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Minnesota Twins Patience with Prospects Frustrating, but Effective

Posted by Tom Schreier , 18 August 2015 · 2,537 views

minnesota twins terry ryan brian dozier glen perkins trevor plouffe
I understand the frustration, and the patience that needs to be shown, but it's the way [it works].
-- Twins GM Terry Ryan on being patient with prospects, 8/14/15

All Minnesota Twins fans wanted on Friday night was Jose Orlando Berrios to make his first major league start. The 21-year-old pitcher was rated the 36th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America before this season. He is almost six years younger than his competition in Triple-A, owns a sub-3.5 ERA and his 1.105 WHIP have statheads in a tizzy.
For six innings the vox populi was right: Berrios was cruising through the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders like a stapler through reams of paper. But in the seventh inning he got stuck, giving up six hits and four earned runs without recording an out. “We're trying to win games,” Ryan stated on Wednesday why Duffey got the call over Berrios, “and Berrios is certainly on a good track here, and doing a nice job, but the other kid is probably a little bit more prepared for this arena right now than Berrios.” He and his scouts were right -- it’s as simple as that. At least for that night.
The Twins took a calculated risk by not bringing up Berrios, who was scheduled to start on a night where Trevor May, an erstwhile starter converted to a bullpen arm, made an emergency start and could only throw 50 pitches that night. J.R. Graham, the expected reliever to come in after May, was not at his best against the Cleveland Indians, and the rest of the bullpen had to be used to finish up the game in the final series before an important road trip to New York, Baltimore and Tampa Bay that might determine whether or not Minnesota makes the playoffs this season.
Tyler Duffey was throwing the next night, his second career start, and had just been shelled by a mighty Toronto Blue Jays team that supplemented their roster at the trade deadline by bringing in the likes of Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. If Duffey faltered against an Indians team that was projected to win the World Series this year -- but admittedly have fallen short of that prognostication -- Shane Robinson might be called upon again to break out that trusty knuckleball of his.
Instead, things went rather well for the plucky Twins. Duffey took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on short rest and earned another start in Baltimore. Twins management looked smart, and the cries for Berrios were silenced for the night. “I try to be greedy,” said Molitor after the homestand, admitting that there was a different feeling in the clubhouse after a rough start to the second half of the season. “The Texas game we had a chance, but overall you take 4-2.”
It’s easy to get frustrated with the Twins: They are probably the most conservative organization in the league, and yet when they have taken risks, it hasn’t worked out. Some of it was in their control, and some of it wasn’t. Aaron Hicks wasn’t ready for major league pitching when he was called up. Byron Buxton got hurt. Kyle Gibson was inconsistent. Trevor Plouffe took a while to find a place on the field. Brian Dozier couldn’t cut it as a shortstop. And Glen Perkins struggled as a starter.
And yet Hicks is beginning to establish himself as a leadoff hitter a year after he dropped switch-hitting on a whim. Buxton didn’t choose to get injured, obviously. Gibson got off to a strong start in the first half of the season, and at the very least is a good major league pitcher. Plouffe has made drastic improvements defensively at third base and can hit for power. Dozier made the All-Star team as a second baseman this year; Perkins as a closer. Only Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano have come into the league and looked like bona fide stars right away, although the same thing can be said of Kennys Vargas, Danny Santana and Oswaldo Arcia, and all three of them are in the minors right now. Player development takes time, and fans don’t want to wait around -- especially after four years of losing.
Hicks appears to have made the biggest turnaround. He was batting .040 as a leadoff hitter when he was first called up and ended his rookie season below the Mendoza Line. A year ago he gave up hitting on the left side; now he’s batting around .300 with power while getting on base, allowing Dozier, Mauer and the core of the Twins lineup to drive him in. He’s the player he was supposed to be when he was selected in the first round of the 2008 draft. “I wouldn't call it exceeding expectations,” Molitor said recently. “There's not a lot of people in the organization that gave up hope on him despite the fact that he came up here and had a couple opportunities and didn't take advantage [of them].”
But Hicks is far from the only Twins player to have a massive turnaround as he entered his mid-20’s. Dozier’s rookie season was considered “disastrous.” Perkins filed a grievance against the team in 2009 after he was demoted to Triple-A coming off an injury; now he has a corner locker in the clubhouse. Plouffe looked like a he was in no-man’s land after it was determined that he would not be a major league shortstop. “This is a difficult game to play, that's the one thing,” says Ryan, speaking of Berrios in particular, but arguably he could be speaking of any young prospect. “When you're 20 or 21 trying to compete against these guys that have been around for five or six years up here and have done well.”
While he would like players to make the team and stick in the majors at age 22 or 23, he knows that 25 or 26 is more realistic, as most of the league’s stars are at their best from 25 to 32. Many fans want to give up on them before that, and to be fair, most organizations do, too. A lot of teams would have given up on Hicks, Dozier or Perkins, and the Twins are better off because they didn’t.
If the Twins have one edge over either the savvier (Rays, A’s) or spendier (Yankees, Dodgers) clubs it is their patience. They are not going to have a massive payroll because they don’t have a massive TV deal like the Yankees, Dodgers or even the Cardinals, and they get pilloried for spending anyways. Ricky Nolasco got hurt and likely won’t return this year. Ervin Santana was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. Joe Mauer suffered a concussion, removing him from behind the plate, and now doesn’t possess much power for a first baseman and has become a sub-.300 hitter as teams have begun to shift on him and pitch him more effectively.
Money doesn’t solve problems; good management does, and the Twins know this. By erecting Target Field, largely with taxpayer money, they have essentially became a draft-and-develop team that will keep its prospects -- or at least should. They did that with Mauer, and unfortunately injuries are always a risk, especially with a catcher. Hopefully his move to first base and loss of offensive production does not deter the Twins from locking up the likes of Hicks, Sano and Rosario when the time comes. Torii Hunter never should have been allowed to leave, that much is obvious now. The same mistake can’t be with the next generation of stars -- not in the Target Field era. A draft-and-develop team that doesn’t retain its prospects is a glorified farm team, and St. Paul didn’t build CHS Field with the Twins in mind.
If you look at the 2015 Minnesota Twins, almost every player in the field is homegrown. The pitching staff is a different story, and the team’s inability to produce quality starters over the years has hurt them: It led to over $100 million being spent on outside help, something Ryan said “isn’t exactly the blueprint that we had in mind,” when he signed Ervin Santana in the offseason.
But look at the outfield: Rosario, Hicks and Hunter all came up through the system, and Buxton is expected to take over at center in the near future. The three mainstays in the infield are also Twins draft picks: Plouffe at third, Dozier at second and Mauer at first, and Sano could eventually take over for Plouffe at the hot corner.
The two missing positions are shortstop and catcher, of course, which could have been J.J. Hardy (raised in the Brewers farm system) and Wilson Ramos (another homegrown product). Then again, at the time he was traded it looked like Hardy was injury prone, and there didn’t seem to be much need for Ramos with Mauer behind the plate and Minnesota in win-now mode. On the flip side, patience would have yielded better results in both cases.
Regardless of if the Twins make the postseason this year, they have, in short order, turned from a team focused on developing players to one that has playoffs on their mind. That doesn’t mean they won’t have prospects in their system, but they can’t wait around for them to develop anymore, lest they risk wasting the primes of their star players. Prospects will soon be traded for holes on the major league roster, but let us not forget, had the Twins not been patient up until this point, they would have far more needs than they have right now.
In some ways, it’s a luxury that they didn’t have to call up Berrios before he was ready. One that, if they are doing things right, they should have for years to come.
Cold Omaha is moving to the KQ92 and 93X websites this week because 105 The Ticket has changed formats.
Follow me (@tschreier3) or the Cold Omaha group (@ColdOmahaMN) for more updates.

  • Platoon likes this

There doesn't seem to be a formula or a blueprint for bringing up youth. Some fail out of the box (Hicks), and some later, (Vargas). But they all seem to need multiple rotations through Rochester. Right now Sano and Rosario appear to be the golden children. As did Arcia, Santana, and Vargas previously. But there is no guarantee that won't change next year. Few care to remember that it wasn't too long ago, that Brian Dozier was the Danny Santana of his class!
Of course there is no way to prove if keeping Berrios in the minors was the right thing for him or the team. You can't go back and redo things after the fact. I'm in the camp that the Twins tend to focus too much on young players flaws and not enough on their strengths. This means they keep marginal veterans around instead of promoting from within and we never really know what some of these guys would do if given a chance sooner.
    • theJemmer likes this
Tom Schreier
Aug 19 2015 07:27 AM


The only blueprint I see is they bring up position players quickly and pitchers at a slower pace. I think it's natural for position players to bounce between Triple-A and the majors for a bit before they get it -- that's just player development. All you want to do is make sure they don't really bite it like Hicks did when he first came up.



I'd like to see Pelfrey in the bullpen, but I don't think that would happen. Otherwise the rotation is full of good players or ones with potential: Hughes, Gibson, May (when he goes back), Santana. Milone might be the marginal veteran, but I think they just want to have a lefty in there. Pelf is gone after this year.

With guys like Santana and Nolasco, you have to use them because they're being paid so much. Hopefully Nolasco is better when healthy, but Santana is a wild card because his durability might have come as a result of PED use.

You seem to be forgetting or ignoring the obvious, The Twins needed two starters: one for Friday and one for Saturday. Berrios AND Duffey. That was the obvious choice.