.

I found LaMarre an easy player to root for, but that hardly overcomes his limitations as a ballplayer. He looked like a good defensive outfielder (the metrics didn't really agree), displayed little power at the plate and made too many baserunning mistakes. In that last he was hardly unique on this team. Jake Cave has a higher ceiling.

LaMarre was a fringe guy on the Twins. He'll be a fringe guy with the White Sox.


The Twins announced that Felix Jorge had been released and then re-signed to a minor league contract. 

The mechanics here are ... interesting, at least to me. Jorge was called up twice last season for spot starts and spent the offseason and much of season on the 40-man roster but sidelined by a triceps injury. The Twins DFA'd him at the start of the month to create a spot for Willians Astudillo.

So Jorge cleared waivers -- and then apparently, the Twins released him and re-signed him rather than outright him. The advantage for the Twins: If and when they decide to put him on the 40 again only to decide to take him off, he won't have the option of declaring free agency. He had that opportunity this time around.

This is probably all academic anyway, certainly in the short term. Jorge is a long way from being a factor for the big league club.


Closer to being a factor for the big league club: Ervin Santana is apparently expected to be restored to the Twins roster and rotation after the All-Star break. Barring a trade or injury involving somebody else, this is presumably not good news for Aaron Slegers.

A bit further away: Michael Pineda, signed to a two-year deal by the Twins last winter while he recovers from Tommy John surgery is slated to go on a rehab assignment later this month. He might get a month to six weeks in the major league rotation this year. I don't think the Twins were counting on that when they signed him.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Notes from the weekend

We learned Sunday that Jose Berrios made the All-Star team; "Dos Eddies" -- Rosario and Escobar -- did not, although Rosario is among the "final five" candidates of online voting.

I can't bring myself to be riled up about the so-called snub. There will be enough guys dropping off the roster to get one or both of the Eddies on the roster, and the Twins really don't deserve two All-Stars anyway.


The Twins swept the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, four games, and the O's are 24-65, an incredible 41 games under .500. I say that's incredible because the Birds, while flawed, have some significant talent (Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop).

And they have Buck Showalter as the manager, and I think he's really good at running a baseball team. The Orioles have been in contention in a difficult division more years than not since the (apparently uneasy) pairing of Dan Duquette and Showalter took over the operation. It's startling to see this team plummet so sharply to the bottom of the standings, especially since they are not among the tankers.

One problem for the Orioles going forward -- they have for some time made no real effort in the international market. It's not that they've tried and failed to make an impact in the Dominican, Venezuela and other hotbeds; they simply don't make any investment in that talent market and generally wind up trading away their international bonus allotment.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Pic of the Week

Didi Gregoius tries -- and fails -- to complete a double
play over Atlanta's Ender Inciarte on Wednesday.

I sometimes wonder what the large cadre of foreign players make of the obsentacious displays of patirotism major league baseball is given to.

Inciarte is from Venezuela. Gregoirus was born in Amsterdam and raised in Curaco; he is officially a knight in the Dutch order of Orange-Nassau.  Yet here both are, playing baseball in the United States while wearing gaudy stars-and-stripes accented duds.

Saturday, July 7, 2018


The Futures Game rosters came out Friday. The Twins, who have frequently had just one player named to the game, got the full complement of two this time around: outfielder Alex Kirilloff to the U.S. team, left-handed pitcher Lewis Thorpe to the World team.

Kirilloff's big season in A ball after missing 2017 to Tommy John surgery has gotten more attention than the progress shown by Thorpe, who is regaining the prospect luster lost during two seasons on the sidelines. The Aussie (who is on the 40-man roster) is posting his career best walk/strikeout ratio in Double A and has already faced a career high in hitters.


The issue of Baseball America that showed up in my mail box Friday contains BA's mid-season top 100 prospects list. The Twins have four names on the list:

SS Royce Lewis, No. 11
Kirilloff, No. 38
RHP Brustar Gratrol, No. 88
SS Nick Gordon, No. 96

Notable for his absence: Stephen Gonsalves. who has been near the end of the springtime Top 100's in 2017 and '18 (No. 97 this spring). That is presumably what waking six men per nine innings in Triple A will do for you. (Fernando Romero, while back in Triple A at the moment, worked more than 50 innings in his 10 starts and has "graduated" from prospect status.)


Roster note: The Twins activated Taylor Motter from the concussion DL and optioned him to Double A Chattanooga. So the "bench" now has Robbie Grossman, Willians Astudillo, Ehrie Adrianza and Bobby Wilson.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

It came down close to the deadline, but the Twins got all of their draft picks from the first 10 rounds signed. The last three, including College World Series hero Trevor Larnach, signed Thursday.

The wait on Larnach was because Oregon State's season went to the maximum; there was never any serious doubt that he would sign. A closer call, at least according to the people who cover the draft and prospects, was Charles Mack.

The other Thursday signing was Cole Sands, who also got a hefty slice over slot:

The Twins appear to have spent pretty much their entire draft allotment.


Aaron Slegers had a solid start Thursday -- one run in six innings, just 72 pitches. I'm not a big fan of the decision to pull him after just 22 hitters, but Addison Reed only gave up one homer, and the Twins won for once.

I saw no indication that he was returned to Triple A immediately after the game, so perhaps the shuffling in the fifth slot of the rotation is over for now. He could be in line for two more starts before the All-Star break.

This was Sleger's fourth major league start, but they've all been spot starts; he's not gotten a true taste of a major league rotation. Might as well give him a shot.

Of course, if -- as I expect -- the Twins move a veteran starter this month (Lance Lynn, cough, cough), there will be more activity with the rotation.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Turn the page. Please

If there was any question about the fate of the 2018 Twins, it was sealed on this just-completed misbegotten road trip (White Sox, Cubs, Brewers, one win in the nine games).

A goodly percentage of the final scores were competitive. The Twins too often didn't appear competitive.

My Twitter feed seems convinced that Paul Molitor's tenure as manager is pretty much over. I'm skeptical of that conclusion; it doesn't seem likely that Falvine would go from granting the skipper a three-year extension to dropping the ax in half a season.

And as for the cliche that you can't fire the players -- well, yes you can. That is, in a very real sense, what the trade deadline is for. I doubt that Molitor is a dead manager walking, but I have no doubt that a bunch of the veterans will be wearing different uniforms in short order.

And I am realistic about this. Lance Lynn has not had a good season by any measure. Jake Odorizzi has been less than I expected. As a fan, I'm quite willing to see both traded this month and their rotation spots taken by somebody from the Fernando Romero-Aaron Slegers-Zach Littell-Stephen Gonsalves etc. collection in the farm system.

But the upside to Slegers is that he might become Odorizzi. The upside to Romero is that he might become Lynn. Neither is to that level yet or maybe ever.

But I'm willing to find out. Yes, I am too frequently fascinated by bright shiny objects. But I am also frustrated by the failure of the proven veterans. Failure by the youngsters might at least be interesting.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Contemplating Zach Littell

Zach Littell went 19-1
while splitting 2017
across two levels,
two organizations
and three teams.
Zach Littell, who was called up earlier on Monday to shore up the overworked Twins bullpen, fared ill in the 10th inning Monday night. He allowed a single, hit a batter, and walked two -- the last with the bases loaded.

To be fair to him, had Jorge Polanco made a good throw home on the bases-loaded grounder the batter before that final out, the Twins might have gotten a double play, in which case that walk would have merely refilled the bases.

Still -- he walked in the winning run. Gotta make 'em hit the ball. And the Twins promptly returned him to Triple A, doubtless to contemplate the error of his ways.

Littell came to the Twins last summer (with lefty Dietrich Enns) when Minnesota flipped Jamie Garcia to the Yankees. He was called up earlier for a spot start, in which he walked four men in three innings and allowed six runs.

So now it's six walks (and a hit batter) in 3.6 big-league innings. This is, obviously, not good. It also contradicts Littell's minor league history. He's a strike-thrower, a "pitchability" guy with a varied repertoire but lacking one truly dominant offering.

That's the profile of a starter. And despite the poor first impression he's making in these initial one-and-done callups, he is may well get a longer opportunity as a starter later this summer if and when the Twins start unloading some of the veteran starters.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Notes from the weekend

That was a couple of ugly series the Twins played in Chicago, first losing two of three to the lowly Whtie Sox, then getting swept by the Cubs.

The Cubs are a quality team, or at least a quality lineup, and Wrigley Field in hot weather has long been known as a hitter's paradise, but what befell the Twins pitching staff was not acceptable.

The Monday print column this week is a (superficial) once-over on the most likely trade candidates on the Minnesota roster, written on Saturday before Lance Lynn laid his egg on Sunday. When I said in the column that Lynn and Jake Odorizzi would deepen the playoff rotation of most contenders, particularly in the National League, I had the Cubs in mind as one of those teams. (Also the Milwaukee Brewers, who the Twins play next.)

The Cubs have, however, seen a lot of Lynn in the past -- he spent his previous major league seasons toiling for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs division rival -- and he has not fared well in Wrigley. He certainly didn't Sunday. The carnage -- which included Lynn failing to cover first base -- pretty much wrecked the improvement he had made in his ERA over the past month.


The Twins DFA'd Felix Jorge over the weekend in the process of shuffling their roster (making room on the 40-man roster for Willians Astudillo).

Jorge made two appearances on the major league roster last season, but has been largely sidelined this year (just three innings, all at the bottom rung of the Twins stateside affliations.)

Assuming that at least one of the Twins veteran starters gets moved this month -- and I do so assume -- it seems safe to say that Jorge is not likely to benefit.


The Twins, beset by heat-related illnesses, finished Saturday's game with an outfield of Logan Morrison is left, Astudillo in center and Robbie Grossman in right.

Aaron Gleeman speculated on Twitter that that might be the worst defensive outfield in major league history. I have no idea how one might attempt to measure that, but it's certainly an alignment that would seem to be an invitation to triples.

I have a memory of attending a 1997 game in the Metrodome in which the Oakland A's started an outfield with Jason Giambi in left, Geronimo Berroa in center and Jose Canseco in right. However, a check of Baseball Reference's gamelogs suggest that never happened. Berroa didn't play any centerfield that year (or, apparently, ever). Giambi was the A's regular leftfielder that season (accommodating Mark McGwire at first base and Canseco, in his second go-around with Oakland, as the DH), and Berroa played a lot of right field before being traded in late June. Any outfield with two of those three in it was bound to be brutal afield.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Pic of the Week

The Baltimore Orioles marked the
press box seat for the Annapolis
paper with a memorial before Friday's
game. One of the murdered
reporters occasionally covered the O's.
You probably know that I work at a community newspaper. So I can identify with the people at the Annapolis newspaper -- those who were killed on Thursday and those who honored their slain colleagues by, as one said on Twitter, putting out the damn newspaper.

It didn't happen at the The Free Press. That doesn't mean it can't. We have certainly angered people with our coverage in the past, and I certainly hope we anger people in the future, because if we don't, we're not doing the work the way it should be done.