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  • Prognosticating: 2014 Rock Cats Opening Day Lineup

    It's one thing to predict an Opening Day lineup after things begin to shake out in Spring Training. It's another to do it a full month before pitchers and catchers arrive. So in the spirit of good fun, what follows is my January 26, 2014 prediction for the New Britain Rock Cats' Opening Day lineup.

    The first several spots in my batting order pack a little punch. Between guys like Byron Buxton and Danny Santana that hit and have speed, and guys like Miguel Sano and Kennys Vargas (throw in C.J. Ziegler, too) with power, this is an offense that should score some runs. Danny Ortiz and Matt Koch are no slouches, either!

    Predicting the Opening Day starter is more or less impossible. Part of me wants to say Alex Meyer. I don't think there's any way he's joining the Twins to begin 2014, but the real question is whether his injury-plagued 2013 regular season temporarily stunted him. In other words, I tend to think that both Meyer and Miguel Sano could start in New Britain, but would be eligible to be promoted after just a month or so. If he's in New Britain, Meyer should be the Opening Day starter.

    However, I'm going to predict that Meyer will join Trevor May and start 2014 at AAA Rochester. Instead, I think D.J. Baxendale, who was unstoppable at High-A Ft. Myers, but struggled considerably in New Britain, will get the nod. This is a big year for him.
    Originally published at Twins Fan From Afar

    1. Byron Buxton (CF)
    2. Danny Santana (SS)
    3. Miguel Sano (3B)**
    4. Kennys Vargas (DH)
    5. C.J. Ziegler (1B)
    6. Daniel Ortiz (LF)
    7. Mike Kvasnicka (RF)
    8. Matt Koch (C)
    9. Levi Michael (2B)

    Pitcher: D.J. Baxendale


    **This particular pick involves a little of my own personal bias. Part of the bias is that I want to see him play a few more games at AA because, well, that's where I watch baseball games. The other part is my opinion (admittedly, not a scout's opinion) of his play last summer. There was still work to be done on defense, and I really want to see him become even more willing to take a walk (I recall several at-bats where he'd swing at a questionable -- not hitters -- 3-and-1 pitch, when it very likely would have been ball 4).

    Can he make those improvements during Spring Training and at AAA? Certainly. Is there a little less stress for him to do it in New Britain? Perhaps. Finally, his health is still a question. Yes, all indications are that his elbow is in much better shape, but I'm not ready to believe that until I see him in the field throwing bullets to first base without effort. I'll be happy with any decision, aside from sending him to Minnesota to begin the season.

    In the end, I bet I'm about half right on the players. Buxton, Vargas, Ziegler, Ortiz, Koch, Michael, seem locks.

    So, where do you think I was right, and where'd I go wrong?
    This article was originally published in blog: Prognosticating: 2014 Rock Cats Opening Day Lineup started by Twins Fan From Afar
    Comments 14 Comments
    1. beyondclarity's Avatar
      beyondclarity -
      Agree entirely, especially on Sano. There is no reason to push him to AAA yet, plus, why not let he and Buxton spend some time together.
    1. lightfoot789's Avatar
      lightfoot789 -
      I like your lineup. I think guys like JD Williams and Dalton Hicks will be up in New Britian before July as well - along with several of the 2013 Cedar Rapids guys. Then the question becomes where do the guys on your list go? Do guys in AAA get released or do guys in AA get released to make room for some of these higher ranked lower level prospects?

      What is gained if Sano doesn't tear up AA? Do you now leave him there or do you eventually move him to AAA just because? I say move him to AAA and let him struggle and adjust throughout 2014 or until he needs to move up (MLB). IMO

      How does AAA differ from AA in terms of pitching and hitter expectations?
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      I think Sano's spring with the big club will determine which roster he gets sent to. If he's doing well: AAA. If he has struggles: AA.

      But, despite the low-average at New Britain compared to Fort Myers, he still was punishing baseballs. Giancarlo Stanton had pretty much the same type of season in 2009 at A+ and AA, and came back to punish AA the next year, earning his callup and bypassing AAA entirely. I could see this scenario with Sano too, so if he's mashing, his promotion is going to be to the Twins no matter what level he starts at.
    1. SgtSchmidt11's Avatar
      SgtSchmidt11 -
      I guess I don't really care where Sano is sent since the difference between AAA and AA is not that big. But I would love to go to a game with Sano, Buxton, and Meyer. That would be pretty cool.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      1. Byron Buxton (CF)
      2. Danny Santana (SS)
      3. Miguel Sano (3B)
      4. Kennys Vargas (DH)
      5. C.J. Ziegler (1B)
      6. Daniel Ortiz (LF)
      7. Mike Kvasnicka (RF)
      8. Matt Koch (C)
      9. Levi Michael (2B)

      Pitcher: D.J. Baxendale
      The ones in bold better start at AAA. The ones underlined, could be release candidates, but I don't think that they will give up on Michael quite yet. Danny Santana spent a full season at AA (as did Danny Ortiz) and he has to get promoted. He is on the 40 man roster. Bartlett or not Bartlett.

      As far as Sano goes, the trick is the elbow. If the elbow is fine, he might actually be challenging for a spot in the majors. Cannot toss him all the way to AA again.
      I'd flip Vargas and Ziegler because one of them is a prospect and the other is not. Vargas needs reps at 1B.

      Spot on on Baxendale
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Just saw that this became an article. Thanks for the comments!
      Thry, I agree that both the underlined guys may be release candidates, but Levi will get a full season to prove whether he can play at this level.

      My thinking on Danny Santana: yes, he can hit for average and has speed. Things to work on include defense and taking a walk every now and then. So there's some work left to be done in the minors. Could be at either AA or AAA. Do I think he deserves a promotion? Probably. But I think James Beresford will get steady playing time at AAA, as he has something to prove this spring, too.

      So I put Santana in the same camp as a Sano/Meyer: if they happen to start in AA, it might just be 4-5 weeks before they're gone. But all could easily start in AAA.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Twins Fan From Afar View Post
      Just saw that this became an article. Thanks for the comments!
      Thry, I agree that both the underlined guys may be release candidates, but Levi will get a full season to prove whether he can play at this level.

      My thinking on Danny Santana: yes, he can hit for average and has speed. Things to work on include defense and taking a walk every now and then. So there's some work left to be done in the minors. Could be at either AA or AAA.

      Do I think he deserves a promotion? Probably.

      But I think James Beresford will get steady playing time at AAA, as he has something to prove this spring, too.

      So I put Santana in the same camp as a Sano/Meyer: if they happen to start in AA, it might just be 4-5 weeks before they're gone. But all could easily start in AAA.
      Beresford is going to be a utility player if he makes it all. I can easily envision a greater sense of urgency on getting Santana up to AAA sooner rather than later, and until Rosario is reinstated, the MI would be pretty thin on legit prospects at New Britain. Why not Aderlin Mejia playing 2nd? With Levi Michael given one last shot at SS? I really want the decks clear for Goodrum to move up to Fort Myers to keep him on the upward trajectory.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      One...

      Santana or not...and well, even if Sano or not (90% sure he's there to start), it's definitely going to be fun to catch some Rock Cat games. Envious there.


      I imagine Santana will likely go to whichever place (NB or Roch) that has a chance for him to play everyday SS. That said, he did plenty well at AA (.297/.333/.386) to warrant a jump to AAA. Terry Ryan seems high on him as well. Though, he and Radcliffe maybe just like Shortshops with the recent news on Engelb Vielma. Not to say TR likes Vielma there.


      Polanco likely starts at A+...what if he's raking it? Will he continue to get time at SS? What aif he's ready for AA by June/July.

      AAA doesn't offer much more than AA, in fact, it's usually lower velocity, more control type of players. Very few 'prospects' spend more than a month or two in AAA. So sure, there's craftier pitchers, but I would say the level of the stuff may even be lower. And definitely by late July when anyone who's done well in AAA is likely called up to the bigs.
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsfan34 View Post
      One...

      Santana or not...and well, even if Sano or not (90% sure he's there to start), it's definitely going to be fun to catch some Rock Cat games. Envious there.


      I imagine Santana will likely go to whichever place (NB or Roch) that has a chance for him to play everyday SS. That said, he did plenty well at AA (.297/.333/.386) to warrant a jump to AAA. Terry Ryan seems high on him as well. Though, he and Radcliffe maybe just like Shortshops with the recent news on Engelb Vielma. Not to say TR likes Vielma there.


      Polanco likely starts at A+...what if he's raking it? Will he continue to get time at SS? What aif he's ready for AA by June/July.

      AAA doesn't offer much more than AA, in fact, it's usually lower velocity, more control type of players. Very few 'prospects' spend more than a month or two in AAA. So sure, there's craftier pitchers, but I would say the level of the stuff may even be lower. And definitely by late July when anyone who's done well in AAA is likely called up to the bigs.
      Great comments, especially the last point. I've wondered (here, on twitter, and other places) how much better a decent organization's AAA team is than its AA team, at any given time. It's more of a "food for thought" thing, but is worth thinking about. You're right -- elite players usually spend much more time at AA than at AA. I expect we'll see that with Sano and Buxton. I'd throw Mauer in there, too.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Good stuff. I don't get why Sano should be in AA. Heck, there are MLB players with stuff to work on. I don't get how keeping him farther from MN helps him. And I certainly don't get how it helps MN. I also don't agree with the myth that AA pitchers are better. AAA is filled with 5th -7th starter types. AA is filled with guys that will never make the majors, aren't AAAA quality, and aren't AAA quality.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      I'm kind of with mike on the pitching thing. Sure, some in AA rotations may have higher ceilings than most AAA pitchers, but from #1-5 in a rotation, I can't imagine too many AA rotations match up with their AAA counterparts in an organization in terms of current ability to get batters out. Seems to me that AA starters are still largely in the development stage, while AAA starters are refining their skills and organizations have them on speed-dial in case there's a need at the MLB level. Hitters seem unlikely to see that kind of pitching day in and day out at AA.

      I'd be OK with Sano starting the season at AA because I don't feel like he totally overmatched the pitching there last year. But I do think he could benefit from spending time at AAA before he gets called up to the Twins.
    1. AM.'s Avatar
      AM. -
      So who will be in the Rock Cats' starting rotation behind Baxendale?
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Good stuff. I don't get why Sano should be in AA. Heck, there are MLB players with stuff to work on. I don't get how keeping him farther from MN helps him. And I certainly don't get how it helps MN. I also don't agree with the myth that AA pitchers are better. AAA is filled with 5th -7th starter types. AA is filled with guys that will never make the majors, aren't AAAA quality, and aren't AAA quality.
      Yea, I think you guys are right about the pitching. Every AAA team probably has a few guys like Andrew Albers, Cole DeVries, etc. Fringe guys. I think you might be more likely to face a top pitching prospect at AA, because they usually spend more time at that level, but on balance the competition has to be higher at AAA.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      mike wants wins

      Good stuff. I don't get why Sano should be in AA. Heck, there are MLB players with stuff to work on. I don't get how keeping him farther from MN helps him. And I certainly don't get how it helps MN. I also don't agree with the myth that AA pitchers are better. AAA is filled with 5th -7th starter types. AA is filled with guys that will never make the majors, aren't AAAA quality, and aren't AAA quality.

      Yea, I think you guys are right about the pitching. Every AAA team probably has a few guys like Andrew Albers, Cole DeVries, etc. Fringe guys. I think you might be more likely to face a top pitching prospect at AA, because they usually spend more time at that level, but on balance the competition has to be higher at AAA.


      Hmmm...it's probably pretty close, but I would guess that AA pitching is tougher than AAA pitching. I think you'll find a lot of pitch to contact, better control guys throwing 85-91 mph guys at AAA. You probably won't find many guys throwing 98 MPH or have a knee buckling curve at AAA for very long. As if they were to be there for any given period of time, they'll likely become a RP (less likely to see - maybe 1 AB a game) and then they'll be up in MLB before long.

      One thing though, if you ask MLB players you will find is that MLB players will say AA is better competition than AAA. Here's David Ortiz's thoughts on AA vs AAA. And Ortiz is a guy who played AAA..he isn't a guy who was like Manny Machado, Giancarlos Stanton, Jose Fernandez, etc who didn't even stop at AAA.

      As also, you need to factor in the many 'missed starts' against the better AAA pitching that team has to offer as they're periodically called up throughout the season to the parent (MLB) club for emergency or trial starts..

      So can a browse at the stats show us much?

      Here's 2013 stats for the Qualified AAA pitchers:
      http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats...d=117&sid=l117
      http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats...d=112&sid=l112
      Fangraphs has the more advanced stats (BB%, SO%, BABIP)
      http://www.fangraphs.com/minorleader...am=0&players=0

      He's 2013 stats for Qualified AA pitchers:
      http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats...d=113&sid=l113
      http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats...d=111&sid=l111
      http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats...d=109&sid=l109

      But just factoring in who you would have faced in the Twins system in 2013.

      In AAA - who would you have had a tough time playing against?
      http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats...=true&sid=t534

      If Kyle Gibson is around...Diamond had 6 starts...maybe Andrew Albers...

      In AA
      http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats...=true&sid=t538
      Trevor May...Alex Meyer had 13 starts...

      Michael Tonkin and AJ Achter were in AA as much as they were in AAA. Edgar Ibarra was in AA longer than in AAA.

      How about across the rest of the minor league systems...

      Looking across leagues for "noteworthy prospects" of pitchers w/ at least 70 IP at AAA or AA:

      All qualified pitchers, unless IP noted.

      AAA:
      Sonny Gray (OAK)
      Jake Odorizzi (TB)
      Kyle Gibson (MIN)
      Michael Wacha (STL) - 85 IP
      Yordano Ventura (KC) - 77 IP

      AA:
      Archie Bradley (ARZ)
      Kyle Hendricks (Cubs)
      Zach Lee (LAD)
      Jesse Biddle (PHI)
      Trevor May (MIN)
      Alex Meyer (MIN) - 70 IP
      Marcus Stroman (TOR) - 111.1 IP
      Jameson Taillon (PIT) - 110 IP
      Anthony Ranaudo (BOS) - 109.2 IP
      Taijuan Walker (SEA) - 84 IP
      Erik Johnson - (CHI-AL) - 84.2 IP
      Mike Foltynewicz - (HOU) - 103.1 IP

      Maybe I should do an article on this - would take quite a bit of calculating and the perhaps some assessing "Top Prospects" by something such as pitch quality - from BB's and SO's thrown to pitchers throwing '70 grade' fastballs, curveballs and the like. Would be a LOT of work, but it's doable. But how subjective will that be?


      Of the top prospects who are pitchers to make the MLB opening day rosters this year:

      Yordano Ventura - AA - 57 IP, AAA - 77 IP
      Taijuan Walker - AA - 84 IP, AAA - 57 IP
      Erik Johnson - AA - 84 IP, AAA - 57 IP
      Jake Odorizzi - AAA - 124 IP

      Only Odorizzi started at AAA...
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