Thrift Shop: 3 Sneaky Finds by the Front Office
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn, USA TodayThrough two drafts and two deadlines worth of "sell" trades, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have netted a bounty of minor-league talent, supplementing the long-term pipeline. But the front office has also acquired more immediate help through low-key maneuvers
While these players aren't going to be stars, they could all bring real value for essentially no acquisition cost. Let's take a look at three current contributors of modest origins who may factor for years to come.
Jake Cave, OF: Acquired in March from NYY for RHP Luis Gil
The Twins took notice of Cave while scouting the Yankees system during trade discussions at the 2017 deadline. They ended up getting back two pitchers for Jaime Garcia at that time, but later snagged Cave via trade this spring when he landed on waivers.
Last summer, Cave was amidst a slugging breakout at Triple-A, hitting 15 home runs in 72 games after previously totaling 24 in 568 career contests.
"He made some adjustments that we thought led to the power surge that he had, and we think those will continue going forward," said Falvey when the Twins acquired Cave in March. So far, that assessment has proven astute.
The 25-year-old outfielder has launched a dozen home runs, which would've been a career-high before last year's 20. Six of those have come in the majors, including an absolutely majestic blast to straightaway center on Sunday that flashed his raw strength. Cave went to a part of Target Field only three have reached before: Jim Thome, Byungho Park, Miguel Sano.
Through 164 plate appearances in the big leagues, Cave has tallied 17 extra-base hits with a .480 slugging percentage – awfully impressive for a guy who slugged .398 through four minor-league seasons prior to 2017. As a semi-random comparison, Michael Cuddyer slugged .399 with 14 extra-base hits through his first 164 plate appearances in the majors.
The MLB sample size remains small, but Cave has looked very capable at the plate and he's also a strong runner – albeit not a burner – with the makings of an asset in the outfield. He's a bit stretched in center, and his rookie season has been marred by some painful defensive blunders, but that'll happen.
Given what the Twins risked to get Cave – Luis Gil, a 20-year-old righty currently at rookie ball in the Yankees system, and Kennys Vargas, who was DFA'd to make room but ended up back here anyway – the move looks like a slam dunk. Cave probably won't be a full-time starter but he can be a valuable bench piece or platoon mate, and the Twins control him through age 30.
Tyler Austin, 1B: Acquired in July from NYY along with RHP Luis Rijo for RHP Lance Lynn
Last offseason, one of Minnesota's top needs was a right-handed masher for the bench, to complement a predominantly left-handed lineup. It went unaddressed, and still existed when the Twins were able to bring Austin aboard in the Lance Lynn trade.
Scavenging 40-man casualties from one of baseball's best systems is a strategy that's now paid off in the form of multiple instantly productive power hitters. Austin was the odd bat out in a loaded mix for the Yankees, but offers a welcome infusion for Minnesota. Through eight games in the new uniform he already has three homers, a double, and six RBIs.
With 298 plate appearances under his belt, Austin has a .487 slugging percentage in the majors, and a 1.075 OPS against left-handed pitching. He's solid at first, and can play the outfield corners in a pinch. In others words, he's pretty much exactly what this offense needed – a gem of a find. And all the Twins had to do was expend four months, several groans, and a few million bucks on a non-performing malcontent.
Oliver Drake, RP: Acquired in August off waivers from TOR
We're dealing with small samples in all cases here, and Drake's is tinier than either of the above. So the praise here needs to be qualified with that. However... he has looked really, really good.
On Monday night, Drake ran his hitless streak as a Twin to 8 1/3 innings by tossing two perfect frames with four strikeouts. He has now averaged 10.1 K/9 rate as a big-leaguer – albeit with a 4.67 ERA and 1.48 WHIP – and his Triple-A numbers are immaculate: 1.80 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 12.7 K/9.
Much like lefty bullpen counterpart Gabriel Moya, Drake plays up his unspectacular fastball with a quirky delivery and standout offspeed pitch that give hitters fits. The 31-year-old has pitched for a record five different MLB teams this season, which speaks to his perceived expendability, but in a way, it also speaks to the opposite.
He's hardly entrenched already as a long-term bullpen cog, but Drake adds another very intriguing arm to the mix going forward. Like Cave and Austin, the Twins can control him very reasonably for a long time if they desire.
These sort of pickups aren't necessarily the flashiest, but they're crafty, and each could pay immense dividends as affordable components alongside those central building blocks in the sustainable winner Falvey envisions.
- hybridbear, d-mac, nclahammer and 2 others like this