Minor signings make impact
Sam Deduno put together the best start of his career on Wednesday night. Pitching against the Seattle Mariners, Deduno threw seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits. He struckout a career high nine batters. Most important, and probably most inexplicable, he walked no one. He improved to 5-2 and dropped his ERA to 3.72. To say he has been a pleasant surprise is quite the understatement.
Deduno was one of 14 players from outside the organization who signed minor league contracts and were invited to big league camp. Some of them did nothing, some have done a little, and some have proven to be terrific finds. A couple of them may even remain on the 40 man roster after this season. Here’s a quick look:
Jared Burton came to the Twins this spring after spending 2007 through 2011 with the Cincinnati Reds. He has had arm problems the last two years that cost him a lot of time. However, when hew as healthy, he was one of the Reds best late-inning relievers. For the Twins, Burton has been just that, a great late-inning option. In fact, with Matt Capps out, Burton even has a few saves. He has been very good and very consistent from Day Two (on Day One, he gave up two home runs, but since then, lights out!).
Casey Fien came from the Tigers organization. He got a couple of small cups of coffee with Detroit in 2009 and 2010. The Twins signed him and he was one of the final cuts of spring. He did alright with Rochester this spring, and just a few weeks before he was recalled, he really started throwing hard. That is the pitcher we have seen with the Twins, a hard-thrower. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, which is fun when he gets a big strikeout in an important situation, something he has managed to do with regularity.
PJ Walters will be an interesting case this offseason. He pitched alright in his first few starts with the Twins, even throwing a complete game shutout. He then had a couple of rough starts but it was found out that he was pitching with some pain. He was DL’d and is yet to return to the Twins. Did he show enough in his seven starts with the Twins to keep him around and give him another shot at a 5th starter gig?
Sam Deduno is so intriguing to me. Even when he was at his wildest, it was clear that he had tremendous stuff. My question was always, could the 29 year old find a way to bring his walk rate down to 4 or 4.5 per nine innings as opposed to the 7-8 walks per nine innings we saw early. With his natural pitch movement and great stuff, if he could harness even a little control, he would have a chance to be terrific. We saw an example of what that could look like on Wednesday night, and for my money, I would like to see more!
Luis Perdomo signed with the Twins after seeing some big league time with the Padres in 2009 and 2010. The Bearded One was sent back to AA to start the season, and as you would hope, he dominated there. He was promoted to AAA Rochester, where he was again very good. He struggled with his control with the Twins, something he did not do in Rochester where he has a 24:5 strikeout to walk rate. The 28 year old is likely to come off of the 40 man roster, but it would be good to try to keep him in the organization.
Matt Carson is a professional. When he was signed, reports raved about the type of person he is, how hard he works and how teammates respond to him. He also is a guy who regularly hits 20-30 home runs a season. He has had another solid season in AAA Rochester this year, hitting .282/.347/.457 (.804) with 28 doubles and 14 home runs. It was nice to see the guy get an opportunity with the Twins a couple of weeks ago, and it’s possible we will see him again in September. He will most likely be removed from the 40 man following the season.
Sean Burroughs started the season with the Twins but it wasn’t long before he was DFAd. He was a nice story in 2011 when he resurfaced in the big leagues for the first time since 2006. He is a solid hitter and did alright for Rochester. Unfortunately, he has not played in a couple of months with a back injury.
Wilkin Ramirez was a top prospect of the Tigers several years ago and was with the Braves in 2011. Still just 26 years old, Ramirez still has the talent to be a big leaguer if presented an opportunity. He managed to get hurt in spring training and missed a lot of time early in the year. He began his rehab in Ft. Myers, then crushed the ball in New Britain for a couple of weeks. He moved up to Rochester where he has been a little inconsistent, but he has been one of the top hitters in AAA the last three weeks.
Frankly, most minor league free agent signings don’t surface back into the big leagues, so this is the category where most will be. To have so many names above this point is impressive.
Lefty Aaron Thompson was busted early in the season for 50 games for testing positive for a PED. He served his time and has pitched for New Britain since. He started and recently was moved to the bullpen. He’s left-handed and still just 25 years old, so he’s worth trying to keep around if they can. He pitched in four games for the Pirates in 2011.
Brad Thompson was a big part of the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen in 2006 when they won the World Series. He was a good pitcher with a live arm. Unfortunately, he has been a bit of a journeyman the last couple of years. The Twins signed him this spring knowing he had missed part of 2010 and all of 2011 after Tommy John surgery. It didn’t pan out for Thompson as he struggled through a few appearances in New Britain.
Daryl Thompson went 1-5 in nine starts for the Red Wings before being released. He had pitched previously with the Reds in 2008 and 2011. He is 26 years old and didn’t latch on with another team after being released.
Brendan Wise is a strike-throwing righty from Australia who signed with the Twins after years in the Tigers organization. The last two seasons, pitching in AAA Rochester, Wise had compiled season ERAs of 2.08 and 1.90. This year in Rochester, he posted an ERA of 5.64 before being put on the Disabled List a month ago.
JR Towles was a guy that people wanted to take Drew Butera’s spot as the #3 catcher in the organization. Although he had done nothing in the big leagues from 2008 through 2011, he had put up encouraging AAA numbers. This year in Rochester, he hit .211/.271/.317 and has played only 50 games for various reasons.
Jason Bulger put together a big league career that spanned 2005 with Arizona and then 2006 through 2011 with the Angels. He had a lot of big league success and some good strikeout numbers. He came to spring training and showed nothing in big league camp. It wasn’t long before the Twins just released him. He signed with the Yankees and has pitched for their AAA affiliate all season. He has 21 walks and 28 strikeouts in 34.1 innings for Empire State.
Steve Pearce is an interesting case. He was a draft choice of the Twins early last decade and he signed with the Twins. He went to spring training but was hurt early, didn’t play much, didn’t fit in and the Twins released him. He signed with the Yankees and played in AAA. The Orioles bought him from the Yankees in June and he spent some time with their big league club. The Astros claimed him when he was put on waivers in July. And last week, the Astros traded him to the Yankees to help them at 1B while Mark Teixeira is hurt. He’s always hit left-handed pitching well.
So there you have it. A lot of Twins fans are pretty down on the team right now, and that’s understandable. Some are always looking for the negative regardless of the situation and choose to only look at the mistakes. But, I just believe that if we’re going to focus on the mistakes, we also need to look at the successes. Credit is due this year to those individuals in the front office who picked out and signed so many effective minor league free agents. It isn’t often noticed, but these are important signings for the organization.
It also says a lot about where the Twins are right now. Normally, a team may see one or two of their minor league free agents come up and contribute. It’s telling that the Twins have had to count on so many minor league free agents. But that shouldn’t take away from those people who did their due diligence and brought in a nice group of minor league free agents. Whoever they may be.