Looking Back at How Derek Falvey & Co. Have Transformed the Twins
Image courtesy of © Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY SportsArrival and reputations
Falvey was hired away from the Cleveland organization. He came up as an international scout before occupying a variety of roles in baseball operations. In his time in Cleveland, Falvey developed a reputation as a keen baseball mind with an eye for pitching in an organization featuring Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber, two of the top 15 starting pitchers in baseball.
When Cleveland acquired Kluber from the Padres, he was not among the organizations top 30 prospects. Kluber transformed from a Double-A pitcher to a Cy Young winner in four years, and has continued to dominate to the tune of 28.9 fWAR since the beginning of the 2014 season.
Thad Levine came to the Twins from the Texas Rangers, part of a formidable front office duo with GM Jon Daniels for 11 seasons. Levine, similarly to Falvey, oversaw Texas’ international scouting department, assembling one of the stronger systems in the majors (until the Rangers dismantled it in a variety of trades in their window of contention).
The duo’s arrival came with a wave of excitement. They were young, modern, analytical. A welcome change of pace for a Twins organization badly in need of a facelift.
Dream start and June draft
Falvey and Lavine stumbled into a dream scenario for any new front office: incredibly low expectations and a No. 1 overall pick. They took over an organization coming off a 103-loss season with a promising core of young players breaking into the majors.
Approaching the June draft, there was no consensus No. 1, although Hunter Greene was heavily favored. High school lefty MacKenzie Gore, two-way college star Brendan McKay, and Vanderbilt ace Kyle Wright were also in the mix.
Instead, the new front office duo selected Royce Lewis, a wiry high school SS out of California, with endless tools and a makeup which drew rave reviews. Lewis agreed to sign under slot, Falvey and Levine spent their savings on Blayne Enlow, a HS pitcher committed to LSU, sporting one of the best curveballs in the draft.
Lewis, to date, has looked every part the No. 1 overall pick. In his second professional season, he already made it to High-A Fort Myers, and appears to be on track to becoming a superstar.
The addition of Enlow followed a recent trend of teams signing their top picks under slot to add higher-level talent at the top of their draft boards. While Enlow’s performance has been slightly underwhelming so far, he’s still just 19. More important, it’s indicative of a new direction and approach by the front office, one predicated on buying as many proverbial lottery tickets as possible, an approach that foreshadowed the trade deadline fire-sale the Twins hoped they would not have to engage in at the 2018 trade deadline.
The Twins also added college bat Brent Rooker in the 2017 draft. The former college slugger bashed 22 home runs and sported a wRC+ of 124 at Double A, and looks set to make his big-league debut in the near future.
Upon taking the reigns at Target Field, Falvey began the task of beefing up the Twins front office and analytics department, adding heavy hitter after heavy hitter to the Twins front office. New hires included Daniel Adler (Director of Baseball Operations), Josh Kalk (Senior Analyst, Baseball Research and Development), former editor in chief of Baseball America John Manuel, and supreme techno-nerd Hans Van Slooten (most famous previously for his work in developing the Baseball Reference interface).
It’s a fascinating list of well-known sporting experts, and while it’s impossible to know the impact and synergy their work brings to the organization, it made another prong of Falvey’s plan crystal clear: Attract as many of the smartest minds as possible to the organization to build institutional knowledge and innovation.
Offseason of opportunity
After a surprise 2017 postseason berth in which the Yankees (as they are wont to do) pulled the Twins playoff ejector seat button, Minnesota had the type of active offseason that rendered even the most curmudgeonly fan unable to complain about the ‘cheap Pohlads’ any longer.
In the winter prior to the 2018 season, the Twins added Addison Reed, Zach Duke, Fernando Rodney, Logan Morrison, and Lance Lynn to the club. For a Twins team in need of bullpen stability, extra pop, and a reliable mid-rotation starter, fans were understandably excited, and rightly so.
It appeared the front office had capitalized on a slow moving free agent market by signing a number of high quality additions to short-term commitments. This premise of course, was predicated on their free agent acquisitions replicating (or coming close to) their 2017 performances.
Rodney and Duke provided solid value, while Lynn, Morrison and Reed struggled in 2018, with the latter two combining for a -1.0 fWAR. With the benefit of hindsight, the Twins had a high-quality offseason, making additions that should have boosted the performance of the club more significantly. The willingness of the front office to be opportunistic in a slow market was a refreshing change of pace for Twins fans used to tuning out of free agent signing during the winter months.
Boy, has this conversation become more interesting over the last week.
Through the 2018 season, the front office has appeared to have an approach to the management of the big-league roster that does not mirror the progressiveness with which they operate the rest of the organization.
They have often favored playing time and roster spots for veterans with little value (Matt Belisle) over evaluating existing organizational talent in the higher levels of the Twins minor league affiliates. This has been underscored in September.
Nick Anderson has pitched 60 innings for AAA Rochester this season, in that time, he has accrued 88 Ks and an xFIP of 2.49. No September callup. Jake Reed put together a 9.44 K/9 and 2.96 FIP in 47.2 innings for Rochester this season. No September callup. The point here is not that Anderson or Reed are slam dunk big league options for the Twins, more that it seems preferable to determine (or begin to determine) their big-league ceiling in a lost season, as opposed to a new one in 2019. Why sacrifice an initial opportunity for experience at the major league level for veterans like Belisle who don’t figure to be in the Twins plans in 2019 and beyond?
The news that Byron Buxton was not to be among the Twins September callups was in stark contrast to the previous actions of a front office grounded in a strong organizational direction and attempting to foster its core of talented young players.
While it’s true that in Sano and Buxton, the Twins still have unproven quantities between injuries and poor performance, the front office took advantage of Buxton’s injury-plagued 2018 to manipulate an extra year of service time from their young center fielder. Thad Levine essentially admitted the front office play in a later interview, in which he described a need to ‘make amends’ to Buxton. If such a need exists, there’s a strong chance you screwed someone over. That’s a tremendous risk to take with Buxton himself, and given the fact that exactly none of the Twins young players are signed to long term extensions.
Draft part two
The Twins found themselves in a different position entering the 2018 draft. After a surprise playoff berth, Minnesota owned the 20th pick. The Twins elected to select another powerful college bat, adding recent College World Series champ Trevor Larnach of Oregon State. Minnesota followed that selection up with college catcher Ryan Jeffers, a player many analysts felt was over-drafted at 59 overall by the Twins. Both hitters have thrived at two professional levels in 2018. Larnach has managed a .303/.390/.500 line with five HR and 14 more XBH in his first 42 professional games. Jeffers has also thrived, with a .344/.444/.502 line with seven HR in his first 64 professional games. Both selections seem to be promising hitters moving through the Twins MiLB system at pace.
With the Twins out of contention approaching the trade deadline, the front office wisely began to sell off impending free agents to acquire more talent in an already deep farm system. Falvey and Levine traded away Eduardo Escobar, Ryan Pressly, Brian Dozier, Lance Lynn, Zach Duke, and later, Fernando Rodney.
While certain trades (like Dozier) resulted in a predictably unexciting return, the Twins netted some genuinely exciting prospects, particularly Jhoan Duran from the Diamondbacks, and Jorge Alcala from the Astros. Both are high velocity arms, Duran struck out 115 in 100 2/3 MiLB innings in 2018, while Alcala struck out 104 in 99 1/3 IP. The Twins didn’t have a huge amount of trade deadline leverage, so adding five prospects to their top 30 (MLB.com) seems like a solid return
Extensions and organizational direction
While the front office has worked hard to amass significant depth of talent throughout the minor leagues, they will undoubtedly be evaluated by their ability (or not) to lock up some of their outstanding young players.
Throughout the winter, it was reported they offered extensions to some combination of Rosario, Buxton, Kepler, and Berrios. While their failure to sign any of them thus far is not a disaster, one wonders whether the Buxton fiasco will adversely impact their ability to do so.
It’s worth remembering that not all front office decisions are created equal. Few, for example, have more significance for the future of the organization than their number one overall pick in 2017. In terms of simple talent acquisition, the front office has done an outstanding job through the draft, trade deadline, and even leveraging their international spending money creatively.
The front office also appears to have a clearer organizational direction, acquiring lots of high velocity arm talent and high-power upside college bats. While Twins fans can be excited by these developments, their clumsy handling of Byron Buxton casts some doubt on their ability to lock up a core central to the Twins maintaining an extended window of contention.
- DocBauer likes this