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  1. Youth Is Served

    However, all four teams (and fans of all four teams) should have a measure of confidence, or at least excitement, that things could be better in the not-too-distant future. All four teams are loaded with young players who potentially have big futures in their leagues. And that’s not just homer-speak. Experts in those sports believe that the young talent has a chance to develop into stardom. Some of them are already there. Others are getting closer. Let’s take a look around the Twin Cities sports scene and see just much young talent there is. Below, I will focus on players who are 24 years old and younger.

    MINNESOTA TWINS

    Twins fans are sick of hearing about all the young talent that we keep touting, but a lot of it is already here. While many of these names no longer appear on prospect lists, a better way to review an organization’s young talent is to look at a Top Players Under 24 List. I’d put the Twins group up against anyone. My guess is that most would put the Cubs #1, but the Twins would certainly follow very quickly on that list.

    Miguel Sano - 23
    Max Kepler - 23
    Jorge Polanco - 23
    Jose Berrios - 22
    Byron Buxton - 22

    These are all prospects that we heard and read a lot about from the time they were signed. Kepler and Polanco signed on July 2nd of 2009. Sano signed a few months later. Buxton and Berrios were the Twins 1st round picks in the 2012 draft. We’ve heard their names and we’ve read of their prospect status for a long time, so it is a good reminder of how young these guys are.

    Sano struggled some in 2016, but in 196 MLB games, he has 43 homers and 118 RBI. He’ll be fixture in the middle of the lineup. Byron Buxton struggled with the bat, but few have played better center field in the Twins organization, and that says a lot when you consider all the Gold Gloves. His September is a glimpse at what could be. Polanco finally got a chance, and he’s shown that he should be an everyday player in the big leagues, at some position. Kepler was the Twins rookie of the year in 2016 with a solid showing. In fact, he showed more power than he typically has in his career. Jose Berrios took his lumps in his first MLB season, but again, we saw glimpses of the stuff that should make him a quality starting pitcher for years to come. This is a strong group, a strong core, that the Twins and their fans hope will lead the way to a lot of wins in the coming years.

    Of course, the Twins still have several prospects that can either supplement the five guys above or become part of that core. Pitchers like Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves and Tyler Jay certainly have a chance. Relievers like Jake Reed and Nick Burdi could be up soon. Nick Gordon could be the shortstop of the future. Meanwhile there are more high-ceiling prospects like Alex Kirilloff, Wander Javier and Lewin Diaz who are further down the line.

    MINNESOTA VIKINGS

    The Vikings have not played in a Super Bowl for 40 years, not since 1976. The team’s track record of tough playoff losses is well known. In fact, when some say that the Vikings are a Super Bowl contender, there is a large contingent of fans that roll their eyes at the notion. This year’s team is a contender because of their defense. Obviously they have some issues on the offensive line that will have to figure themselves out if they want a better chance, but the defense is legit. While there are several strong veterans around the defense, there are some under-25s that are a huge part of what they do now, or will be a big part of it within the next year.

    CB MacKenzie Alexander - 22
    LB Anthony Barr - 24
    OT TJ Clemmings - 24
    WR Stefon Diggs - 22
    DE Danielle Hunter - 21
    S Jayron Kearse - 22
    LB Eric Kendricks - 24
    RB Jerick McKinnon - 24
    WR Laquon Treadwell - 21
    CB Trae Waynes - 24

    There are several other players under 25 on the roster as well, playing on special teams. Linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are both 24 and they’re both Pro Bowl caliber linebackers. Danielle Hunter is still just 21 years old and he is still learning how to be a force. Trae Waynes played little a year ago, but he’s been solid in his opportunities so far this year and will be more important as we go forward. MacKenzie Alexander is in the same situation Waynes was last year. With Andrew Sendejo’s injury, Jayron Kearse may have to learn under fire.

    Stefon Diggs has become a go-to wide receiver this year after bursting onto the scene the middle of his rookie year a year ago. Jerick McKinnon has been solid, when healthy and when given playing time. TJ Clemmings was placed right into the fire a year ago when Phil Loadholt was lost of the year. He struggled, as expected, but held his own. He’s struggled again at times this year, but I would not give up on him by any means. Finally, Laquon Treadwell is this year’s Trae Waynes. The team’s 2016 first-round pick is patiently waiting an opportunity. What he’s doing behind-the-scenes is more important right now because at some point, he will get a chance and hopefully be a big part of the team’s offense.

    MINNESOTA WILD

    The Wild have made it to the playoffs four straight years. Last year they lost in the first round to the Dallas Stars. The three previous seasons they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild have a really good mix of veterans and young players. They have veterans like Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Eric Staal.Their goaltender turned 30 about six months ago. However, some of those under-25s have a couple of years of NHL service time. They have decisions to make on some of them after the season. The time table is tough.

    F Charlie Coyle - 24
    F Mikael Granlund - 24
    F Nino Niederreiter - 24
    F Teemu Pulkkinen - 24
    F Jason Zucker - 24
    D Jonas Brodin - 23
    D Matt Dumba - 22
    F Joel Eriksson Ek - 19

    Each of those forwards - with the probable exception of the recently claimed Pulkkinen - have had several huge moments in his Wolves career, and even in the playoffs. These are guys who were playing two years ago. Coyle appears to have taken a step forward. Others continue to have their moments yet fight to find a consistency, for whatever reason. Same thing with the defensemen. Dumba’s got the big shot that we all love, but on defense, he has some rough stretches. In fact, he was supposed to be a healthy scratch in a game over the weekend because of poor play. Illness put him back in the lineup and he played a strong game. Erikkson Ek is, of course, a different story. The team’s top pick just 16-months ago just made his NHL debut for the Wild last week. He scored a goal in his first game, and he had three assists in Tuesday’s game in Boston on Tuesday.

    Obviously the hope is that a new voice, Bruce Boudreau, will be able to get the most out of these young talents. Chuck Fletcher has some tough choices to make. Hopefully he chooses well and keeps some of these guys long-term and they help the team toward its first Stanley Cup.

    MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

    After making it to the playoffs eight straight seasons (including that fun 2004 run to the Western Conference finals), the Wolves have not made the playoffs for 12 years. In fact, they have not finished in 12th place in the 15-team conference ten of those 12 seasons. However, this year’s team is full of hope due to their extreme, but incredibly talented, youth.

    Shabazz Muhammad - 23
    Kris Dunn - 22
    Zach LaVine - 21
    Andrew Wiggins - 21
    Karl Anthony Towns - 20
    Tyus Jones - 20

    It’s interesting to think that Kris Dunn left Providence a year early, and yet he is older than four other former first rounders on his own team. The Wolves acquired Wiggins, the 2014 first-overall pick from Cleveland in the Kevin Love trade. LaVine, who has won the last two Slam Dunk contests, really came into his own in the second half of last season. They earned the #1 overall pick in 2015, and they were wise enough to take Karl Anthony Towns with the pick. They also acquired Tyus Jones from the Cavs in that draft after his stellar career at Duke (...after his stellar career at Apple Valley).


    Posted Image
    photo by Mark J Rebilas, USA Today

    Towns was the unanimous choice for NBA Rookie of the Year last year, and with improvement this year, he’ll find himself in NBA Best Player conversations soon. Wiggins can score, but he’ll need to show he can do some of the other things in the game. LaVine took off in the second half last year, showing he is much more than just an athletic dunker. He will get to play more at the 2-guard rather than point guard this year, but I believe that time was very valuable to his overall development. Dunn will allow LaVine to not play point guard. He’ll push Ricky Rubio (who, by the way, is just 25 still). He’ll be an integral part of the lineup in the near future. Muhammad has shown his ability in his three previous NBA seasons that he can provide offense off the bench. Jones probably needed a couple more years of college to get bigger, but he has always shown an ability to lead as a point guard. His time will be limited, however, unless there is an injury to Dunn or Rubio.

    THE CHALLENGE

    That’s a quick overview of the 24-and-under players for the four major league teams in the Twin Cities. I encourage all kinds of discussion in the comments below. For instance, which team’s “build” was best? Rank which teams will be a championship contender soonest. Which players are most marketable in the Twin Cities, or nationally?

    But here’s what I would like everyone to think about. I would like you to rank the top five players in the Twins Cities (under 25) by value. It can be value today, or what you think their value will be over the course of the next few years. Yes, that almost undefinable term that MVP voters love to throw around. It’s not necessarily just who is the best player relative to others in their sport, but it is also about intangibles that you may have in your mind? Which are all stars in their sport? Who has a chance to be an MVP candidate? Which ones are just nice, solid, every single day contributors.

    Just to start it out, here is my list:

    10) Mikael Granlund - Wild
    9) Zach LaVine - Wolves
    8) Charlie Coyle - Wild
    7) Stefon Diggs - Vikings
    6) Eric Kendricks - Vikings
    5) Byron Buxton - Twins
    4) Andrew Wiggins - Wolves
    3) Anthony Barr - Vikings
    2) Miguel Sano - Twins
    1) Karl Anthony Towns - Wolves

    What do you think? How would your ranking look? I left out some big names, like Max Kepler and Jose Berrios, like Kris Dunn, like Danielle Hunter, and like El Nino, Jason Zucker or Jonas Brodin. Maybe it’s easier to make a Top 15 or 20 list.

    Note - this article will appear on Twins Daily, Vikings Journal and Wild Xtra. Check the Comments between sites. I’m curious if the rankings will look any differently based on your fandom. Let the discussion begin.

    • Oct 27 2016 04:53 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  2. Young For Their League

    In the Prospect Handbook, there are two pages dedicated to looking at the league average age and performance of hitters and pitchers at each level. Here is what was shown for the Ft. Myers Miracle and the Florida State League.

    FT. MYERS MIRACLE (82-57)

    · FSL Hitters – 22.6, .257/.325/.371 (.695)
    · Miracle Hitters – 22.4, .261/.339/.383 (.722)
    · FSL Pitchers – 23.2, 3.75 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
    · Miracle Pitchers – 23.3, 3.34 ERA, 1.32 WHIP


    What does it mean? As you can see, the Miracle hitters and pitchers were, on average, about the same as the league average. They also performed a little better than league average in offense and pitching.

    By itself, this information is kind of fun to look at, but more important, it provides perspective. If a 25 year old in the Florida State League hits .300/400/500 (.900), it’s good. But if a 20-year-old hits .275/.350/.400 (.750) in the same league, he is a very good prospect. The 25-year-old could still become a big leaguer, and could even have a solid career. The 20-year-old likely has a higher ceiling.

    So, with that bit of background, I thought it would be fun to take a look at which Twins prospects were the youngest at their level. Players that spent time in multiple levels can show up multiple times on this list.

    This is not a perfect analysis, but it does give a range. Baseball-Refence.com has a method in which each player plays a season at a certain age. JO Berrios was 19 when he began the season in Ft. Myers. He turned 20 in mid-May, so his 2014 season was considered his age-20 season. As you see above, the average age for a pitcher in the Florida State League was 23.2. So, in this analysis, Berrios was 3.2 years younger than the average pitcher in the Florida State League.

    Years Below League Average

    2.2 Years: Nick Gordon at Elizabethton

    2.2 Years: Nick Burdi at Ft. Myers

    2.2 Years: Aaron Slegers at Ft. Myers


    2.3 Years: Callan Pearce at GCL Twins


    2.6 Years: Byron Buxton at Ft. Myers

    2.6 Years: Jorge Polanco at Ft. Myers

    2.6 Years: Ruar Verkerk at GCL Twins


    2.9 Years: Trevor May at Rochester

    2.9 Years: Stephen Pryor at Rochester

    2.9 Years: Michael Tonkin at Rochester

    2.9 Years: Aaron Hicks at Rochester (he was 0.7 years younger than the AA Eastern League hitters)


    3.0 Years: Stephen Gonsalves at Cedar Rapids

    3.0 Years: Fernando Romero at Cedar Rapids

    3.0 Years: Kohl Stewart at Cedar Rapids


    3.2 Years: JO Berrios at Ft. Myers


    3.9 Years: Tyler Duffey at Rochester

    3.9 Years: Jason Wheeler at Rochester

    3.9 Years: Oswaldo Arcia at Rochester


    4.0 Years: Lewis Thorpe at Cedar Rapids


    4.7 Years: Byron Buxton at New Britain

    4.7 Years: Jorge Polanco at New Britain


    6.9 Years: JO Berrios at Rochester


    You may be asking yourself the very question that I asked myself. Where would Miguel Sano have fit on this list had he been able to play. It would have been his age-21 season. In his time in AA New Britain, he would have been 3.6 years younger than the average player. We can assume he also would have moved up to AAA at some point during the season. He would have been 5.9 years younger than league average.

    Here are a few notes about the above:
    • The average age at AAA is pretty high. In the International League, the hitters and the pitchers averaged an age of 26.9. Triple-A isn’t so much about prospects. It’s about guys moving up and down from the big leaguers. It’s about journeymen in the organization to provide depth and help the affiliate win games.
    • JO Berrios was very young for the Florida State League, so when he moved up to New Britain, he was even younger compared to his competition. When he made his final-weekend start with the Red Wings, he was competing against hitters who were about seven years older, and more experienced.
    • Byron Buxton is one of the best prospects in baseball, but notice how quickly Jorge Polanco has moved up the system. Sure, he signed as a 16-year-old two years before Buxton was drafted, but he’s the same age as Buxton and he spent nearly half of his season in New Britain as well. As you know, he became a big leaguer (admittedly out of necessity) at the age of 20.
    • Notice how young were some of those pitchers in Cedar Rapids were. Lewis Thorpe was about four years younger than the average hitter he was facing. Kohl Stewart spent the whole year with the Kernels, and was about three years younger than the competition. Fernando Romero came up at the same time as Thorpe, just a year older. Stephen Gonsalves was promoted for the final month of the Kernels season.
    • I sometimes wonder if people realize just how young Oswaldo Arcia is. Despite a ton of strikeouts, he has shown tremendous power potential. And, he is younger than several players still in the minor leagues who are considered very good prospects.
    • You see a couple of GCL Twins names, Callan Pearce and Ruar Verkerk. When players are signed from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, they typically spend a year or two or three in the Dominican Summer League. Pearce is from South Africa. Verkerk is from The Netherlands. Players from those countries, Australia, Germany, etc., have to come to the States to play in the GCL and you can better understand why these guys take a little longer to develop.
    So, this article is intended to be informational regarding the Twins minor league system and minor league baseball in general. Age to level of competition is a topic that Cody wrote about often in his 2014 Recaps for each of the 158 players that were profiled in the Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2015. It also should just help put into perspective player performance and prospect rankings.

    • Dec 16 2014 11:33 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  3. Will Hunter Greene Haunt The Twins?

    Taking A Chance
    There has never been a right-handed high school pitcher taken with the first overall pick. Greene could become the first but there are so many factors that come into developing a high school arm. He is a raw product whose edges would need to be refined over the next 4-5 seasons in the Twins farm system.

    Organizationally, the Twins haven't had the best track record when it comes to developing pitchers. Kohl Stewart and Tyler Jay have both been taken with high first round picks since 2013. Jay was supposed to develop into a top flight starter but the Twins have already moved him to the bullpen. Stewart has shown flashes of being strong but his ERA is north of 5.00 at Double-A.

    One of the reasons Falvey was hired by the Twins was to revamp the pitching staff. "He made it his, probably his passion, to understand pitching and the delivery," Indians manager Terry Francona told the Star Tribune."We go to him a lot with questions. If he doesn't have the answer, he'll go find it."

    When asked if there was a temptation of taking Greene, Falvey said, "We want to line it up and take the best player that has the best possibility to affect us long term, and sometimes that will be a high school player and sometimes it will be a college player." Falvey could want the challenge of developing Greene or he might have seen enough of him this spring to know that taking a chance isn't the right move.

    West Coast Kid
    Greene has grown up and played almost exclusively on the West Coast. With the Padres sitting with the number three pick, rumors have been swirling about Greene wanting to stay close to home. Baseball America reported,"The rumors of he and his family attempting to maneuver his way to the No. 3 pick with the Padres are a poorly kept secret."

    Baseball America also stated, "The Padres' throwing program is more in line with Greene's program." Every young kid is going to want play near his friends and family. The weather in southern California would be a little more pleasant than the in the upper midwest. He'd also be part of a National League organization where he'd still have the opportunity to bat on a regular basis.

    If Greene's family really doesn't want him playing in Minnesota, they could pressure the Twins with some high demands that might persuade the club into taking a college option.

    Weighing The Cost
    Because the Twins have the first pick and other high picks, they have the largest bonus pool in the draft. The Twins' top draft slot is set at $7,770,700 which is roughly $1.25 million less than what the Philles were slotted for with the top pick in last year's draft.

    Baseball switched over to the current slotting rules five years ago. Dansby Swanson has been the only top pick to receive the highest signing bonus. In 2012, the Twins gave out the highest bonus to Byron Buxton after the Astros worked a deal with Carlos Correa. Houston was able to use the savings to take Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz with some of their other early picks.

    Since he is a high school player, Greene is going to want the highest bonus in the draft. Minnesota could do something similar to what Houston did in 2012. By signing McKay or Wright to a smaller bonus than Greene, the Twins could use that savings to go over slot on the 35th and 37th picks. However, the Twins might believe Greene is the best available player and take him no matter the cost.

    What are your feelings as the draft moves closer? Is Greene going to haunt the Twins? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    • May 22 2017 10:17 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  4. Who Has More Long-Term Value, Miguel Sano or Byron Buxton?

    Last week’s discussion over the future value of Luis Arraez garnered plenty of discussion so it made sense to look at two cornerstone pieces of Minnesota’s roster. Here are the arguments for Buxton and Sano.

    Argument for Buxton
    When Buxton is healthy and, on the field, there is no doubt that he is an impact player at the big-league level. Even with his injury struggles this season, he is arguably the best defensive player in the game. SABR’s Defensive Index had him tied for the league lead among outfielders through games played on August 18, which is quite the feat considering how games he has missed this season.

    Buxton provides the bulk of his value by being able to produce in all aspects of the game because he has all the skills of a five-tool player. He has shown flashes of being one of the best players in baseball, but he hasn’t been healthy enough to stay on the field consistently.

    Prior to this season, there were plenty of questions about his offensive approach. He continued to modify his swing to try to make more consistent contact. In 87 games this season, he hit .261/.314/.513 (.827) with 44 extra-base hits including 30 doubles. If Buxton is able to keep up that level of offensive production, with his defensive skills, there’s the potential for him to be in the MVP conversation at season’s end.

    Argument for Sano
    Sano wasn’t able to debut this season until mid-May because he suffered a freak injury while celebrating his team’s Winter League Championship. He has clearly made his mark on the Twins offensive line-up since being inserted back into the fold. His 33 home runs are a career high and his .927 OPS would also top his .916 OPS from his rookie campaign when he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.

    Buxton has played fewer than 100 games in all but one big-league season and Sano has surpassed that total in three of the last four seasons. Also, there’s a chance Sano moves to first base or even becomes a full-time DH. Sano might not provide much value on the defensive side of the ball in the years ahead, but he has been able to stay on the field more consistently.

    Earlier in the season, I made the argument that I don’t think Sano would ever reach the superstar potential he seemed destined for as an amateur. Minnesota signed him with the potential to be a top-tier player in the league and I think expectations have shifted for him throughout his professional career. As he has shown this season, he can be a very good player that contributes to a great team, but I don’t think he will be considered the team’s top player.

    The Minnesota Twins need Sano and Buxton to both play over 140 games in the same season to see what their true value could be as a dynamic duo. Buxton has shown superstar flashes, but his ability to stay healthy continues to be a question mark. Sano is having a break-out offensive campaign, but his defensive ability could be a long-term concern.

    Which player do you believe will have more long-term value for the Twins? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    • Sep 23 2019 04:36 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  5. Which Twins Prospects Could Debut in 2015?

    On May 3, Aaron Hicks was on the 7-day concussion list. Danny Santana was called up from Rochester where he had only played in 24 games, all at shortstop. The club was ready to send shortstop Pedro Florimon to the minor leagues. However, given the struggles of Hicks and the attempts to play Eduardo Escobar in centerfield, it wasn’t long before Santana was the team’s leadoff hitter and centerfielder. He was 23 and far outperformed his minor league track record with the bat. He goes into the 2015 season looking to avoid a sophomore slump while moving back in to shortstop.

    On July 31, the Twins traded Sam Fuld to the A’s for Tommy Milone. Earlier, the Twins had traded DH Kendrys Morales to the Mariners. Soon after, the Twins announced that 1B/DH Kennys Vargas had been called up from AA New Britain to take Fuld’s spot on the roster. He turned 24 on August 1st, the same day on which he made his big league debut. Weeks earlier, Vargas had played in the Futures Game at Target Field. He was in a major slump with the Rock Cats, but came up and immediately provided the Twins with a power bat in the middle of the lineup. He hit 10 doubles and nine home runs in 53 games with the Twins.

    AJ Achter was the Twins 46th round pick in 2010 out of Michigan State. Since moving to the bullpen full time in 2012, he has been the most consistent performer of any reliever in the Twins system. When the Red Wings 2014 playoff dreams were dashed on the second-to-last day of the season, Achter found out that he would be heading to Target Field to debut with the Twins. He posted a 3.27 ERA in 11 innings over seven games. He picked up his first MLB win in Detroit against the team he followed as a child.

    UPDATE - Note that LHP Logan Darnell, RHP Yohan Pino and infielder Jorge Polanco also made their major league debuts in 2014.

    So, which Twins prospects could get that all-important call in 2015 to join the Minnesota Twins? Obviously being on the 40-man roster makes it easier for a player to be called up. However, adding a player to the 40-man roster is rarely an issue when needed. (Note: the percentage shown is the percentage chance that the player reaches the big leagues in 2015, in my opinion)

    40-Man Roster Options

    JR Graham (51%) – As a Rule 5 pick, the Twins will need to keep Graham on the 40-man roster or offer him back to Atlanta. Few Rule 5 picks stay with the team that drafts them and Graham certainly has some things to prove, but with his skill set and talent, they may choose to keep him around anyway. And, there is some small chance that the Twins will be able to work out a trade to keep Graham in the system.

    Alex Meyer (99.999%) – Meyer is going to debut with the Twins in 2014. No question. When will he get that opportunity? That is the question. I think the odds of him starting the season in the Twins starting rotation is very low, maybe 10% However, there is a decent chance that he starts the season in the Twins bullpen, maybe as much as a 30% chance. It won’t be long before he gets the call and starts contributing in the big leagues.

    Miguel Sano (90%) – After missing all of 2014, it is going to take Sano time to shake off the rust. No doubt, that will take some time, and we will need to be patient. I expect that he will be up around July and certainly for September.

    Eddie Rosario (78%) – After a disappointing 2014 season, for various reasons, Rosario performed very well in the Arizona Fall League. He has made the move back to full-time outfielder. He’s got parts of his game he will need to continue to work on and improve, but he could surface as an option if the centerfield situation doesn’t play out well early in the season. He should certainly be in line for a September call-up and get time in left field as well.

    Max Kepler (10%) – Kepler had a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League as well. I think there’s a decent chance that he will return to Ft. Myers for the start of the 2015 season before moving up to New Britain. If things go very well, he could get a September call-up. Fortunately, he has three option years remaining so the Twins can afford to be patient and let his performance catch up to his tools.

    Jason Wheeler (15%) – Four members of the Twins Opening Day starting rotation are set. Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey, Trevor May and Alex Meyer will all be given a shot at the fifth starter job. However, over the course of the season, other starters may be needed as well. Wheeler made 13 starts back in Ft. Myers. He made one start in Rochester, but has posted a 2.78 ERA in 12 starts at New Britain too. He still has room for improvement, but he’s definitely worth watching.

    Not on the 40-Man Roster

    Byron Buxton (51%) – Had he not missed so much time in 2014 due to injury, Buxton likely would have debuted with the Twins at age 20. Unfortunately, like Sano, Buxton is going to need to shake off some rust while at the same time moving up to Double-A. Expect that things won’t come easy at the start for the uber-talented outfielder. Even if he struggles, he remains one of baseball’s best prospects. That said, I think he figures things out quickly, and if healthy, he could be wearing a Twins uniform in August. Because he doesn’t need to be added to the Twins 40-man roster until after the 2016 season, it makes no sense to call him up for just September. Might as well save the roster spot and call him up in May 2016.

    Nick Burdi (75%) – The Twins drafted Burdi in June out of Louisville. The flame-thrower sits in the upper-90s and often hits triple-digits. Early in the year, he was throwing sliders in the low-90s. Relievers can move up more quickly than other positions, but a review of fast-moving relievers is a mix-mash of success and failure. I think it’ll be hard to keep Burdi, who will be 22 throughout the season, from Target Field.

    Taylor Rogers (21%) – Rogers just turned 24 in December and learned that he had been invited to big league spring training. After a slow start in 2014 in New Britain, he pitched very well the rest of the season and was selected to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. The lefty throws 92-94 with a good slider and has the makeup to be good. He will be a solid big league starter at some point in his career.

    Tyler Duffey (20%) – Like Rogers, Duffey was drafted out of college in 2012, just turned 24 and just learned that he too will be reporting to Twins big league spring training in February. He pitched well at three levels in 2014, from Ft. Myers to Rochester. Duffey was a part-time closer at Rice (with JT Chargois) but has been primarily used as a starter with the Twins. He touches mid-90s as a starter and gets a lot of grounders. Out of the bullpen, he can reach 97.

    JO Berrios (19%) – Berrios has very good stuff and really took major strides in 2014. As a 19-year-old, he pitched at Ft. Myers, New Britain and finished the season with a start in Rochester. That said, he has just nine starts above A-ball, so we might need to slow our timeline expectations. That said, there is no questioning his work ethic and his makeup. He is going to pitch for a long time in the big leagues, and he’s going to be successful. Will he get his first opportunity in 2015?

    Jake Reed (15%) – Reed was the fourth straight college pitcher drafted by the Twins in June. The fifth-round pick from Oregon threw 31 professional innings between Elizabethton (four games) and Cedar Rapids (16 games) and gave up just one earned run (0.29 ERA). He gave up just 11 hits, walked three and struck out 39 batters. He then went to the Arizona Fall League and continued to pitch well. He could move quickly.

    Zack Jones (15%) – Jones missed most of 2014 because of an aneurysm near his right shoulder followed by blood clots in his leg. He returned at the very end of the season to Ft. Myers and closed out their championship run. He was back to hitting 97 mph by season’s end. He didn’t give up runs in the AFL, though his control was not good. His control will determine his big league opportunity and success. If he can throw strikes, he can be very good.

    James Beresford (10%) – Doug Bernier, a similar player to Beresford, has received a call up each of the past two seasons. Beresford is a 26 year old who has been in the organization for a decade. Last year was his first full season in AAA and he played second base each day. He has a very good glove and if Brian Dozier were to require time on the disabled list, don’t be surprised if the Australian gets a call.

    Others (5%) – There are, of course, several others who we could see promoted to the Twins in the right circumstances. Reasons could include injuries, trades or performance. Ryan O’Rourke is devastating against left-handed hitters and could be called upon if a LOOGY is needed. Danny Ortiz could be a fourth outfielder option if needed. Jason Adam and Adrian Salcedo are guys who could debut in 2014 if arms are needed. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Levi Michael get a September call-up.


    Who else could make their MLB debut with the Twins in 2015? Are there players you think are more or less likely than the percentages that I gave them?

    • Jan 05 2015 09:44 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  6. Where Are We Now?

    Let's look around the diamond and see what the Twins roster may look like if the season was to start today. Check it out and then discuss Rocco Baldelli’s chances in his first year as manager. What would you do yet in the final month before spring training begins?

    Catcher (2) - Jason Castro ($8.0 million), Mitch Garver (est $575,000)

    The Twins appear to be set behind the plate. Jason Castro should be at 100% when spring training begins. Mitch Garver made huge improvements behind the plate over the course of 2018. And Willians Astudillo is ready when needed.


    Infield/DH (6) - Nelson Cruz ($14.0 million), CJ Cron ($4.8 million), Jonathan Schoop ($7.5 million), Jorge Polanco (est $600,000), Miguel Sano ($2.65 million), Ehire Adrianza ($1.3 million).

    The Twins added one of the top bats available in free agency this offseason in Nelson Cruz. CJ Cron and Tyler Austin will likely compete for the first base job in spring training. Austin is out of options and Cron’s deal isn’t 100% guaranteed. Presumably they won’t both remain on the team and in the organization. Jonathan Schoop and his upside take over at second base on a one-year deal. The left side of the infield is expected to remain manned by Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano. Ehire Adrianza, assuming his shoulder is fully recovered, will be the utility infielder. Ronald Torreyes is the next in line for that role, and Nick Gordon could be called up by mid-season if a job opens up in the middle infield.


    Outfield (4) - Eddie Rosario ($4.19 million), Byron Buxton ($1.75 million), Max Kepler ($3.125 million), Jake Cave (est. $575,000)

    Pending injuries, this is pretty well set as well. Eddie Rosario will be in left with Byron Buxton in center and Max Kepler in right. Jake Cave will the the fourth outfielder. Zack Granite and Michael Reed provide the team with other options in the outfield, along with recent 40-man add LaMonte Wade.


    Starting Pitchers (5) - Jose Berrios (est $700,000), Kyle Gibson ($8.125 million), Jake Odorizzi ($9.4 million), Michael Pineda ($8.0 million), Adalberto Mejia (est $565,000)

    The first four of the rotation appear to be set. The question really comes with the fifth starter. Who will it be? I included Mejia just because he is out of options. But Fernando Romero, Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell, Chase De Jong and Lewis Thorpe fit into that discussion as well. Each of these options would come in at about league minimum. Romero and De Jong will be in their final option seasons. Gonsalves, Littell and Thorpe each have two options remaining. Stewart has three option years available.

    The other option, of course, would be signing a free agent such as Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley or any number of pitchers on minor league contracts.


    The Bullpen (8): Trevor May ($900,000), Addison Reed ($8.5 million), Taylor Rogers ($1.525 million), Blake Parker ($1.8 million), Trevor Hildenberger (est $600,000), Gabriel Moya (est $565,000), Matt Magill (est $565,000), Tyler Duffey (est. $575,000)

    Even with the addition of Blake Parker, I would guess that the Twins will still add another arm or two. From the left side, the Twins have Taylor Rogers. If they want a second lefty reliever, Gabriel Moya and Andrew Vasquez are options. Tyler Duffey and Matt Magill are out of options, so if they’re on the 40-man roster, they have to be favorites at this time.

    The new bullpen roles and how Rocco Baldelli and Wes Johnson utilize the bullpen will be interesting. Will they go with an Opener/Primary in the fifth spot? Could there be opportunities for piggybacking a couple of starters? In that case, the fifth starter candidates are certainly possibilities for one of these spots. Will the team go with a traditional closer? And, what will the Twins decide (or have they already decided) on the role of Fernando Romero?


    Payroll

    Hitters: $49.065 million
    Starters: $26.89 million
    Relievers: $14.435 million
    Phil Hughes: $5.93 million
    Total 2019 payroll (as of right now): $96.32 million


    What Questions Remain?

    • Will the Twins add another bullpen arm, or two?
    • Will the Twins add another starting pitcher? Free agent, or a possible trade option?
    • What is the role for Fernando Romero?
    • CJ Cron or Tyler Austin?
    • Long-term contracts? Jose Berrios would be at the top of the list of me, but are there others?
    That's where the Twins roster is right this moment, as well as some areas of need.

    What do you consider the Twins areas of strength, and how would you prioritize their areas of need this offseason?

    • Jan 15 2019 05:27 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  7. Where Are The Prospects?

    Before the 2014 season, the Twins generally had what was considered the top system in baseball. They were led by two consensus Top 10 prospects in all of baseball. Byron Buxton (19 at the time) had completed his first full season in professional baseball and had been named Baseball America’s 2013 minor league player of the year. He was the #1 prospect in all of baseball. He had hit a combined .334/.424/.520 (.944) with 19 doubles, 18 triples and 12 home runs.

    Baseball America ranked then-20-year-old Miguel Sano number six overall. He was coming off of a season in which he hit a combined .280/.382/.610 (.992) with 30 doubles, five triples and 35 home runs between Ft. Myers and New Britain.

    Then came the 2014 season. Miguel Sano missed the full season after having Tommy John surgery in the spring. Buxton was limited to just 31 games due to multiple injuries. It was essentially a lost season for both of them.

    However, they both returned in 2015, starting the season in Chattanooga. Despite the lost development time Buxton was up with the Twins in June, and Sano was called up on July 1st. Buxton lost more time with injury and as the Twins acknowledged, he wasn’t ready and he struggled at the plate. Sano came to the team and was remarkable, finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year vote despite playing just three months in the big leagues.

    The Twins went into this season and handed Buxton the starting center field job despite him still not really being ready. Predictably, he struggled again, striking out in about half of his plate appearances. After 15 games, he was sent back down to Rochester, where he is now hitting .276/.344/.534 (.878) with four doubles, a triple and three home runs. He has three walks and seven strikeouts in 38 plate appearances.

    Sano is a regular in the middle of the Minnesota Twins lineup. After posting a .916 OPS in 2016, his OPS is just 706 through the first 31 games this year. A sophomore slump? Maybe, though the season is just under 20% complete, so there is plenty of room for a resurgence.

    The Twins status as the top minor league system was largely based on the top two prospects, and despite their 2016 struggles, both remain two of the most exciting players in baseball’s future. Buxton needs to cut down on the strikeouts, but with his speed and defense, he can be a valuable player with just minimal offensive improvement. But there is no reason to think that the 22-year-old can’t make the needed adjustments. What he needs is more time in AAA. With 14 games played with the Red Wings this year, he now has just 26 total games played at AAA. Patience is important. And Sano is still just 23, learning the game, learning a new position, learning pitchers, and (hopefully) learning how to take care of himself physically. Many may choose to give up on these prospects. I still think they both have multiple All-Star games in their future.

    However, the Twins system was not solely based on two players. Here is a quick look at the rest of my personal 2014 Twins prospect rankings (with their 2013 team).

    #3 - RHP Alex Meyer - New Britain
    #4 - RHP Kohl Stewart - GCL/Elizabethton
    #5 - 2B Eddie Rosario - Ft. Myers/New Britain
    #6 - IF Jorge Polanco - Cedar Rapids
    #7 - RHP Jose Berrios - Cedar Rapids
    #8 - C Josmil Pinto - New Britain/Rochester/Minnesota
    #9 - OF/1B Max Kepler - Cedar Rapids
    #10 - Lewis Thorpe - GCL Twins

    A quick glance of this list shows the volatility of prospect rankings, and yet this also shows why many still are excited about the Twins system. Look at how many of the top prospects then are top prospects now despite moving up 2 or 3 levels. Notice also how many of them were in Low-A Cedar Rapids just over two yeas ago.

    Let’s start with Josmil Pinto. The Twins DFAd him a year ago, and after a couple of other DFAs, he is now with the Brewers AAA team. He had a strong showing that 2013 season in September but wasn’t able to stay healthy after that.

    Alex Meyer was ranked #62 overall by Baseball America, but he was Top 30 in both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus rankings. He went to Rochester in 2014 and was one of the league’s top starting pitchers. Then came 2015, a miserable year for Meyer. However, he is off to a strong start in 2016 and we can still be hopeful that the 26-year-old can rebound, maybe even as a starter.

    Kohl Stewart had just been drafted and there was a lot of excitement. While his 2015 season left some question marks among prospect rankers, his 2016 season has improved his prospect status. Similarly, Lewis Thorpe was just coming off of a remarkable US debut season in the Gulf Coast League. Despite 2015 Tommy John surgery, his prospect status remains high.

    Eddie Rosario was coming off of a terrific season which shadowed Sano’s. He was still playing second base, but it would be his last year there since Brian Dozier became a mainstay with the Twins.. While Sano and Buxton missed time in 2014 due to injury, Rosario missed 50 games to start 2014 due to a suspension. When he returned, he struggled at AA. However, in 2015, he came up to the Twins and had an impressive showing. He hit .267 with 18 doubles, 15 triples, 13 home runs, and 16 outfield assists. He’s off to a horrible start in 2016 which isn’t completely surprising with his complete inability to control the strike zone or willingness to not swing from time to time. He’s still only 24.

    Jose Berrios, Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler all played the 2013 season in Cedar Rapids. Polanco had his first cup of coffee with the Twins in 2014 and has had about seven such calls since then. Kepler was the MVP of the AA Southern League in 2015 and debuted with the Twins last September. He’s already spent time with the Twins this year. And, Jose Berrios has taken off as a prospect. He has been the Twins minor league pitcher of the year the last two years and now has two big league starts under his belt. All three of these guys remain Top 10 Twins prospects, Top 100 overall prospects, and guys who should be a big part of the Twins future.

    Prospects 11-20 (from my Top Prospect rankings)

    #11 - OF Adam Brett Walker - Cedar Rapids
    #12 - RHP Trevor May - New Britain/Rochester
    #13 - LHP Stephen Gonsalves - GCL/Elizabethton
    #14 - 3B Travis Harrison - Cedar Rapids
    #15 - SS Danny Santana - New Britain
    #16 - OF Amaurys Minier - GCL
    #17 - DH/1B Kennys Vargas - Ft. Myers
    #18 - RHP Ryan Eades - Elizabethton
    #19 - RHP Felix Jorge - Elizabethton
    #20 - SS Niko Goodrum - Cedar Rapids

    Again, this list includes some intriguing names. Adam Brett Walker is on the 40-man roster and playing in Rochester.

    Trevor May is in his second season with the Twins and their top reliever. Could he still start? Maybe, but if not, he can also be a dominant bullpen option for years to come.

    Like Kohl Stewart, Gonsalves was just drafted and had an impressive pro debut in the rookie leagues. While Stewart was pushed quickly, Gonsalves was about a half-season behind. Now, they’re both at Ft. Myers, pitching well, and both could move up to Chattanooga at any time. Felix Jorge is also with the Miracle and pitching very well.

    Danny Santana came up to the Twins and received votes in Rookie of the Year balloting. 2015 was very frustrating. Santana is likely somewhere in between. Right now, he is the team’s starting center fielder. One of the best athletes, he can play six positions and can provide value in that utility type of role.

    Like Santana, Vargas came up in August of 2014 and hit nine home runs the rest of the season. The Twins gave him plenty of chances in 2015 but he was unable to get that type of production back. He went down to the minor leagues a couple of times and returned in September. He is currently hitting .217/.315/.308 (.625) with four doubles and two home runs in Rochester. That said, at 25, he still has potential to be a viable bench option and provide some punch off the bat.

    Ryan Eades was also just drafted and threw a few innings in Elizabethton. He has certainly had his struggles, but a solid 2015 in Ft. Myers earned him a promotion to AA where he has had mixed results. But as Mike Berardino reported during spring training, he touched 97 a few times and does have a solid four-pitch mix, so he’s got a chance to be a back-of-the-rotation starter.

    Goodrum is out right now with a stress reaction in his foot and will likely be out another month or so.

    BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE

    That was a look at my Top 20 Twins prospects just over two years ago, and we’ve already seen some of these terrific prospects surface in the big leagues. However, in the last couple of drafts, the Twins have added even more talent. They have drafted Nick Gordon and Tyler Jay in the last two first rounds. Both have high ceilings.

    They also added some flame-throwing relievers such as JT Chargois, Nick Burdi and Jake Reed who have already been in big league spring training. Mason Melotakis, Luke Bard, Michael Cederoth, Trevor Hildenberger, Brandon Peterson, Corey Williams and others could surface in the next couple of years too.

    In addition to Murphy, Stuart Turner and Mitch Garver are in AA. Like Lewis Thorpe, Fernando Romero had Tommy John surgery and will be back soon.

    VETERANS

    While we are talking about the youth and the struggles of the youth, it is important to notice that the Twins roster includes many veterans (many of whom are struggling). Brian Dozier. Trevor Plouffe. Joe Mauer. Eduardo Nunez. Kurt Suzuki. Phil Hughes. Ervin Santana. Kyle Gibson. Ricky Nolasco. Kevin Jepsen. Glen Perkins. And Casey Fien and Tommy Milone have already been DFAd.
    For the Twins to win in 2016, they needed two things. First, they needed some of the young players to take a step forward. However, they also needed strong performances from veterans. To this point in the season, Joe Mauer and Eduardo Nunez have been the two players who have performed well throughout the season.

    The Twins need more from the rookies, but they also need more from the guys with Major League track records.

    SUMMARY

    Several years ago, I recall talking to Kyle Gibson. He was in A ball and I asked him what it meant to him to be considered the team’s top prospect. He basically said that it was a nice honor, but “being a prospect means you haven’t done anything yet.”

    Major League Baseball is hard, and each level of the minor leagues gets gradually more difficult. Two years ago, the Twins had a lot of young prospects, but prospects that had a long way to go in terms of steps up and development.

    That's why I've also often written that the reason it is so important to have as many prospects as possible. If you have 20 very good prospects, it likely means that one of them will become a perennial all-star, maybe two will become solid regulars, a handful will play a role on the big league team and several might get a cup of coffee.

    So far, we have seen Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Michael Tonkin, Alex Meyer, Jorge Polanco and Jose Berrios in the big leagues. Some more than others. Also consider that Oswaldo Arcia just turned 25 yesterday. John Ryan Murphy is still just 24 years old.

    They have come to the big leagues with mixed results.There have been guys who have struggled initially. There have been several who came up quickly and then struggled in year 2 when the league adjusted. At this point the players will need to make the adjustment back. Baseball, like life, is all about adjustments, and hopefully these young players will be able to do just that.
    If there is a hope for the 2016 season, it is two-fold.

    First, the veterans will need to step up and perform to their proven capabilities. Second, there is hope that as the season moves on, the prospects and young players can make some adjustments. That’s not to say that the Twins will jump back into playoff contention - so much would need to go perfectly for that to happen - but as a fan, we should want to see that happen to give us hope for 2017 and beyond.

    So when someone asks, where are all the prospects, the overwhelming answer should be, "They're almost all still there."

    • May 10 2016 07:51 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  8. When It Rains, It Pours

    Buxton’s Bothersome Toe
    When the Twins activated Buxton from the DL, I questioned the club’s decision for him to skip a rehab stint. He originally went on the disabled list because of migraines but then he ran into another problem on his rehab assignment. On April 23rd, Buxton fouled a ball of his left big toe and fractured it.

    He’s clearly been in pain at the plate and on the bases. Since returning, he has gone 6-for-47 with two doubles and a stolen base in 16 games. At the plate, his biggest issues was trying to use the lower half of his body. Eventually, the pain was just too much.


    "Defense wasn't really the problem, it was hitting pretty much the whole time -- trying to land, trying to find different ways to keep it from barking," Buxton said. "Each time I'd find myself having a different swing trying to hit a ball. It's tough trying to do that up here in the bigs. You've got to have that consistent swing, and that wasn't happening. I think the best thing for me was letting it settle down a little bit."

    Buxton clearly wanted to help the team, especially with the club’s slow start. Now he will be reevaluated by team doctors to see if he further damaged his toe while trying to play through the pain.

    Santana’s Situation
    Santana underwent surgery in February on the middle finger of his right hand. Originally, team officials thought he would miss 6-8 weeks. The calendar flips to June this week and he doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to joining the Twins rotation.

    On Tuesday, he suited up for High-A Fort Myers for his second rehab appearance. His fastball velocity topped out around 90 mph, which quite a bit below his average over the last couple seasons. His secondary pitches have also caused some issues as he tries to get a feel for them with his surgically repaired finger.

    He’s on his way to New York to see Dr. Charles Melone, the surgeon who operated on him earlier this year. After a reevaluation, the club will need to decide on the next course of action. The timeline is unclear at this point but it doesn’t look like Santana will be rescuing this team any time soon.

    A year after making the AL Wild Card Game, the Twins have lost two of their most valuable pieces for a large chunk of the beginning of the season. Other players are going to need to step-up in order to fill the void.

    • May 31 2018 11:46 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  9. What's Wrong with the Twins? A Fizzling Core

    The vision for a contending team this year was framed around Buxton and Sano as foundational forces. In fact, that gaze has been set ever since 2012, when the Twins were lucky enough to draft Buxton and add him to their system alongside Sano.

    From that moment, the duo was at the center of Minnesota's rebuilding blueprint.

    True, there are no sure things in baseball, but it's easy enough to spot generational talents when you see them.

    The year Buxton came aboard, Sano hit 28 home runs in A-ball as a teenager. Not longer after, Buck was the unanimous top prospect in baseball. These were standout studs that any organization in the same situation would build around. Their presence was vitalizing.

    As Twins fans endured a half-decade of dismal baseball, the ascending superstars served as shining beacons of hope and reassurance. We watched them dominate each level of the minors. We also watched them endure their occasional setbacks, most of them common enough.

    But up until this year, there's never been reason to doubt the duo's ability to sustainably power contending clubs, in the same way Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau did during the last winning cycle.

    Everything was in place. Coming into this season, Sano and Buxton were both 24 years old, established as successful major-league players. One was coming off an All Star appearance, the other an MVP-caliber second half.

    To be receiving very close to ZERO from a pair of players who were at the very heart of the design makes winning almost impossible. These are bad breaks that can't be absorbed. You've got to feel for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, who have seen so much of their well constructed plan fall into place around this defective nucleus.

    Vastly improved rotation and bullpen. Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar playing out of their minds. A truly terrible division. Insert the versions of Buxton and Sano that we all expected – or even close, or even one or the other – into that equation, and the team is winning this division right now. Maybe handily.

    But when you go from top-gear Buxton to a mere shell, and then a minor-league journeyman in Ryan LaMarre? When you go from a herculean Sano in 2017 to the total mess we've winced at through nine weeks of 2018?

    We have seen where that leaves us. Six games below .500 on June 7th. Five games out of first place. A team frittering away every burst of momentum that its contributing parts can muster because the core is fizzling.

    And what's most demoralizing about this state of affairs? How utterly inexplicable and remediless it feels.

    Prospects bust all the time – even some that look like sure bets. You can't call Sano or Buxton busts. You just can't. They're still too young, for one, but more importantly they've both shown the ability to convincingly dominate in the majors.

    These two transcendent talents continue to be haunted by issues that defy explanation. Sure, there's a healthy dose of bad luck at play for both – enduring from their injury-hampered days in the minors – but it goes beyond that.

    To watch baseball players of this caliber wallow in perpetual regression... it leaves me speechless. I've got nothing. Equally devoid of answers, it would seem, is the considerable braintrust working diligently to get them on track.

    Diagnosing what's wrong with the Twins is easy: it's Buxton and Sano. That's just about the long and short of it. If only diagnosing and correcting whatever afflicts them were so simple.

    • Jun 06 2018 11:31 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  10. What's Next For Byron Buxton?

    Minnesota's top prospect was demoted a little over a week ago. His Triple-A results have mirrored his big league results as he is striking out too often and not getting on base enough. There has been a little bit more power, three extra-base hits and a .608 OPS, but these numbers aren't going to make the Twins come calling in the immediate future.

    Over the last two seasons at the big league level, Buxton has a total of 187 plate appearance and 174 at-bats with 15 extra-base hits. One of the most concerning issues has been his strikeout totals. He has 68 combined strikeouts so he struck out in 36.4% of his plate appearances. Speed is one of his biggest tools but he's only getting on base 23.9% of the time so it's hard to utilize this tool.

    What's Next For Byron Buxton?

    Buxton has plenty to prove in the minors before the Twins are willing to give him another shot at baseball's highest level. Buxton doesn't even have 100 at-bats at the Triple-A level under his belt so there is still things for him to focus on as he prepares for another big league opportunity.

    Strikeouts
    Out of players with a minimum of 40 plate appearances in 2016, Buxton's 49.0 K% is the highest in the big leagues. Since he has been in Rochester, he has improved his K% slightly to 32.4% but it's still much too high. Seeing better pitching on a daily basis has been tough for Buxton. He is going to have to learn how to make the appropriate adjustments. When he was drafted, there were some who questioned the level of competition he was facing in rural Georgia. For now, he needs to do a better job of recognizing pitches and working counts in his favor.

    On-Base Percentage
    Besides strikeouts, one of the biggest areas of concern has been Buxton's inability to get on base at a consistent clip. If he wants to be able to showcase his blazing speed, he needs to find a way to make more consistent contact and get on base. During the 2015 season at Double-A and Triple-A, Buxton hit over .300 and got on base 36.7% of the time. Those numbers would be great but with each movement up the ladder there have been new struggles . He's still almost five years younger than the competition in the International League but it can be frustrating to think that some of the best young players in the game were already finding big league success in their age-22 season.

    Steals
    Buxton stole a remarkable 55 bases in 2013 while being caught 19 times between Low-A and High-A. In his injury plagued 2014 season (31 games), he swiped six bases and was caught twice. Last season, Buxton played over 100 games and was caught stealing only five times but he was also limited to 24 steals. At baseball's highest levels, the pitchers have better pick-off moves and the catchers have stronger arms. Stealing bases is an art form and it could be one of the most valuable pieces of Buxton's game if he can find the right balance on the base paths.

    Is Buxton a bust as a prospect? Only time will tell at this point. There is plenty of baseball left in his career and he will have other opportunities at the MLB level. He will need to make a significant reduction in his strikeout percentage while making more consistent contact and using his speed as a weapon on the bases.

    This might sound like a lot but he's a young man with all the tools in the world. It's his turn to prove to the organization that he can be the player that all of the baseball world claims he should be.

    • May 02 2016 03:29 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  11. What's A Realistic Timeline For Byron Buxton?

    Buxton's allure goes beyond the fact that he's arguably the best prospect in the game. His dynamic skill set will make him appointment viewing, because he's capable of doing amazing things on a regular basis. That's been on display at Class-AA Chattanooga over his past 10 games, during which Buxton has batted .415 with five steals, four triples and two homers -- one of them a walk-off shot on Monday night.

    Not only will Buxton's arrival deliver an enormous marketing jolt, it will more importantly provide a huge boost on the field. He offers so many things that the Twins desperately need if they want to hang around as a contender in the AL Central.

    Offering elite speed along with the ability to draw walks and get on base, Buxton is a prototypical leadoff hitter. When you look at the production from the top three spots in the Twins' lineup, it is obvious that they could use one of those, as the struggles of Danny Santana and others have lessened the impact of the two spots that follow in the order (often occupied by Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer):

    No. 1 Hitter: .261/.289/.383
    No. 2 Hitter: .273/.322/.445
    No. 3 Hitter: .297/.374/.386

    Twins leadoff hitters have produced the lowest OBP of any spot in the lineup save for No. 9.

    Capable of running down any fly ball in his zip code and possessing a cannon arm, Buxton profiles as a premium defensive center fielder. The Twins have been trotting out a pseudo-platoon of Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson in center up to this point, leaving much to be desired. Buxton would fill the biggest hole in the lineup while also substantially upgrading a porous outfield defense.

    Then there's this: In some capacity, Torii Hunter was supposedly brought on to serve in a mentorship role, but presently there aren't really any young players on the roster for him to help along -- not any that speak much English, anyway. Buxton is seemingly one of the players who stands to benefit most from Hunter's influence, but he can't do so in Chattanooga. With Hunter on a one-year deal, the Twins need to get their star prospect up in the somewhat near future if they want Hunter to be able to aid his transition to the majors.

    When you take all these things into account, it's easy to see why the Twins might feel a bit more urgency to bring Buxton along more quickly than they typically would. But of course, all of these factors are superseded by the importance of his development.

    They're not going to do anything that may negatively affect his ability to smoothly and successfully make the jump to the majors, nor should they. And despite his recent blazing hot streak, Buxton remains a 21-year-old coming off a lost season, with just 24 games of experience in Double-A.

    As badly as they were burned by the Aaron Hicks experience, one could understand the Twins opting for a conservative approach with their most prized asset, waiting until September or maybe even 2016 to consider a promotion regardless of his performance in the minors.

    However, I really can't emphasize this enough: Buxton is a different animal. He's a transcendent talent, on another level entirely from prospects such as Hicks or Danny Santana or Kennys Vargas. The Twins won't -- or at least shouldn't -- feel trepidation based on those past examples.

    Buxton's prospect caliber matches that of a young Joe Mauer, who was installed as a big-leaguer at age 21 after just 73 games in Double-A and caught on immediately. It matches Mike Trout, who was in the majors for good at age 20. It matches Kris Bryant, who was called up by the Cubs last month after just 181 total games in the minors, and is now excelling in Chi-town.

    Clearly, Buxton is not in line for an imminent promotion to the big leagues. He needs to continue working in Chattanooga for the time being, to prove that he's fully back on track and to keep building confidence.

    If he does both of those things for a couple of more months, and the All-Star break is approaching, and the Twins still need his services as badly as they do now?

    Why not?

    • May 06 2015 07:55 AM
    • by Nick Nelson
  12. What To Make Of All These Prospect Lists

    In the 2016 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook, Jeremy Nygaard, Cody Christie and I did a ton of research on over 150 Twins minor leaguers. Upon completing that, we each posted our own individual Top 30 Twins Prospect lists. For all four of us we started the rankings with Byron Buxton, JO Berrios Max Kepler and Nick Gordon.

    After those four, the three prospect lists branched off in various directions. We all read information. Jeremy researched by talking to many people who know the players well. Cody spent hours upon hours digging into the statistics from various sites and locations, considering improvements or decreases from the previous year. I talked to a lot of people inside the organization, outside the organization and in the industry.

    We all could read each other’s paragraphs and information and yet, we all interpreted it a little bit different. We all have our “favorites,” guys that we like as prospects a little more (or less) than the other two. Many of you have read through the pages of this year’s (and previous years') prospect handbooks.

    Steve Buhr and Ted Schwerzlerposted their Top 15 Twins prospect rankings in the last month. Thrylos posted his Top 40 and has different criteria on what he considers a “prospect” than the others. Aaron Gleeman started his Top 40 Twins prospect series this week.

    When Mike Berardino researched and wrote the Twins top prospect reports and rankings for Baseball America, I guarantee he made a ton of phones calls. Keith Law has a background in a front office, in scouting and now in TV for ESPN. He talked to, likely, some of the same people that some of us “locals” talked to, but he also certainly talked to many others. John Sickelshas contacts all over baseball.

    My personal opinion is that it is important to see these players in practice and in game action, if possible. I value the week that I’ve been able to spend in Ft. Myers, trying to keep up with everything that is going on on the minor league fields. I think it’s important to see pitchers work in the bullpen, during PFPs, and interacting with catchers. It’s good to see hitters during batting practice, but also hitting against live pitching. It’s good to see them run the bases and in the outfield. It’s good to see the work ethic and range or the infielders. It’s also good to see the people, their athletic level, and know that they’re much more than just box scores and stat lines.

    All read, research, watch video and read stats to varying degrees. And there rarely, if ever, is any sort of consensus.

    That’s why Keith Law can rank Kohl Stewart as the 53rd overall prospect in baseball this spring, fourth among Twins prospects, and I rank him as the 11th Twins prospect in my list. How does that happen? Well, some focus on Stewart’s lack of strikeouts in his two pro seasons. Others choose to focus on his strong arm, his athleticism, his strength, his ground ball rate and his pitches. Both would agree that how he winds up will depend on how he develops over the next three or four years.

    It’s why I’m the only one who has Aaron Slegers in his top 30 (28th). I look at his height, his arm angle, his tremendous control, a solid three-pitch mix, and I think he can be a back-of-the-rotation starter. He may not get much taller, but he will likely continue to grow, and a 92 mph fastball could become a 94 mph fastball. We shall see.

    Maybe the best example is Jermaine Palacios. While I ranked him as my #21 Twins prospect, Jeremy ranked him #10, and Palacios didn’t make Cody’s Top 30. Not many players come from Venezuela as an 18-year-old and completely dominate pitchers in both the GCL and the Appy League. Others will note the lack of walks. Some will notice that he had a ton of errors at shortstop and wonder if he can stay at that position.

    Who is right? Right now there is no way at all to answer that question. In theory, we may have that answer in about five years. In reality, we may have to wait 20 or more years to really know who was right.

    In fact, I guarantee that if we were all allowed access into the Twins organizational meetings following the season, we would hear differing opinions on each and every player. I guarantee there isn’t a unanimous opinion on any big leaguer or minor leaguer or free agent. Just like in every business, or in every family.

    If I’ve learned one thing in my 12-13 years of watching, researching and writing about the Twins minor league system and prospect rankings in general, there is just one absolute. The lone absolute is that there are no absolutes. There are exceptions to every rule. There are non-prospects who become stars, and there are guys like Brandon Wood.

    In 2006 and 2007, Wood was a clear Top 10 prospect in all of baseball. He was putting up huge home run totals in the minor leagues. He was touted as a future 40 home run per year hitter. In parts of five big league seasons he hit a combined 18 home runs. Yes, the same number that Miguel Sano hit in three months with the Twins last year.

    Sometimes #1 overall prospects pan out. Joe Mauer certainly put together a career worthy of that lofty perch. Delmon Young was also the #1 overall prospect at one time. Jon Rauch was the #4 prospect in baseball in 2001. Baseball America’s 1995 Top 5 prospects were Alex Rodriguez, Ruben Rivera, Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, and Brian Hunter. Three out of five is pretty good, but it is a reminder that they just don’t all make it.

    So, what do these prospects rankings do for us?

    Well, it allows us to dream. The Twins have had Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Buxton has been a consensus top two prospect the last three years. Sano was a top ten prospect a couple of times and places. JO Berrios has moved up the prospect ranking ladder consistently since signing. Max Kepler’s tools finally kicked in. Jorge Polanco may not have a clear path to the Twins, but he can certainly hit, even if we don’t know where he’ll play. Top six picks like Buxton, Kohl Stewart, Nick Gordon and Tyler Jay provide plenty of upside. Consider also the relief pitching prospects that the Twins could have pitching for them within the next two years.

    I’ve said this before, but it remains true. I look at the Twins minor league system, and I see arguably 30-40 players who could spend time in the big leagues. When you consider that there are 160-200 minor league players in the Twins system at any time, that may not sound like a lot, but it’s more than you’ll see in most organizations. Considering where the Twins minor league system was six to eight years ago, it’s even more impressive.

    Let’s say there are 40 players that the Twins or fans think could get to the big leagues. The reality is that probably one and possibly two will become perennial All-Stars. Maybe five or six will become big league regulars, in the lineup most days or a starting pitcher. Another five or six will likely spend a few years in the big leagues as a role player, a utility player or sixth or seventh inning guy. Another seven or eight will get a proverbial cup of coffee. And that leaves around fifth to twenty that may not even get to the big leagues. Also, there are going to be five or six guys that will play at least a few games in the big league that right now today, we may not think will not play in the big leagues.

    That’s why having a strong, deep minor league system is so important.

    It is incredibly hard to get to the big leagues. It takes a ton of work and talent, and sometimes it takes the right situation and a little luck. Consider just how good a baseball player someone has to be to get as much as a cup of coffee in the big leagues. I mean frankly, imagine how good a ballplayer needs to be to get to Low A.

    That’s the reason that I write the Twins Prospect Handbook. All of the players deserve to be recognized for what they do. It’s important. It’s deserved.

    You may disagree with Kohl Stewart’s ranking by Keith Law. You may be right. Or you may not.

    Who will have a better career Stewart, or fellow 2013 pick Stephen Gonsalves?
    Will Tyler Jay be able to transition to starting, or will he wind up being a dominant reliever?

    Will Alex Meyer pitch like he did in 2014 when he was one of the best AAA pitchers in baseball, or will he find a way to be successful in the bullpen?

    Can Adam Brett Walker be a productive big league power hitter, or will the contact rate make that impossible?

    Will Byron Buxton be a successful big leaguer because of his defense and speed and arm, or will he be able to hit well and become an elite, MVP-caliber player?

    Can JO Berrios become a top of the rotation starter, or will he be more of a mid-rotation type?

    In 2015, Max Kepler turned his tools into skills in AA, but can he take that next step and become a five-tool talent in the big leagues? Can he repeat his AA success in the big leagues?

    Can Nick Burdi and JT Chargois harness their control and command and become a dominant eighth and ninth inning combination for the Twins in the not-too-distant future?

    Can Taylor Rogers quickly make the transition from starter to a guy the Twins can rely on to get left-handed hitters out in the seventh and eighth innings? How quickly can lefties Mason Melotakis and Corey Williams get to the big leagues after Tommy John surgery? How will high-end pitching prospects like Lewis Thorpe and Fernando Romero return in 2016 from their Tommy John surgeries and return to game action?

    The questions can go on and on when they refer to prospects. There are probably a half-dozen or more questions per minor leaguer. And for each there is no ‘Wrong’ answer, and there is only one ‘Right’ answer. That answer is “Maybe.”

    But the best thing about prospect rankings for fans is the discussions that they encourage. They let us dream of what could be for Twins fans. They get us excited about the upcoming season and about what will happen with the Twins and throughout the minor leagues. Which prospects will take the next step? Which prospects will fall from prospect status? Which prospects will jump up to the big leagues?

    So let’s look at the lists. Let’s see how people rank the Twins prospects, or the Twins farm system. Let’s discuss it. Are they right? Are we right?

    Maybe.

    • Feb 12 2016 08:15 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  13. What To Do With Byron Buxton?

    Buxton returns to a Rochester Red Wings team with 22 games remaining on the schedule. Their season runs through September 3rd, at which point (if not before) the Twins will need to make a decision.

    They have two options:

    A ) Recall Buxton, either once the Triple-A seasons ends or before then
    B ) Send Buxton home once Rochester's season is over

    I find myself torn here.

    On the one hand...

    I love Buxton. I love watching him play baseball. The Twins are a more interesting team to watch with him on the field, even while struggling.

    I also want to see a very likable and (outwardly) unselfish guy get his due. Buck's an established major-league player, with more than a thousand plate appearances under his belt, and there's no question he can help the Twins in September, even if still broken at the plate. Assuming his toe is back to 100%, you won't find a better pinch runner or defensive replacement.

    There's also this: The Twins kinda need Buxton to figure it out at the big-league level in short order. Patience is becoming an unaffordable luxury. He turns 25 this offseaosn and will be eligible for Super 2 arbitration.

    Starting over again in the minors next year is hardly palatable. Might as well get him as many ABs as you can the rest of the way.

    On the other hand...

    There is a bigger picture at play, yielding two crucial considerations.

    First: Buxton's health. The old sports adage "bubble-wrap this kid" has never seemed more plausible as a literal course of action. The 24-year-old has barely been able to go two weeks without getting hurt or aggravating a previous malady. On two occasions this year, the Twins have brought him off the disabled list before an injury was fully healed.

    I'm not claiming medical malpractice here – these things happen. But why risk letting them happen any more in a totally lost season, for both player and club? Buxton's recklessly aggressive playing style puts him perpetually at risk, and that's before you account for the possibility that his left wrist, which he's injured significantly at least twice in the past, won't be a lingering issue, nor the fractured toe that never received much time to heal.

    A jumpstart to the offseason, with an extra month to rest and recuperate, wouldn't be a bad thing from any perspective.

    Second: Buxton's service time. As Mike Berardino pointed out when Buxton was optioned, Minnesota stands to gain an additional year of control (2022) should the center fielder fail to accrue another 13 days in the majors.

    Pretty straightforward math here: Is one month of Buxton, utterly out of sorts at age 24, worth forfeiting a full season at age 28, when he's hopefully amidst his superstar prime?

    On the surface it's a nonstarter. From a strategic standpoint, that one year of team control is enormously valuable, whether the Twins wanna run out his clock, or leverage it in extension or trade talks. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are well aware of this, to be sure.

    And it's not like they would be totally unjustified in leaving Buxton off the September roster, should his performance in the final 22 games at Rochester resemble that in the first 22 (.215/.295/.380, 32% K-rate). When Minnesota exercised that his option in July, it was a directive to get healthy and on track, earn his way back. Thus far I'm not sure anyone can argue that he has.

    But it's certainly not for lack of effort. No one who's ever met Buxton would question his heart or his commitment. The man has endured some absolute crap luck and in a way, opting not to recall Buck would be penalizing him for it. Pushing back free agency a year would be lovely from the team's perspective, but it'd be a major gut-punch for the player.

    As Dr. Dre once said, "Sometimes the business end of this sh*t can turn your friends against you."

    Shutting Buxton down in September would unquestionably be the sound business decision. But is it worth creating ill will with an incredibly talented player you view as a long-term cornerstone?

    My view, right now, is that if Buxton shows serious improvement over these next three weeks in Triple-A – in terms of process more so than results – I bring him back up to play regularly in September.

    But like I said, I'm torn. It appears that's true of the fan base at large. I asked Twitter what Buxton needs to do to warrant a September call-up, and here's a smattering of the wide-ranging replies:















    I'm curious to hear what you all think. Call Buxton up in September? Sooner? Rest him and claim the extra year of service? Or should the outcome be merit-based, and if so, how do you make meaningful determinations over a couple dozen games?

    • Aug 14 2018 10:56 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  14. What The Hell Just Happened?

    In mid-April, the Twins lost six of seven games in a week to division foes. In May, they lost five of six to Cleveland and Houston, which included one gut-wrenching loss and several drubbings. At the end of July they lost seven of eight and traded away a starting pitcher and their closer. Finally, just last week, they lost five of six in the midst of the Wild Card race.

    In each case they persevered. In each case they bounced back, most recently with a five-game winning streak. Also, to be fair, in each case their rivals kind of blew it. The Royals struggled badly out of the gate. Several Wild Card contenders stumbled shortly after the trade deadline. The Angels were getting swept themselves when the Twins were swept by the Yankees.

    But focusing on rivals’ problems need not be disparaging. The Twins did what the others could not – they persevered. It’s easy in today’s society to overlook Grit in the search for The Shiny. That is our failing. Grit is a differentiator.


    “My turn shall also come:
    I sense the spreading of a wing.”
    - Osip Mendelstam

    The Twins overall philosophy as a smallish market club has not changed. One can also find it with other teams and with families. The family grows with the kids. It invests in them, probably to its short-term detriment. And it does this in the hope that one day The Growth happens and raises everyone up.

    Baseball prospects get more early attention than ever before, and so the clock starts ticking earlier on them in the minds of the media and fans. It’s not surprising that we grow impatient. Eventually, we even grow impatient with the impatience.

    It took a while, but all those investments were paid back in full this August. When the season was on the brink, they Twins were led back from the ledge by the kids. The Twins went 20-10 in August, and the engine was their offense, which outscored the rest of the American League. A couple of veterans, Brian Dozier (1.023 OPS) & Joe Mauer (.863 OPS) paced the team, but the surge was driven by three guys under the age of 26: Jorge Polanco (1.099 OPS), Byron Buxton (.973 OPS) & Eddie Rosario (.944 OPS).

    None of them are going to keep up that pace for their careers, but none of them have fallen off a cliff in September, either. We’re sensing the spreading of wings.


    “The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”
    – Robert Jordan

    I was not optimistic about this bullpen, and neither was Twins manager Paul Molitor. There have been times, like that terrible Houston series, where they have been more embarrassing than I could have imagined. There have been times where they were ranked dead last in ERA. In fact, by that metric, they’re still not … good. Their 4.45 ERA ranks 12th in the American League.

    But there is a better advanced stat for measuring bullpen efficacy: WPA. It measures the ability of the bullpen to turn a game into a win – or a loss. The Twins bullpen ranks 9th in the AL and has a value of .31, which means they’re about 1/3 of a win better than bullpens have historically been. That isn’t especially impressive, but ….

    This team traded away its closer, Brandon Kintxler, at the trade deadline. Their best reliever in the second half, Trevor Hildenberger, spent part of last year in High-A Fort Myers. Their current shutdown closer, Matt Belisle, was a late-season, low-cost free agent pickup who had a 5.82 ERA in the first half of the season. They are a collection of no-names who have kept it together to survive and protect the games they needed to protect. If a handful would have slipped away, the Twins are also-rans.

    They bent – a lot – but they did not break, and the team survived.


    “The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud.”
    – Goldie Hawn

    The Twins were supposed to have a thin starting rotation – and then they lost three arms: Trevor May, Hector Santiago, and Phil Hughes. That put a large burden on Ervin Santana, who served both as staff ace (especially early) and workhorse. However, the year was saved when the other 80% of the starts were taken by youngsters or pitchers who bloomed despite dealing with their share of mud.

    Jose Berrios has been a dependable #2 starter; his ERA was 8.02 last year. Adalberto Mejia, to quote the movie Clerks, wasn’t even supposed to be here. Neither was 44-year-old Bartolo Colon, who injected hope mid-season after posting an 8.14 ERA with Atlanta. And finally, Kyle Gibson, who had a 6.05 ERA and looked like he had pitched himself out of a baseball career in mid-August, posted a 2.56 ERA in his last seven starts, all of which the Twins won. The rotation hasn’t thrived, but it survived, and we’re seeing a couple of the petals open one by one.


    “Change may not always bring growth, but there is no growth without change.”
    ― Roy T. Bennett

    We may look back on the 2017 Twins the way we look back on the 1984 season or the 2002 season as a year of breakthroughs, a sign of things to come. Twins fans (and the Twins organization) have traveled a similar road, but that doesn’t make it any easier when one is lost and wondering if this path will go anywhere. This time, it did, but it took a lot of resilience and growth to get there.

    "We will either find a way, or make one."
    - Anibal Barca


    ~~~~

    • Sep 28 2017 08:27 PM
    • by John Bonnes
  15. What Could The Twins Trade For Trout?

    To understand why this could be necessary, it's important to understand the current state of affairs in Los Angeles. The Angels are hurting with mounting injuries and they have a historically bad minor league system. Having the best player in the world doesn't help if a team isn't able to provide supporting pieces to make a postseason run. Los Angeles hasn't been in the playoffs since 2014 and they haven't won a playoff series since 2009.

    Minnesota's poor start to the season isn't exactly screaming that this club is ready to take a big step forward and make a playoff push. However, the Twins have one of the best farm systems in the game and this means they could put together quite the package to try to lure Los Angeles into at least considering a deal.

    Any deal for Trout would likely need to include many of the Twins best prospects. Coming into the 2016 season, Minnesota's top position player prospects included Byron Buxton, Nick Gordon, Max Kepler, and Jorge Polanco. The team's best pitching prospects were Jose Berrios, Tyler Jay, Stephen Gonsalves, and Kohl Stewart.

    For the Twins to make this kind of move, it would likely take five, six, or even seven of these players. The club has a lot already invested in each of these men as they get closer to becoming big league regulars. This core of young talent is supposed to change a losing culture back into this organization's winning ways.

    Trout is a superstar player and he can make a huge difference on the field but he can't play all nine positions at once. He is under contract through 2020 when he will be 28-years old. The scary thing could be that he might still be getting better as he gets closer to his prime and this would only add more value to his current contract.

    The Twins don't look like they are in a position to win this season. Trading away the organization's top prospects would be bargaining away the future with no guarantee that Trout would bring winning baseball back to Minnesota. In fact, Trout coming to Minnesota might be a worse situation for him than his current club unless the Twins were to overhaul their roster. That would be tough to do with a chunk of the farm system dealt for Trout.

    At this point, a deal for Trout might be a pipe dream as the Angels' GM came out and said that Trout isn't going anywhere. "We have not intent or desire to consider moving Mike Trout -- he's not moving," said Billy Eppler told Fox Sports. "He's an impact player, a huge piece in a championship core."

    If you are sitting in Terry Ryan's chair, what kind of offer would you put on the table? Would it be worth betting the future for the best player in the game? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    • May 12 2016 08:25 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  16. What Can Be Done to Awaken Slumbering Twins Offense?

    For a time, scorching hot streaks from Eduardo Escobar and Eddie Rosario served to cover up for an offense that was just never really clicking.

    The Twins scored at least four runs in each of their first 11 games in May but never more than eight. We still haven't seen a double-digit run total all year. The anticipated explosiveness hasn't been there for this unit. A team that led the American League in scoring down the stretch last season entered play on Tuesday ranked 10th in runs/game and 12th in OPS.

    While the AL's prime contenders are doing their things – New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Cleveland rank first through fourth in R/G – the Twins offense has sputtered, showing only sporadic flashes of its dazzling upside.

    What's to be done? Well, to a large extent, all we can do is wait. If this group is gonna turn around it will be because Brian Dozier discovers his next gear, and Miguel Sano comes back to mash, and Joe Mauer finds some semblance of power, and Byron Buxton snaps out of his typical early-season funk, and Eddie Rosario settles into a sustainable approach at the plate.

    History tells us at least some of these things will happen. But as the Central continues to look eminently winnable, patience is starting to wear thin. At some point the Twins need to take action in an effort to jolt this offense awake.

    Here are a few options they could consider. Note that I'm not endorsing all of these solutions, only suggesting they should be on the table.

    Call Up Nick Gordon and LaMonte Wade from Class-AA Chattanooga

    The Twins pitching staff was in a freefall before Fernando Romero arrived on May 2nd and propelled the team to a shutout victory, snapping a losing streak and sparking a 7-1 run. Since then, the rotation and bullpen have both had a noticeably renewed swagger, and results have reflected it.

    It's not a simple cause-and-effect, but there is something to be said about the contagious energy that a talented and highly motivated young talent can infuse.

    Granted, Romero was in Triple-A and not Double-A, but the argument can easily be made that Gordon and Wade should've started in Rochester as well. At Chattanooga, 22-year-old shortstop Gordon entered play Tuesday slashing .350/.392/.526 while the 24-year-old outfielder Wade was at .300/.401/.442.

    Both prospects need to be added to the 40-man roster, complicating matters, but each offers something the Twins could really use. Gordon brings sneaky power from a wiry athletic frame and would represent a big upgrade over the scuffling Ehire Adrianza (whose play has arguably earned him a DFA). Wade is one of the most disciplined hitters in the system and has consistently been a .400 OBP guy in the minors.

    These are the two most MLB-ready hitting prospects in the high minors, and each has been making his case since spring training, where Gordon batted .417 and Wade had a .441 OBP.

    Option Byron Buxton to Triple-A

    As much as Molitor – and all of us, really – would love to believe otherwise, it's clear that Buxton is not a naturally adept hitter who can quickly acclimate and get rolling at the plate. Not at this stage of his career anyway.

    Despite his tremendous finish in 2017, the center fielder once again came out of the gates flat this season. Then he had a bout with migraines. Then he broke his toe. Now, the Twins have curiously activated him directly from the disabled list, so he can try and play with a bum digit and a month's worth of rust.

    I guess we shouldn't be surprised by the outcome. Since returning, Buxton has been at his worst offensively, which is an exceedingly low bar. In five games, he is 2-for-16 with six strikeouts. The two hits, while both big, came in the form of a bloop double off the end of the bat and a bunt single that traveled five feet.

    Even with a bad toe, Buxton's defense is irreplaceable, and he's probably just as well trying to solve his hitting woes against MLB pitching. But if you're looking to quickly jump-start the lineup, there's no more obvious candidate for removal. He has been an almost automatic out.

    To replace him, you could call up Wade and shift Rosario or Max Kepler to center. Or you could call up Ryan LaMarre or Jake Cave or Zack Granite from Rochester as short-term plugs.

    Acquire a Catcher

    Jason Castro underwent surgery on Tuesday and is expected to miss 4-for-6 weeks (or, as this team's estimations have gone, 8-to-12). Mitch Garver and Bobby Wilson don't present the kind of catcher duo that inspires huge confidence offensively.

    It is obviously slim pickings out there among the remaining free agents.

    Carlos Ruiz is 39 and put up a .665 OPS in 53 games with Seattle last year. He went unsigned during the offseason despite expressing an interest in continuing to play. If he's stayed in shape he might be worth a flier. Geovany Soto, 35, is also still out there.

    Neither of these guys are enticing options, and they'd also take time to ramp up, potentially pushing an arrival close to Castro's return. But it's no given that Castro will be able to come back strong; he's nine years older than a spry young Mauer whose rookie season at catcher was ruined by a torn knee meniscus.

    * UPDATE: The Twins announced on Wednesday that Castro will miss the rest of the season after his surgery proved more extensive than expected. Go figure. *

    This is where the organization's lack of high-level catching depth is quickly becoming an issue, which isn't entire surprising. It wouldn't hurt to add someone capable, even if that means giving up a bit in trade. Considering that two-thirds of the league are in blatant tanking mode, it shouldn't be all that hard to find a seller.

    Shake Up the Batting Order

    Get weird. Try Kepler in the leadoff spot. Move Dozier to cleanup. Escobar in the two-hole. Whatever. Perhaps a different type of sequencing or dynamic will stir something up. It couldn't really hurt at this point.

    I'd like to hear some other ideas. What would you do to inject life into a Twins offense that simply isn't getting it done?

    • May 16 2018 09:44 AM
    • by Nick Nelson
  17. Week in Review: Wasted Starts

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/21 through Sun, 5/27

    ***

    Record Last Week: 2-4

    Run Differential Last Week: +1 (Overall -20)

    Standings: 3rd place in AL Central (3.5 GB)


    HIGHLIGHTS

    AKA, the pitchers.

    The Twins pitching staff has done the seemingly impossible this year by not being a total liability. In fact, of late they have actually been pretty good. It seems they were sparked by the promotion of Fernando Romero, who has been lights-out over his first five starts.

    The Twins rotation put out five quality starts in the six games this week. Overall, the starters combined for a 2.68 ERA over 40 1/3 innings pitched with 34 strikeouts and just six walks.

    Jose Berrios has returned to form with two more excellent starts this week. On Monday against the Tigers, Berrios gave up just two runs over eight innings while striking out nine. He followed that up with another gem on Sunday, this time giving up two runs over 7 1/3 with eight strikeouts.

    On Tuesday night, Lance Lynn had his best start in a Twins uniform. He looked sharp all night and most importantly he looked like he finally had control of his pitches. Lynn’s control has been a lot better going back a few starts. So far in May, he is walking just 3.1 batters per nine innings, down from the 8.75 he averaged in April.

    As good as the rotation was this week, the bullpen was even better. Overall, they combined to give up just two runs across 12 innings, and they did it with 14 strikeouts and just one walk.

    Even though he gave up the walk-off home run to Mike Zunino on Saturday night, Matt Magill continues to impress. So far this year Magill has worked 14 1/3 innings and given up three runs and walked just one hitter.

    LOWLIGHTS

    AKA, the hitters.

    As great as Twins pitching was this week, the hitters were equally awful. They managed to score just 16 runs all week and just six over the current four-game losing streak.

    What made the Twins offense so great during the second half of last season was the constant production they were getting up and down the lineup. So far this year that hasn’t been the case.

    Brian Dozier hasn’t been anywhere near the All-Star level player that he was over the last few seasons. Miguel Sano finally returned to the lineup Friday night, but he hasn’t had all that special of a season when healthy as his OPS hovers around .700.

    What’s really killing this team is the bottom of the order has turned into an almost guaranteed 1-2-3. Ehire Adrianza is batting just .214 with basically no power, and a below average walk rate. Bobby Wilson, who has been getting quite a bit of playing time since the Jason Castro injury, is just 4-for-28.

    However, the biggest hole in the lineup has come from Byron Buxton. Entering play on Sunday, Buxton had a wRC+ of 4, which ranked 312th out of the 313 MLB hitters with at least 80 plate appearances this year. That was before another 0-for-3.

    TRENDING STORYLINES

    The big news of the week came Sunday afternoon when the Twins parted ways with Phil Hughes by trading him to the San Diego Padres. Minnesota also sent the 74th pick in next week's draft to the Padres in exchange for Janigson Villalobos and $7.25 million in relief off the Hughes contract.

    The timetable on the return of Ervin Santana seemed to get pushed back yet again. Santana’s velocity has been down, sitting mostly in the upper 80s. As a result, Santana will make his next start down in Fort Myers.

    Trevor May seems set to make his long awaited return to the Twins next week when he is eligible to come off the 60-Day DL. In what will likely by his last rehab start on Sunday, May worked just 2 2/3 and gave up seven earned runs.

    DOWN ON THE FARM

    Nick Gordon received his much-anticipated promotion to AAA Rochester this week, and it's well-deserved, as Gordon had been hitting the cover off the ball for Chattanooga this year. In his 181 plate appearances with the Lookouts, Gordon had a .333/.381/.525 slash line with five home runs. He was also 7 for 9 on stolen base attempts, and was striking out just 15% of the time.

    Twins top prospect Royce Lewis broke out of a mini slump on Sunday afternoon, belting two home runs in game one of Cedar Rapids' doubleheader. He also made this spectacular running grab Saturday night, showing off just how much range he has, and why many people believe he will make it as a center fielder if he can’t stay at short.



    Brent Rooker also had a big week. Heading into play on Sunday, Rooker had a .400/.478/.950 slash line with three home runs and two doubles.

    LOOKING AHEAD

    The Twins will finish up their road trip with a three-game series in Kansas City starting on Monday. This will be just the first time the Twins get to face the Royals this year. They will then return home to take on the Cleveland Indians in a big four-game set.

    MONDAY, 5/28: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Lance Lynn v. RHP Jakob Junis
    TUESDAY, 5/29: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. LHP Danny Duffy
    WEDNESDAY, 5/30: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Fernando Romero v. RHP Brad Keller
    THURSDAY, 5/31: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Carlos Carrasco v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
    FRIDAY, 6/1: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Trevor Bauer v. RHP Jose Berrios
    SATURDAY, 6/2: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Adam Plutko v. RHP Lance Lynn
    SUNDAY, 6/3: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Mike Clevinger v. RHP Kyle Gibson

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

    • May 28 2018 11:32 AM
    • by Andrew Thares
  18. Week in Review: Trouble at Home

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 8/19 through Sun, 8/25

    ***

    Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 79-51)

    Run Differential Last Week: +7 (Overall: +151)

    Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (3.5 GA)

    Willians Watch: 7-for-19 (.368) at AAA


    Willians Astudillo moved his rehab up to Triple-A, where he continued to rake with seven hits in four games. He mixed in at catcher, third base and right field for Rochester, and should be back in Minnesota by the end of next weekend.

    In more objectively important injury recovery news, Byron Buxton went through a full complement of baseball activities on Friday without a hitch, and opened up his own rehab stint at Cedar Rapids on Sunday. Starting at DH and batting second, Buxton went 1-for-2 with a walk and a signature hustle double.

    The easiest thing would be for Minnesota to wait until rosters expand next Sunday to activate Buxton. But at the same time, every game is important right now, and he's such a difference-maker. If he looks fully back up to speed early in the week, will they accelerate his timeline and maybe get him back for the Tigers series... or even for Chicago on Tuesday? (Dick Bremer astutely noted in Sunday's broadcast that Cedar Rapids is a short jaunt...)

    Buxton's imminent return, along with news that Cleveland has likely lost Jose Ramirez for the rest of the season with a hamate bone fracture, would seem to bode very well for the Twins. But of course, they have to go out and capitalize on the opportunities thrown their way.

    In a quiet week for transactions, the only other move worth mentioning is that Ryne Harper was optioned to Triple-A on Saturday, coming off another lackluster performance against the Tigers. Cody Stashak is back (Zack Littell was not an option since he went down less than 10 days ago). Harper was arguably Minnesota's second-best reliever in the first half, but hitters have gotten wise to his two-pitch mix, leading to a 7.36 ERA in August. He'll likely be back in September.

    HIGHLIGHTS

    When the Twins made their biggest offseason splash by signing Nelson Cruz, we all naturally wondered: Can he maintain the elite power production that's been his norm, or will age start taking a toll and limiting him?

    The answer, as it turns out: yes and yes.

    Cruz has already sat out more games this year than any of the past five, held back from interleague action and nagged persistently by a wrist that might've healed more cooperatively in his younger days. But when on the field, the 39-year-old has played through his barking wrist with unbelievable effectiveness – especially in his return to action last week off a stunningly short absence.

    Showing no ill effect from a ruptured tendon, Cruz swung the stick like a man possessed at Target Field, piling up five extra-base hits and seven RBIs amidst a 9-for-27 week hat featured some epic exit velocities. Despite losing 28 games to a pair of IL stints, the veteran slugger remains on pace to exceed 40 home runs and 100 RBIs.



    Leading the offensive charge alongside Cruz last week was one now-customary name – Miguel Sano, who clubbed three homers and drove in seven across six games – and a more unexpected one: Jake Cave (or "Caveman," in the parlance of Player's Weekend).

    Buxton's injury opened a window of opportunity for Cave, and the outfielder has lunged through it with vigor. Aided by more regular playing time, Cave has seen his OPS climb rapidly during the month of August, and last week he was at his best, belting three home runs and two doubles while raising his seasonal slash line to .278/.378/.460, including .423/.492/.769 since the All-Star break. His monster production hasn't been coming cheaply.



    Cave is showing that his solid work as a rookie last year, and his outright dominance of Triple-A this year, were not flukes. His bat has been a boon for the Twins lineup this month with others absent or lagging. It's hard to see him getting a ton of action once Buxton returns, but he's proven himself as a solid backup and pinch-hitting option.

    Also enjoying nice weeks offensively: Jorge Polanco (two homers and a double), Max Kepler (two homers and two doubles, propelling him past the 35-HR milestone), and Eddie Rosario (5-for-12 against Chicago before sitting out the Detroit series with a hamstring strain).

    On the pitching side, the biggest positive was Trevor May continuing to build on his excellent August. Looking confident and more than capable, the right-hander logged 2 1/3 scoreless innings across three appearances, striking out two and walking none. After a very rough stretch in July, followed by a bit of a mental break courtesy of Rocco Baldelli, May has re-emerged as the powerful late-inning weapon Minnesota needs him to be. He threw 30 of 41 pitches (73%) for strikes last week.

    LOWLIGHTS

    Alarms are loudly blaring in the starting rotation. Jose Berrios continues to grind through start after start, minus the velocity, command, and consistency that fueled his All-Star first half.

    Facing the lowest-scoring offense in baseball on Friday, Berrios was handed an early lead, but he gave it up on a crippling grand slam in a game where he was disturbingly hittable. By the time he was lifted with one out in the sixth, he'd allowed five runs on 10 hits and two walks, pushing his ERA up to a season-high 3.53. Just a monumentally disappointing performance against a pitifully bad Tigers lineup.

    It marked the sixth time in nine starts since the beginning of July that Berrios was unable to complete six innings, a feat he accomplished in all but two of his 17 outings through June. Sagging velocity continues to take a toll on him, as he and his coaches continue to search for answers.



    The Twins are in huge trouble if Berrios can't get back on track. This goes without saying. But it sure doesn't help that his counterparts in the rotation are so very uninspiring right now. Kyle Gibson looked similarly poor against the lowly Tigers on Saturday, coughing up 10 hits and five runs (four earned) over 5 1/3 innings. Earlier in the week he gave up five runs against a White Sox offense that isn't much better than Detroit's (third-to-last among AL teams in runs and OPS). Those same Sox touched up Jake Odorizzi for four runs on eight hits over five frames on Wednesday.

    The rotation contributed just one quality start all week – when Martin Perez held Detroit to two runs over six innings on Sunday. At home, in this stage of the season, against this caliber of competition, that's just not acceptable. Skeptical Twins fans and national onlookers will rightfully be dubious of the club's ability to make any real noise until they demonstrate they can suppress even pedestrian lineups.

    Minnesota isn't going to be able to outslug opponents on command. Pressure is mounting on Wes Johnson, Jeremy Hefner, and the Twins starting pitchers to turn things around, with the erstwhile ace Berrios ranking as the utmost priority.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    He's not going to be a magical elixir for this rotation's afflictions, but Buxton's return will provide a big boost for the pitchers. He's arguably the most valuable defender in baseball and he changes games, although Kepler and Cave deserve credit for their solid glovework in the interim.

    Fans await Buck's activation with bated breath, but regardless of what happens there, the Twins will be receiving a huge influx next Sunday when rosters expand for September. The front office will almost certainly be upping bullpen depth by recalling a handful of arms that have helped them already this year – the likes of Littell, Harper, Kohl Stewart, Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe, Randy Dobnak, etc. Rehabbing righty Trevor Hildenberger is another likely candidate, with intriguing impact potential. Fernando Romero might not be in the plans, which is sad but fair.

    And then there are other potentially impactful additions that are not yet on the 40-man roster, such as the two we'll lead off with below.

    DOWN ON THE FARM

    Settling in at the highest level of the minors following their recent promotions, Brusdar Graterol and Jorge Alcala are acclimating very quickly. Graterol threw two scoreless innings in his Rochester debut on Wednesday, then followed with another clean appearance (1.1 IP) on Saturday. He already has International League hitters out of sorts (and turns 21 on Monday, so give him a shout on Twitter!).



    Alcala's first week at Triple-A also went smoothly, as he tossed four shutout innings across three appearances, striking out five and – importantly – walking only one. I mentioned here last week that the Ryan Pressly trade was starting to turn around for the Twins, with Alcala positioning himself to help the MLB bullpen and Gilberto Celestino going on a complete tear at Cedar Rapids. Well, now Celestino too has moved up a level. He joined Fort Myers on Wednesday and is 7-for-17 with four doubles through his first four games with the Miracle.

    Incidentally, Pressly underwent knee surgery last week and will miss the next 4-to-6 weeks for the Astros.

    That isn't the only midseason trade from 2018 paying dividends. Jhoan Duran was dazzling in his sixth start at Double-A on Friday, carrying a no-no into the late innings before finishing with two hits allowed and 11 strikeouts in eight shutout frames. According to the data at Baseball Reference (and this seems too absurd to be true), Duran threw 58 of 68 pitches for strikes and induced THIRTY-ONE swings and misses. Even if those numbers are stretched, it was one of the most dominating performances you'll see from a pitcher all year.

    Although not to the same extent as Graterol and Alcala, Duran is a sleeper candidate to help the needy big-league staff before this year is over.

    LOOKING AHEAD

    They didn't make hay at home following a 5-1 road trip, but now the Twins will travel again for a repeat of the past week's match-ups, with redemption on the mind. Last Wednesday, Chicago's Lucas Giolito threw the best start of his career against Minnesota, and on Friday Detroit's journeyman mediocrity Drew VerHagen unleashed an out-of-nowhere burst of dominance with 11 strikeouts. Can the Twins exact some revenge in hostile territory, where they've been so comfortable all year long?

    Cleveland, reeling from the news of Ramirez's loss and a gut-punch loss on Sunday, opens its week with the Tigers (ugh) but then travels to Tampa for a series with the Rays. Opportunity knocks once again.

    TUESDAY, 8/27: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Lucas Giolito
    WEDNESDAY, 8/28: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. LHP Ross Detwiler
    THURSDAY: 8/29: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Dylan Cease
    FRIDAY, 8/30: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. RHP Drew VerHagen
    SATURDAY, 8/31: TWINS @ TIGERS – LHP Martin Perez v. RHP Edwin Jackson
    SUNDAY, 9/1: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Michael Pineda v. LHP Matthew Boyd

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

    Game 125 | CWS 6, MIN 4: Twins Unable to Mount Comeback, Drop Series Opener 6-4
    Game 126 | MIN 14, CWS 4: Cruz Leads Twins Offensive Explosion
    Game 127 | CWS 4, MIN 0: Giolito Throws Complete Game as Sox Take Series
    Game 128 | DET 9, MIN 6: Berríos, Bullpen Can’t Hold Baseball’s Worst Offense
    Game 129 | MIN 8, DET 5: Sano 3-Run Bomba, Bullpen Boost Twins to Victory
    Game 130 | MIN 7, DET 4: Pérez Impresses, Twins Beat Detroit for Series Win

    • Aug 25 2019 07:17 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  19. Week in Review: Test Passed in Tampa

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/27 through Sun, 6/2

    ***

    Record Last Week: 4-2 (Overall: 40-18)

    Run Differential Last Week: -2 (Overall: +109)

    Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (11.5 GA)

    Willians Watch: 4-for-17 last week (Season AVG: .260)


    Before we get started, a few roster updates:
    • On Tuesday, Minnesota placed Michael Pineda on the Injured List with right knee tendinitis and called up Devin Smeltzer from Triple-A. You can read about his stunning debut in the Highlights section below. It sounds like the plan is for Smeltzer to start again on Tuesday in Cleveland, although the Twins could get by with four starters until next weekend, when Pineda's eligible to return.
    • Zack Littell was optioned back to Triple-A on Sunday to make room for Mitch Garver, who surpassed all expectations with a speedy return from his ankle sprain suffered on May 14th and batted leadoff in his first game back.
    • The Twins sent Luis Arraez back to the minors, making room for Nelson Cruz to return on Tuesday after a two-game rehab stint at Fort Myers.
    HIGHLIGHTS

    In February, when the Twins signed Jorge Polanco to a contract extension that can keep him in Minnesota through 2025 at controlled costs, it looked like a savvy move to lock up a quality regular for the long haul. Now, he's leading the best team in baseball as an MVP candidate at age 25.

    Polanco missed Thursday's game with a bout of illness (and the Twins incidentally got routed), but showed no signs of being under the weather while on the field. In five games, he went 8-for-22 with three doubles and four RBIs. It's not just the gaudy overall offensive numbers – a league-leading .338 average and the best OPS among MLB shortstops at .989 – that impress me so about Polanco. It's the smaller things he's bringing to the table, like coming through with sac flies and squeeze bunts in big spots, and showing much more sharpness defensively. He continually solidifies himself as a championship building block.

    Fellow 25-year-old Byron Buxton is doing the same. His outstanding week (6-for-16 with two homers, a triple and six RBIs) was highlighted by perhaps his best game of the season on Sunday. The finale in Tampa saw Buxton at his most dynamic, impacting and disrupting in so many different ways. He hit, collecting a single and a double in four at-bats. He ran wild, moving from first-to-third on a pickoff attempt gone awry in the fifth, then scoring easily on a three-foot bunt by Polanco. And in center field, he did this:



    When he racked up 18 doubles and just one home run in his first 38 games, it stood to reason that Buxton's ratio would balance out a little as more of his drives started landing over the fence. That's exactly what's happened; since May 15th, he has five homers and just two doubles in 17 games. It all adds up to a hefty .517 slugging percentage for Buck, who entered this season with a .387 career mark.

    Ehire Adrianza didn't play a ton last week, collecting four hits in his nine plate appearances, but I feel his extended run of offensive production is worth calling out. It isn't as noticeable since he's not a regular, and is always relegated to the bottom of the lineup, but Adrianza has been on fire the past several weeks. Since seeing his batting average drop to .120 after a stretch of 22 hitless plate appearances in early May, the utilityman has batted .432 with a 1191 OPS in his last 16 games. Toss in the turnaround of Marwin Gonzalez, who's batting .302 since the start of May, and the Twins have turned two early laggards into assets. This helps explain why the offense has kept chugging merrily along in the absence of Garver and Cruz.

    Also on cruise control is Jake Odorizzi, who rattled off six more scoreless innings on Sunday in his finest effort yet. It's now customary for the right-hander to blank his opponents – he's allowed zero runs in six of his past seven starts – but he was especially transcendent against a tough Rays offense on the road. Odorizzi piled up whiffs with a high-octane fastball, touching 95 as late as the sixth inning. In six scoreless innings, he struck out nine and induced 21 swinging strikes (nearly all with the heater). Pure dominance.

    Through 12 starts, Odorizzi has eight wins and an AL-best 1.96 ERA. He's not just getting fat off easy opponents, either; he's beaten Houston (twice), the Yankees in New York, and now the Rays in Tampa. As we head into June, he is the Cy Young frontrunner.

    Somehow, Odorizzi's gem on Sunday wasn't the rotation's most memorable moment from last week. That'd have to be Smeltzer's out-of-nowhere dazzling debut on Tuesday. Minnesota's move to place Pineda on the IL and insert the 23-year-old left-hander, who started catching our attention early this year, was unexpected but worked out brilliantly.

    Smeltzer was masterful, pounding the zone with an incredible 77% strikes and notching seven Ks over six shutout frames. Milwaukee's lineup was totally out of sorts. I can't say for sure if there was an element of gamesmanship involved with the Twins announcing this move so abruptly, but it'd fit their M.O., and the lack of advance scouting on Smeltzer certainly did seem to show.

    More flexing from a front office that managed to acquire Smeltzer from the Dodgers as a toss-in for two months of Brian Dozier last summer.

    LOWLIGHTS

    After showing remarkable consistency through his first eight starts, Martin Perez finally ran into his first dud on Thursday, when the Rays jumped all over him for six runs in a third inning he failed to escape. The left-hander has a history of shaky control, and it's reared its head of late as he's walked 10 hitters over 14 1/3 innings in his past three starts. The Rays were just not biting on his inside cutters, disarming him of what's been a hugely reliable weapon up to this point.

    Perez's replacement in the game fared no better. Littell, making his second appearance for the Twins this year, was plastered for eight runs on 10 hits, putting the game completely out of reach, but to his credit he gave the team some length by throwing 4 1/3 innings. This preserved the bullpen for tighter contests that followed.

    We've seen several other pitchers endure complete drubbings shortly after arriving from Triple-A (Chase De Jong, Andrew Vasquez, Austin Adams). Like those before him, Littell was sent out in short order. But I do think we'll see him again sooner rather than later, because he's got a much better chance than the others of becoming a true bullpen asset. I wonder if the Twins will start letting him develop in that capacity at Rochester.

    All in all, it wasn't an encouraging week for the Minnesota bullpen. A rare lapse from Taylor Rogers cost the Twins in Monday's loss to Milwaukee, with Orlando Arcia's two-run bomb against him proving decisive. Rogers oddly gave up another long home run the following night, but bounced back with two excellent outings in Tampa.

    Matt Magill struggled badly on Sunday, coughing up five runs (four earned) while recording just two outs as the Rays surged back from a large deficit. Blake Parker gave up four runs and two homers in three appearances, after allowing just two runs and one homer total in the first eight weeks. Trevor May pitched once all week but continued to have a hard time throwing strikes.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    On Monday, the 2019 MLB Draft will get underway. The Twins will select 13th overall. You can learn about names that may be available to them in the first round – as well as all the other top talent in this year's class (including a player at No. 1 who "could be one of the best prospects to enter the draft in the last five years") in the excellent rankings Andrew Thares has put together here at Twins Daily:
    We'll have the most comprehensive Twins draft coverage anywhere, so make sure to check in frequently on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as Minnesota adds a fresh wave of prospects to the system.

    Of course, the passing of the draft also means it's open season on Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel. Will the Twins strike on either pitcher as their rotation and bullpen show signs of wobbling?

    DOWN ON THE FARM

    While Minnesota's top two position-player prospects – Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff – have yet to really hit their strides offensively, the team's first-round draft pick from a year ago is heating up. It strangely took Trevor Larnach more than a month to hit his first home run, but he enjoyed a blistering May, slashing .371/.456/.619 with 10 doubles and four bombs. He ended the month with a bang, going 9-for-13 with six RBIs in his final three games, and is off to a nice start in June after launching his fifth home run of the season on Sunday.

    Over the weekend, we handed out our monthly Twins Daily minor-league awards.
    • Minor League Hitter of the Month: Lewin Diaz. Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $1.3 million in 2013, Diaz oozed power potential with his big, projectable frame. But through his first five years as a pro, the on-field pop just never emerged, and he faded from prospect relevance. His monster month of May (.317/.351/.702 with 10 home runs in 26 games) puts him back squarely on the map as a potential late bloomer.
    • Minor League Pitcher of the Month: Jordan Balazovic. With Brusdar Graterol sidelined by a shoulder problem, Balazovic is the arm to watch in Minnesota's system right now. After moving up from Cedar Rapids to Fort Myers at the beginning of May, he posted a 2.13 ERA and 35-to-5 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings, holding opponents to a .140/.211/.163 line. He could join Graterol as another 20-year-old in the Pensacola rotation before summer's end.
    LOOKING AHEAD

    The Twins and Indians haven't faced one another since the first series of the season. Things have... changed a bit since then:



    The Twins roll into Progressive Field as prohibitive division favorites, riding high after an invigorating series win, and they have a chance to further crush Cleveland's dwindling hopes. The Indians are limping into this one below .500 after dropping three of four against a White Sox team the Twins thoroughly dismantled last weekend. It's early June, but Cleveland has gotta be in all-out desperation mode. They cannot afford to lose this series.

    TUESDAY, 6/4: TWINS @ INDIANS – LHP Devin Smeltzer v. RHP Shane Bieber
    WEDNESDAY, 6/5: TWINS @ INDIANS – LHP Martin Perez v. RHP Carlos Carrasco
    THURSDAY, 6/6: TWINS @ INDIANS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Trevor Bauer
    FRIDAY, 6/7: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. LHP Matthew Boyd
    SATURDAY, 6/8: TWINS @ TIGERS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. TBD
    SUNDAY, 6/9: TWINS @ TIGERS – TBD v. LHP Ryan Carpenter

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

    • Jun 03 2019 08:25 AM
    • by Nick Nelson
  20. Week in Review: Opening Salvos

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 3/25 through Sun, 3/31

    ***

    Record Last Week: 2-1 (Overall: 2-1)

    Run Differential Last Week: +7 (Overall: +7)

    Standing: Tied for 1st Place in AL Central


    HIGHLIGHTS

    The powered-up Twins pitching staff is already on display, setting a new franchise record with 39 strikeouts through their first three games.

    On Thursday and Saturday, Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi became the second starting duo in history to open a season with back-to-back double-digit strikeout totals. The feat was only previously accomplished by Arizona's Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001 – arguably the greatest SP tandem in major-league history. No biggie.

    On Sunday, Michael Pineda and Martin Perez piggybacked for 11 strikeouts over 7 2/3 combined innings, continuing the run of rotation dominance against a diminished Cleveland lineup (sans Francisco Lindor).

    You can knock the quality of the opposition, but I would respond with two points:

    1) There's nothing misleading about the results this group achieved. Everyone looked fantastic. Berrios unleashed a barrage of filthy breaking balls and mixed in an upgraded changeup. Odorizzi was changing speeds and eye levels expertly. Pineda pounded the zone with heavy stuff. Perez constantly worked inside with the same 95-97 MPH heat he was flashing in spring training. There was no smoke-and-mirrors behind this magic.

    And, 2) The Indians aren't THAT beat-up. They're missing their best hitter in Lindor, yes, but fellow absentee Jason Kipnis hasn't been a factor in recent years. I mean, the fact that Tyler Naquin and Jake Bauers were Cleveland's #3 hitters in this series is really quite stunning. The qualitative difference between these two offenses was starkly apparent.

    One of the most interesting aspects of this Twins team coming into the season, from my view, was the legitimately high-powered starting corps, which has come along so far since five years ago. In total, the four starters combined for 47 swinging strikes on 310 pitches, a remarkable 15.1% whiff rate. For context, only three qualified MLB starters induced swinging strikes at a higher percentage in 2018: Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Carlos Carrasco (who the Twins knocked around in Sunday's series finale).

    Meanwhile, the bullpen was effective for the most part. Rocco Baldelli rotated through all six of his relievers and got scoreless appearances from five of them, with Taylor Rogers going twice and looking particularly crisp.

    So, early returns on new pitching coach Wes Johnson and his staff are resoundingly positive.

    The offense was mostly quiet in the opening series, facing the unenviable assignments of Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer in the season's first two games. Both enter this campaign as Cy Young frontrunners, and each looked the part in helping hold Minnesota's potent lineup to three runs on six hits through 18 innings.

    But Nelson Cruz made an impact in all three games as the Twins' new #3 hitter. He set up Marwin Gonzalez' game-winning hit on Thursday with a leadoff single in the seventh against Kluber. He drove in Minnesota's lone run on Saturday with some impressive bat-handling against Bauer. And he keyed the offense's breakout on Sunday by going 3-for-5 with the club's first home run of the year.

    The other most noteworthy performer was Byron Buxton. Fears of a post-spring drought quickly disappeared as he went 4-for-10 with three doubles and only two strikeouts in his first series. Last year, his third double came on May 12th. In 2017, he didn't get his fourth hit until almost two weeks into the season.

    It's certainly a modest benchmark but this is easily the best start of Buxton's career. Seeing him fired up and pumping his fists at second on Sunday after delivering a key two-run double – with two outs, on an 0-2 count – was the most invigorating sight for me on a weekend that offered plenty to choose from in that regard.

    LOWLIGHTS

    There wasn't a whole lot to dislike in these first three games. The Twins won two of them in fairly convincing fashion, and fell short by one run in the other. The final inning of that loss provides the only real fodder for grievances.

    Blake Parker was the only Twins pitcher to struggle in the entire series, and it wasn't because he got hit hard. The Arkansas native simply could not find any semblance of control in the chilly weather on Saturday. Carlos Santana singled, then moved from first to third on a pair of wild pitches. Parker walked Hanley Ramirez and fell behind Greg Allen 2-0 before allowing a sacrifice fly to deep center.

    The outing was uglier to watch than it looks on paper: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 BB. All things considered, if that's your most disastrous pitching performance in a series you can feel pretty good.

    And the Twins were well positioned to get that run back in the bottom half. Buxton led off against Cleveland closer Brad Hand with a wind-aided "double" to the shallow outfield. Baldelli then curiously elected not to use a pinch-hitter for Max Kepler, despite Hand's record of pure dominance against lefty swingers.



    Kepler struck out, and the rally went on to fall short. Presumably, Baldelli is just trying to show confidence in his core guys, but turning to a contact machine like Willians Astudillo in that spot – speedy runner on second, no outs, deepest bench the Twins will have all year – seemed like such an obvious call that it was surprising not to see it from the ostensibly analytical thinker. Will loyalty outweigh logic in the future? Something to watch.

    In general, Kepler is off to a slow start, as is fellow corner outfielder Eddie Rosario (combined 1-for-22), but there's no reason to worry about either.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    There's only one active Twins pitcher we haven't seen yet. It's kind of crazy that the rotation showed such incredible swing-and-miss proficiency in the opening series without its reigning whiff leader.

    Kyle Gibson spent his spring trying to regain strength and weight following a nasty winter bout with E. coli. He admitted after his last exhibition start – an ugly clunker against the Red Sox – that he still wasn't quite back to where he ideally wanted to be. So it's not surprising to see the Twins giving him as much time as they possibly can; Gibson's first start will come after Berrios takes his second turn on Tuesday in Kansas City.

    How will he look? Gibson's success last year was fueled by career-high velocity, so any sapped voltage might have a material impact. But if he's mostly back to form, this rotation has a chance to start generating some real enthusiasm in short order.

    DOWN ON THE FARM

    Minor-league games haven't started yet, and in fact official rosters for the affiliates haven't even been announced yet. But that will all come this week, with Minor League Opening Day on Thursday.

    Make sure you stay tuned into Twins Daily for unparalleled coverage of the team's system and prospects. I'll be recapping the most noteworthy developments in this space each Sunday night, but the day-to-day minor-league coverage on this site is beyond robust and comprehensive. Thanks in advance to all of the people who work hard to make it possible: Seth, Cody, Tom, Steve, Ted, Matt... can't wait to read all of your reports this summer.

    LOOKING AHEAD

    Following a successful home kickoff, the Twins embark on a seven-game road trip with four off days sprinkled in. Baldelli will have a deep bench and rested bullpen as he tours through two National League parks, starting with Philadelphia next weekend.

    TUESDAY, 4/2: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Brad Keller
    WEDNESDAY, 4/3: TWINS @ ROYALS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. RHP Homer Bailey
    FRIDAY, 4/5: TWINS @ PHILLIES – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. RHP Nick Pivetta
    SATURDAY, 4/6: TWINS @ PHILLIES – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Jake Arrieta
    SUNDAY, 4/7: TWINS @ PHILLIES – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Zach Eflin

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

    • Apr 01 2019 09:35 AM
    • by Nick Nelson
  21. Week in Review: Offensive Onslaught

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/13 through Sun, 5/19

    ***

    Record Last Week: 5-2 (Overall: 30-16)

    Run Differential Last Week: +23 (Overall: +74)

    Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (4.5 GA)

    Willians Watch: 3-for-18 last week (Season AVG: .278)


    Quite a few roster moves to recap from the past week, so here's a rundown:
    • The Twins wanted to keep Tyler Duffey around as an extra reliever, so at the beginning of the week they optioned Jake Cave and recalled him.
    • Mitch Garver made a game-saving play on Tuesday night, blocking the plate beautifully to prevent Shohei Ohtani from scoring with the tying run, but the collision at home took a toll. Luckily, it sounds like Garver and the Twins dodged a bullet – his scary-looking leg injury was diagnosed as a high ankle sprain instead of something more serious – but he was placed on IL and will miss a few weeks at least.
    • Called up to take his place was Miguel Sano, who made his season debut on Thursday night in Seattle and started all four games against the Mariners.
    • Meanwhile, Trevor Hildenberger finally ran out of chances. After allowing multiple runs for the sixth time in eight appearances on Wednesday, nearly costing the Twins a game they should have comfortably won, he was demoted to Rochester. Taking his place is right-hander Austin Adams, a minor-league signing from the winter who'd posted a 28-to-6 K/BB ratio in Triple-A while flinging mid-90s heat.
    • To make room on the 40-man roster, Minnesota designated Addison Reed for assignment. While rehabbing in the minors, Reed had continued to look terrible, so the Twins had little choice but to pull the plug on their free agent bust and eat his remaining salary. It's a real shame because the team could really use Reed at some semblance of his full capacity right now.
    • With Nelson Cruz's wrist healing more slowly than expected, the Twins elected to place him on IL and called up infielder Luis Arraez.
    Whew. Okay, on to dissecting another highly successful week for your Minnesota Twins:

    HIGHLIGHTS

    I don't even know where to start. I truly don't. The Twins have played great baseball all season but they took it to another level against the Mariners, with a comprehensive clobbering that featured contributions from just about everyone. No Garver? No Cruz? No problem. Minnesota still blew up for 40 runs on 11 homers over four games at T-Mobile Field, in one of the most astounding offensive series I've ever seen from a Twins team.

    C.J. Cron was among those leading the way. After a quiet series against the Angels at Target Field (1-for-10), he went wild in Seattle, where he was 8-for-18 with three home runs and six RBIs in four games. Not long ago, Cron was one of the few laggards in this lineup, entering May with an OPS barely north of .700, but he's raised that mark by 150 points with a prodigious power outburst this month.

    Also aiding in the bash-fest was Byron Buxton, who went 7-for-26 on the week with three bombs, including a grand slam on Saturday night. The #9 hitter drove in 11 runs over the course of seven games. His presence at the bottom of Minnesota's order is one major element in its intimidation factor.



    There's just nowhere for opposing pitchers to find cover from the onslaught. Marwin Gonzalez was a reliable soft spot early on, but he's completely turned it around in May, where he's slashing .355/.429/.500. Last week, Gonzalez went 8-for-23 (.348) while playing four different positions. Jason Castro launched two more homers and has now gone deep in five of his eight May starts. Jonathan Schoop sent two over the fence on Saturday night and is rocking an .823 OPS overall. Eddie Rosario has slowed down his feverish HR pace a bit, but is back in rake-mode nonetheless, going 10-for-26 over the past week.

    And now, the Twins have Sano again. He tallied a pair of doubles in his season debut on Thursday, then picked up his first home run on Saturday night. It's far too soon to say the slugger is "back" – he struck out eight times with one walk against the M's, and had a few very ugly ABs – but with almost everyone else on the offense clicking, the Twins can afford to be patient.

    LOWLIGHTS

    It was, quietly, a less stellar week for the rotation, with a few starters beginning slipping up a bit. Most notable among that group is Jose Berrios, who coughed up five runs on 12 hits against the Angels on Monday, and then couldn't get through five frames in Minnesota's blowout over the M's on Saturday. I'm not too worried yet; he's still throwing strikes and was rattling off qualities starts before this rough patch.

    Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson were unspectacular, though far from terrible. Overall, Twins starters posted a 5.05 ERA over the course of the week, and, well, a couple things:

    1. It says a lot about the relative quality of this group that we can view their week as a noticeable negative. Last year Twins starters had a 4.50 ERA for the season.

    2. Minnesota still went 5-2 even with the lack of standout work from starters. This team was built to win games on the strength of its offense and that's just what they did.

    Pretty much the only position player not to join the hitting parade was Willians Astudillo. He went 3-for-18 in five games, extending a slump that's seen him bat .222 in 67 PA since his huge first three games of the season. This visual shared by Ted does a good job illustrating the core problem plaguing La Tortuga at the plate – he's playing right into the hands of opposing pitchers:



    I love his aggressiveness as a general trait, but Astudillo has gotta start finding some better pitches to hit. He's too often going after offerings that are nearly impossible to drive, and as a result his hard-hit percentage is (by far) the lowest among Twins hitters at 22.9%.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    It's pretty easy to hide bullpen question marks when you're launching six home runs and taking 10-run leads after a few innings, but that won't keep happening forever. Right now, the Twins' relief corps is crowded with minor-league journeymen. Ryne Harper, Mike Morin, Matt Magill and the newly promoted Adams all came to Minnesota on non-guaranteed contracts.

    To their credit, these guys have all pitched pretty well – especially Harper, who continues to confound MLB hitters with his slow, bending curveballs. Duffey is another guy who looked like an also-ran at the outset of the season but is making his case as an asset. With a pumped-up fastball in the mid-90s, he's been nasty at times, though the long ball proneness remains troubling.

    As well as these relievers are throwing, the bullpen still has the feel of a ticking time bomb. The absence of Hildenberger, who was an essential fireman in April, will be felt, and sadly it doesn't look likely he'll be back soon. In his first appearance at Triple-A on Friday, he coughed up four runs in one inning, so there are clearly some serious issues to work through. Fernando Romero is pitching in Rochester alongside Hildenberger, and hasn't been very sharp in his three appearances since heading back down.

    The indefinite absence of those two, along with the release of Reed, removes three key pieces from Minnesota's planned late-inning mix. It's just really hard to imagine the Twins can get by filling that void with unestablished minor-league vets all summer long, even if it's been working out to this point. The question is whether they'll be proactive in addressing the issue, or wait until leaks start to spring.

    DOWN ON THE FARM

    You've gotta feel for Nick Gordon. This is a huge year for him as he seeks to rebound from a brutal 2018 campaign that tanked his stock. He missed the first month due to a stomach issue, then came back at the start of May and raked over eight games, batting .353 with an .889 OPS, but last week he found himself back on IL with a left adductor strain. Hopefully he can make it back soon and continue his redemption tour.

    Meanwhile, it was an interesting week for Minnesota's #1 prospect. On Thursday, Royce Lewis lined a drive off the top of the wall in a game against Bradenton, and chided himself by pulling into second base with a few push-ups. The Marauders were not too pleased. They threw at him in his next AB, and multiple ejections followed:



    A few things stand out to be me in this footage. I'm very impressed by how the umpire handled it, standing tough as Bradenton's manager berated him with an embarrassing temper tantrum. I'm also impressed by how Lewis composed himself, standing quietly in the batter's box throughout the ordeal, waiting for his next pitch. Impressed, but not surprised. Lewis is one of the highest-character guys you'll come across on a ball field, which is why it's so bizarre to me that anyone would perceive his playful antics as anything malicious.

    Anyway, Royce came out the next night and belted his first home run of the season in his first AB:



    The 19-year-old shortstop is still slashing just .236/.311/.342 overall, but he's picking it up after a slow start.

    His teammate Jordan Balazovic, has no such slow start to shake off. The right-hander was masterful in four starts at Cedar Rapids before moving up to Fort Myers, where he has been annihilating the competition. In two starts last week (Monday and Sunday) he struck out 20 batters over 10 innings, pushing his K/BB ratio to 30-to-4 in 17 innings with the Miracle.

    In our preseason Twins prospect rankings, I noted that "Balazovic was an honorable mention for us, failing to make our Top 20 cut, but I'm wondering if that'll look silly a year from now." Turns out it only took about six weeks. From my view, he's currently the organization's second-best pitching prospect behind Brusdar Graterol, who has a 1.93 ERA through nine starts at Double-A.

    LOOKING AHEAD

    The Twins are 5-2 in their current run against AL West opponents, and they'll look to finish strong with another three-gamer against the Angels, this time in Anaheim. (More late night baseball for ya!) After a well-deserved day off on Thursday, Minnesota returns home to face the White Sox for the first time this year. The pitching matchups for that series look quite tantalizing on paper.

    MONDAY, 5/20: TWINS @ ANGELS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. TBD
    TUESDAY, 5/21: TWINS @ ANGELS – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Trevor Cahill
    WEDNESDAY, 5/22: TWINS @ ANGELS – LHP Martin Perez v. RHP Matt Harvey
    FRIDAY, 5/24: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Reynaldo Lopez v. RHP Jose Berrios
    SATURDAY, 5/25: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – LHP Manny Banuelos v. RHP Kyle Gibson
    SUNDAY, 5/26: WHITE SOX @ TWINS – RHP Dylan Covey v. RHP Jake Odorizzi

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

    • May 19 2019 06:20 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  22. Week in Review: Losing Ground

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 7/15 through Sun, 7/21

    ***

    Record Last Week: 2-4 (Overall: 60-38)

    Run Differential Last Week: -10 (Overall: +111)

    Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (3.0 GA)

    Willians Watch: Out Indefinitely


    There's been an exodus in the Twins bullpen. Adalberto Mejia, designated for assignment a week ago, was claimed on Saturday by the Angels. Mike Morin, designated a few days later, was traded to Philadelphia on the same day for cash considerations. And Matt Magill, the most recent cut after getting bombed by the Mets on Wednesday, found himself dealt to Seattle for cash on Sunday. That's the bottom three pieces of Minnesota's shaky bullpen, all cleared out in a matter of days. So, they're halfway to getting better.

    But meanwhile, everyone's wondering: When are they going to add some upgrades to replace these departed relievers? So far the only reinforcement called in to fill the void is Kohl Stewart, who has pitched one inning since being recalled on Thursday. The Twins curiously have four spots sitting open on their 40-man roster.

    With the trade deadline less than 10 days away, Minnesota is all but assured to make at least one deal, but in the meantime they are grinding out games and leaning hard on a stretched, shorthanded relief corps. On Sunday this meant leaving Trevor May on the hill for a grueling 49-pitch outing, and also sending Zack Littell (a full-time starter prior to this year) out to pitch for a third straight day.

    With an even more daunting offense coming to town, and no off days on the schedule in the coming week, the Twins are desperately in need of bullpen help. They announced on Sunday they've optioned Littell (who has a 1.50 ERA in 12 appearances since the start of June), and will have another arm coming up on Monday. Who will it be? Cody Allen is a possibility, though he's looked quite poor in Triple-A (5 BB and 3 K in 4 IP). Cody Stashak, who has a 1.61 ERA and 31-to-4 K/BB ratio in 22 1/3 innings at Rochester, would be the better option on merit. Either addition would require a 40-man move, but that's no problem.

    [UPDATE: Sounds like it'll be Stashak (per our own Jeremy Nygaard), pushing Minnesota's 40-man roster to 37.]

    Of course, neither of those two will do much to solve the team's need for credible late-inning support. And so the trade market will (rightfully) be an ongoing focal point of discussion in the days ahead. Urgency continues to build...

    HIGHLIGHTS

    The reemergence of Miguel Sano continues to be tremendously invigorating. He had a tough go in the Mets series, striking out five times in eight trips while collecting just one single, but rebounded in a big way over the weekend. Even with his 0-for-5 on Sunday, Sano reached eight times in 17 plate appearances against Oakland. Even more impressive to me than his mammoth third-deck homer, which put the Twins ahead (briefly) on Saturday, was the fact that he drew five walks with only three strikeouts in the four games. He is absolutely locked in at the plate, and the contrast from one month ago – when he was mired in a staggeringly hideous slump – is nothing short of mind-blowing.

    Since breaking out with a two-homer game in Chicago on June 28th, Sano is hitting .316/.426/.684 with five bombs, four doubles, and 11 walks in 18 games. During that span, he's struck out at just a 28% rate. The big third baseman has quietly reverted to All-Star form; unfortunately, it happens to be occurring at a time where most of the offense has fallen into a collective funk.

    Not everyone though. Despite his prodigious pop, Sano still isn't the most dangerous right-handed power bat on the Twins. That'd be Mitch Garver, who added three more home runs last week to go along with a pair of singles and three walks. Garver has now surpassed his rookie homer total by 10, in half the number of games. He continues to show incredible plate discipline combined with an ability to crush drives to all fields. Just an amazing transformation, and that's not even mentioning his enormous defensive advancements.



    It was a lefty slugger who provided the biggest highlight of the week. With the Twins trailing on Thursday night, Eddie Rosario came off the bench to deliver perhaps his most dramatic hit in a career that's featured plenty:



    His clutch three-run blast in the seventh put Minnesota ahead for good and snapped a three-game losing streak. Sadly, those moments of capitalization have been far and few between for this once-potent lineup, which has had to scratch and claw for everything lately.

    LOWLIGHTS

    The Twins offense, clicking pretty much nonstop over the first 10 weeks of the season, has fallen into a prolonged stretch of mediocrity. From the start of the year through June 15th, they were baseball's best offense by any measure, leading MLB in runs, homers, OPS, wOBA, wRC+, and WAR.

    Since June 16th, here are their rankings in those categories (entering Sunday)

    Runs: 22nd
    HR: 8th
    OPS: 17th
    wOBA: 16th
    wRC+: 17th
    WAR: 16th

    They've still been hitting the ball out of the yard at a decent clip, but in all other regards, the Twins have regressed hard into below-average territory offensively. Saturday's loss to Oakland perfectly encapsulates the frustrating trend plaguing this lineup: Three solo home runs, surrounded by inning after inning of lifeless out-making. When they would manage to mount a fledgling rally, it was always squandered – including the bottom of the ninth, where they loaded the bases with one out and came up empty.

    This freefalling regression starts at the top. Max Kepler was 4-for-19 on the week, and slashing .227/.257/.392 in the past month, before breaking out on Sunday with a 3-for-6 effort that included a double, a three-run homer, and a walk-off single. Jorge Polanco, who opened the scoring Sunday with an RBI double and added two walks, was 3-for-17 on the week and 13-for-59 (.220) in July coming into the game.

    These two hitters were the primary catalysts in Minnesota's offense for much of the first half, but of late, they've become much easier assignments for opposing pitchers. That's reflected by their K/BB ratios – Kepler has drawn three walks with 21 strikeouts over his past 25 games, while Polanco is at 10 BBs and 29 Ks since the start of June. Both players posted K/BB ratios that were close to even in the first two months.

    Other hitters continue to show pop, but are embodying the all-or-nothing (and more often the latter) nature of this offense right now. C.J. Cron chipped in a homer and two doubles last week, but otherwise went 1-for-16 with no walks. The RBI and run scored on his solo blast were the lone ones he tallied in five games. Nelson Cruz hit two solo homers, but finished with only those two RBIs in a week where he went 5-for-23 (.217).

    Yeah, the bullpen had a rough run, and is taking plenty of flack for it. But what we saw with May, Littell, Ryne Harper, and even Taylor Rogers blowing leads in eventual losses was a collection of pitchers who've been generally reliable, showing they're human against an extremely good and hot offense. It happens. That's not the problem. The problem is that the staff is undermanned (as we discussed earlier) and they are constantly pitching with razor-thin margins because the offense has been unable to build leads and breathing room.

    Relievers have also been asked to pitch more, with starters failing to last deep into games. Jose Berrios, who completed six-plus innings in all but one of his 17 starts through the end of June, has failed to do so in any of his three July outings. Jake Odorizzi hasn't gotten through six in any of his past five turns. Michael Pineda has pitched past the sixth only twice all year.

    The Twins need to add arms, and I'm certain they will. But let's not kid ourselves into thinking that even the addition of multiple high-caliber relievers is going to cure what's ailing this team, because it runs much deeper than a volatile bullpen – one which has, all things considered, actually performed reasonably well.

    In order to get back on track and rebuild some buffer in the AL Central, the Twins need their lineup to get rolling again, above all. Fortunately, there are numerous reasons to believe this will happen. Strong showings from Polanco and (especially) Kepler on Sunday were promising, as is the schedule, which eases up considerably following the impending Yankees series.

    But much will also hinge on the development we'll discuss next.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    This team needs Byron Buxton back ASAP. The difference in their record with (48-23) and without (12-15) him in the lineup makes that abundantly clear. Not only is his defensive impact a regular game-changer, but Buxton also has the potential to get hot offensively and alter the dynamic for this lineup.

    At the same time, the Twins know all too well about the troublesome nature of concussions, especially when they begin to add up. (Buxton was knocked unconscious in a scary outfield collision in 2014, and has had plenty of scary run-ins with the wall and ground since.) This front office is conservative by nature when it comes to managing injuries, and in this case that approach is warranted more than ever.

    But... they need him back. When will he return? It could be as soon as Monday – which would be big, with a crucial series against the Yankees set to get underway – and seems to be trending that way, as he was able to participate in all baseball activities before Sunday's game. But all will depend on how he feels Monday morning. Any signs of trouble will surely prompt the Twins to back off. I wouldn't be surprised if he's in center field for Game 1 against New York, nor would I be surprised if he isn't activated in the coming week at all.

    DOWN ON THE FARM

    What Jaylin Davis is doing at Rochester cannot be ignored.

    In past years, Davis has never really been on the Twins prospect radar, at least beyond its fringes. A 24th-round draft pick out of college in 2015, he has risen steadily through the system – advancing about one level per season – while posting solid yet unspectacular numbers as mostly a right fielder.

    He opened the 2019 campaign at Pensacola, where he got off to an unusually strong start, slashing .274/.382/.458 with 10 home runs in 58 games. This earned him his first promotion to Triple-A, and since arriving in the International League, Davis has experienced a power surge of epic proportions.

    After launching three more home runs last week for the Red Wings, Davis is now up to 13 in just 33 games. That equates to a .729 slugging percentage to go along with his .331 average since moving up. The 25-year-old has already gone deep 23 times in 91 games this year between the top two levels of the minors; to put this in context, he homered 11 times in 120 games last year, and 15 times in 125 games the year before that.

    What to make of this? It's hard to say for sure. We might just be seeing a torrid and temporary hot streak, fueled partially by the hitter-friendly nature of Triple-A (which now uses MLB baseballs). But it's definitely a promising development, and one that puts Davis squarely on the radar as a potential late-bloomer.

    LOOKING AHEAD

    Just what the Twins need at a time where they've got fans bordering on panic mode: a date with their eternal tormenters. The Yankees are coming in red-hot, having won six of their last eight games and 23 of their last 30 to build a hulking 10-game lead in the AL East.

    These are two teams moving in very different directions. Can Minnesota shift the momentum while also vanquishing ghosts of the past? It's gonna be an interesting series. Unfortunately it coincides with Cleveland heading to Toronto for a three-game set against the 38-63 Blue Jays, before traveling to Kansas City to take on the 37-64 Royals.

    On the bright side, things ease up considerably at that point for the Twins, who get 10 games against the White Sox, Marlins and Royals starting next weekend. Let's just hope they still own sole possession of first place when that favorable stretch gets underway.

    MONDAY, 7/22: YANKEES @ TWINS – LHP CC Sabathia v. LHP Martin Perez
    TUESDAY, 7/23: YANKEES @ TWINS – RHP Domingo German v. RHP Kyle Gibson
    WEDNESDAY, 7/24: YANKEES @ TWINS – LHP J.A. Happ v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
    THURSDAY, 7/25: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Lucas Giolito
    FRIDAY, 7/26: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Michael Pineda v. RHP Dylan Cease
    SATURDAY, 7/27: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – LHP Martin Perez v. RHP Ivan Nova
    SUNDAY, 7/28: TWINS @ WHITE SOX – RHP Kyle Gibson v. RHP Dylan Covey

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

    • Jul 21 2019 08:38 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  23. Week in Review: Holding Steady

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 6/3 through Sun, 6/9

    ***

    Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 43-21)

    Run Differential Last Week: +3 (Overall: +112)

    Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (10.5 GA)

    Willians Watch: So Long, Old Friend :-(


    We must begin this week's roster rundown on a somber note:
    • Willians Astudillo has been optioned to Triple-A. This isn't necessarily sad from a competitive standpoint – Astudillo's been the weakest hitter on the team for some time now, and his demotion is well justified with an empty .190 average since the start of May – but if you're like me, you enjoy watching the guy play, interact with teammates, and generally go about his business on the field. He probably won't be gone for too long, as he's already raking down in Rochester (he's 6-for-8 through two games).
    • Called up to replace Astudillo on the roster was right-handed reliever Ryan Eades, who made his major-league debut on Saturday and threw very well in two scoreless frames.
    • The Twins also optioned Devin Smeltzer, who impressed during his two starts, and activated Michael Pineda to start Friday night's game in Detroit.
    HIGHLIGHTS

    In the wake of a scorching late-May hot streak, Max Kepler went cold as the calendar flipped, coming up hitless in five games. Then, with the Twins facing a sweep on Thursday in Cleveland, he exploded for three home runs, carrying Minnesota to a 5-4 victory while finishing 4-for-4 with a walk. It'll go down as one of the best offensive performances by a big-leaguer this season.

    This seems to be the M.O. for Minnesota's lineup: sleeping giants who don't stay asleep for long. Mitch Garver was mostly quiet in his first few games off the Injured List, and had a really tough series in Cleveland with seven strikeouts in 10 plate appearances, but he came alive in Detroit, going 4-for-9 with a homer and four RBIs in two games. Nelson Cruz, another recent reentry from IL, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in his return on Tuesday, then homered in each of his next four games. Eddie Rosario was 2-for-16 on the week before going 3-for-6 with a mammoth homer on Sunday.

    This is all to say we probably shouldn't make much of mini-slumps from the likes of Jonathan Schoop (1-for-15 last week and batting .125 in June). He has the luxury of taking a little nap while the rest of the offense powers on, and will almost surely be awakening soon.

    One guy who doesn't seem to have much let-up in him is Byron Buxton. Every week, and every night, he manages to make a special impact. His past five games brought more of the same: production (6-for-17 with two homers and a double), spectacular defense made to look ordinary, and baserunning prowess that almost defies belief:



    The Twins currently have two players drawing credible buzz as MVP contenders – Rosario and Jorge Polanco – but I have a strong feeling that by year's end, Buxton will be at the head of the pack. He's only starting to find his next gear. Buxton's success has become so normalized, you probably didn't even notice that the former whiff-machine has struck out only four times in 28 June PAs. His 23% K-rate for the season is down nearly 10 points from his 32% MLB mark prior, and almost exactly at league average.

    In the rotation, Jake Odorizzi and Jose Berrios have been as good as any 1-2 tandem in the game. On Sunday, Odorizzi was magnificent as usual, spinning six innings of one-run ball. He struck out eight while picking up his ninth consecutive victory and lowering his ERA (slightly) to 1.92. Berrios delivered his own strong outing three days earlier, holding the Indians to two runs over six frames.

    The Twins are 11-2 with Berrios on the mound and have won 10 straight games started by Odorizzi.

    LOWLIGHTS

    On the same day we learned that coveted free agent reliever Craig Kimbrel was signing with the Chicago Cubs, Blake Parker blew up in Cleveland, coughing up three runs to turn a lead into a deficit in one of Minnesota's most crushing losses of the year. The timing was no doubt painful. Though I personally believe the Twins were wise to stick to their guns on Kimbrel, this bullpen needs help.

    This is not a new sentiment, but it's becoming clearer than ever as Parker's surprisingly spotless start gives way to hardcore regression. Wednesday marked the third time in his past four appearances allowing multiple runs, and then on Friday he navigated an anxiety-inducing save that saw him walk two batters and bring the tying run to the plate. There's no trusting the guy right now.

    In fact, the bullpen at large has suddenly become rather untrustworthy. Matt Magill has seen his own charmed run of unexpected excellence fly off the rails, almost exactly in unison with Parker. Joining the team late after a season-opening IL stint, Magill was convincingly dominant through 14 appearances, posting a 1.35 ERA and 18-to-5 K/BB ratio in 13.1 IP while unleashing upper-90s fastballs and upper-80s sliders. The coaching staff's belief in the former minor-league journeyman was being richly rewarded. But in his past three outings, the bottom has fallen out. In 1 2/3 innings, he has allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 10 hits and three walks. In the space of a week, his ERA spiked from 1.35 to 6.60, and just like that, he might be on the brink of a DFA.

    The problem is that there aren't a ton of options on hand to replace him. We'll chat more about that below in the Trending Storyline section.

    Trust is also diminishing in starter Martin Perez, whose magic has gone completely amiss. Wednesday's outing wasn't as disastrous as the previous dud, and poor defense played a role, but Perez was not good in Cleveland, allowing five runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks over 4 2/3 innings. The lefty posted season-lows in strikeouts (1) and swinging strikes (4). He has issued multiple walks in seven straight starts and has a 7-to-8 K/BB ratio in his past three.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    The bullpen is a mess. It's starting to unravel at the seams with Parker and Magill melting down. Mike Morin and Tyler Duffey may have similar reckonings awaiting. Trevor May is, for whatever reason, seeing very sporadic usage (he's appeared three times in the past 14 days). Taylor Rogers has pretty much been a one-man band and this tweet from AG sorta sums that up:



    The Twins leaned on Rogers for a 34-pitch, two-inning save on Thursday, and that's the type of thing they obviously need to avoid. So, the club needs some relief help. And as we've covered, Kimbrel is off the table. What to do?

    The trade market will become a central focus in the coming weeks, and I do believe there are going to be ample opportunities out there. Unlike with Kimbrel, here the Twins have real leverage: a system filled with intriguing prospects, and a bevy of non-contending teams looking to reload their farms.

    There's no need to wait until the July 31st deadline to make a move. But here's the thing: Minnesota does have the luxury of a double-digit lead in the standings. Granted, they'll want to win as many games as they can to best position themselves for October, but they aren't fending off anyone in the division. Four of their remaining six series this month are against the Mariners, Royals and White Sox. There's no REAL urgency.

    As they take a measured approach to the trade market, the Twins can test a few things out internally and work to optimize its existing pieces. The latest to audition is Eades, and he looked promising in his first action (although, to be fair, so did Austin Adams and Zack Littell).

    Speaking of Littell: After this demotion last week, I opined that he has "a much better chance than the [other Triple-A call-ups who've gotten shelled] of becoming a true bullpen asset. I wonder if the Twins will start letting him develop in that capacity at Rochester."

    Sure enough, his three appearances since heading down have all been in relief, and he's looked damn good, allowing just one hit (a solo homer) in 5 2/3 innings with one walk and eight strikeouts.

    It wouldn't stun me if Eades or Littell eventually settles in as a worthy middle relief option. I like that the Twins are experimenting. But it's unfortunate their other internal options are still flailing. Trevor Hildenberger has an 8.44 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in Rochester. Fernando Romero has been woefully underwhelming as well (opponents hitting .310/.388/.500 in 15 innings since he was optioned). Jorge Alcala, the hard-throwing 23-year-old acquired in last year's Ryan Pressly trade, has been wholly unimpressive at Double-A where he sports a 5.25 ERA.

    If the Twins want to find a difference-maker for their pen from within, it's probably going to take some creativity. Maybe trying out Smeltzer in a relief role? Or how about fellow Triple-A southpaw Lewis Thorpe, who's tacked up a 25-to-3 K/BB ratio in his last four starts, while averaging fewer than five innings per turn? Looks perfectly suited for a shot at relieving.

    DOWN ON THE FARM

    The 2019 MLB Draft took place last week, and saw the Twins add a batch of new young talent heavy on college bats. Their three first-day selections:

    • No. 13 Overall: Keoni Cavaco, INF – Fast-rising prep star out of California who was barely on anyone's radar six months ago. Premium athlete with a high-upside bat who's played shortstop but is likely to end up at third base. Ted posted a Q&A with the Cavaco if you'd like to learn more about him.
    • No. 39 Overall: Matt Wallner, OF – Collegiate slugger out of Southern Mississippi. Wallner will be especially easy for locals to root for because he's a Forest Lake native who was named Minnesota's Mr. Baseball in 2016.
    • No. 54 Overall: Matt Canterino, RHP – The 6-foot-3 righty posted gaudy strikeout numbers at Rice University, unleashing an overpowering fastball/curve combo. His delivery and lack of a changeup suggest some reliever risk, but he's poised to rise quickly.
    You can learn about the full breadth of Minnesota's latest draft class in Andrew's in-depth recap.

    Elsewhere in the Twins' system last week:

    Jhoan Duran turned in his third straight gem for Fort Myers, holding Jupiter to one run over seven innings. Acquired from Arizona in the Eduardo Escobar trade last summer, Duran pitched extremely well after coming over, and drew considerable buzz in camp this spring. His first seven starts at High-A weren't stellar but over his past three the numbers are astounding: 20 IP, 10 H, 3 ER, 6 BB, 26 K.

    The 21-year-old right-hander is starring for the Miracle alongside fellow righty Jordan Balazovic, our Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May who continues to dazzle here in June. In his latest turn on Thursday, he fanned seven over 5 2/3 frames of one-run ball, lowering his ERA to 2.03 in six starts with Fort Myers. Despite Brusdar Graterol's continuing absence (no word on his ailing right shoulder), the Twins have some good things cookin' with arms in the minors.

    On the hitting side, we covered Trevor Larnach last week and he keeps mashing (10-for-27 last week), but one other guy we need to be paying attention to is Brent Rooker. The 24-year-old shook off his own slow start at Triple-A and has been on a tear since returning from the IL at the beginning of June, batting .433 with 11 RBIs through nine games. Perhaps most importantly, he has an 11-to-8 K/BB ratio during that span, after striking out 43 times with only six walks through his first 97 plate appearances.

    Rooker has a rep as a smart hitter who handles adversity and makes adjustments. We're seeing that once again, and now he has nowhere else to graduate to but the majors.

    LOOKING AHEAD

    Smooth sailing ahead. The Twins have gone a combined 5-1 against Seattle and Kansas City on the road, and now they'll welcome both last-place clubs to Target Field for three games apiece. It'd be disappointing (though hardly panic-inducing) to see Minnesota win fewer than four this next week.

    TUESDAY, 6/11: MARINERS @ TWINS – RHP Mike Leake v. LHP Martin Perez
    WEDNESDAY, 6/12: MARINERS @ TWINS – LHP Tommy Milone v. RHP Jose Berrios
    THURSDAY, 6/13: MARINERS @ TWINS – LHP Marco Gonzales v. RHP Michael Pineda
    FRIDAY, 6/14: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Brad Keller v. RHP Kyle Gibson
    SATURDAY, 6/15: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Glenn Sparkman v. RHP Jake Odorizzi
    SUNDAY, 6/16: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Jakob Junis v. LHP Martin Perez

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

    • Jun 09 2019 08:14 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  24. Week in Review: Crisis of Leadership

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 5/14 through Sun, 5/20

    ***

    Record Last Week: 2-4 (Overall: 19-23)

    Run Differential Last Week: -4 (Overall: -21)

    Standing: 2nd Place in AL Central (2.5 GB)


    Before we dive into the usual highlights, lowlights, storylines and minor-league updates, let's just get this out there: the Twins are in disarray, and it is the guys who are supposed to be leading that are in fact dragging them down.

    Prior to the season, my bold and optimistic prediction was that Dozier and Buxton would both be Top 5 finishers in the American League MVP voting:



    Call it homerish or pollyannaish if you please, but the take wasn't without solid founding. Dozier and Buxton were among the league's most impactful players in the latter portion of 2017, each earning down-ballot MVP votes.

    This year, circumstances favored big seasons for both: Dozier in a walk year staring down free agency; Buxton with 1,000 MLB plate appearances in the bank, appearing to have legitimately turned a corner with his approach.

    Instead, both players have fallen back into their most frustrating patterns at the plate – Dozier skidding through lengthy stretches of unproductivity with an exploitable swing, Buxton resembling an overwhelmed A-baller trying to fend off peak Pedro Martinez in pretty much every AB.

    Over the past week, the two combined to go 3-for-37 with 13 strikeouts. Dozier is batting .175 in 26 games since the start of the Yankees series. Buxton's OPS is teetering around .400.

    Meanwhile, other top contributors from 2017 who were hoped to be integral cogs in a contending effort – Miguel Sano, Ervin Santana, Jorge Polanco – have been either mostly or entirely absent. And now another is sidelined with Joe Mauer hitting the disabled list this week following an ominous return of concussion symptoms.

    Granted, you can't plan for all the injuries and attrition; I'm sure no one foresaw the Twins with Jake Cave, Ehire Adrianza and Bobby Wilson comprising one-third of their lineup for an important Saturday night game in mid-May. But times like this are when you need your leaders to step up. Right now Dozier and Buxton keep falling down.

    Since moving to 8-5 with an extra-inning victory over Cleveland in Puerto Rico, the Twins have gone 11-18 over the past calendar month. They've been outscored by 31 runs. That's an extended run of performance suggesting this team just isn't very good, which is distressing at a time of such ripe opportunity.

    More than a dozen clubs are actively trying to tank. The Twins conversely have pushed their payroll past historical thresholds in an effort to contend, and they're coming up empty, being outpaced by acknowledged non-factors.

    The good news is there's a lot of season left. The ripeness of this opportunity won't go away too soon. Cleveland has yet to take off, and Minnesota still has plenty of games remaining against the division's dregs to help fuel a rapid climb.

    But before we can even re-enter discussions about their merits as a contender, the Twins actually must first prove they're a quality team. Right now it's very much in question, and urgency is building if they're to prove these aren't their true colors.

    It's time for the leaders to stop lagging and start leading.

    HIGHLIGHTS

    Because he endured such a prolonged slump to open the campaign, it's going to be a while before Logan Morrison's overall numbers broadcast on the Target Field scoreboard look any good. But over the past month he has quietly transformed into the powerful offensive infusion we all hoped he would be.

    Morrison's low point came in April's 16-inning marathon against the Indians, when he went 0-for-7 to drop his average to .068, his OPS to .271. The next game, in Tampa, brought the slugger's first home run as a Twin, and that sparked a healthy uptick. Since going hitless in Puerto Rico, Morrison is slashing .281/.385/.517 with five home runs and 15 RBIs in 27 games. Over the last week he went 6-for-17 and delivered key hits in both victories, a rare bright spot for this sputtering offense.

    (Of course, as things are going, even Morrison couldn't escape the infectious jinx plaguing the team; he was picked off at second after a leadoff double on Saturday night, an absolutely critical error.)

    Now that he's playing up to his ability, we can appreciate the 30-year-old's addition for the majorly impactful move it was by the front office. With Dozier dragging along, Sano absent, and now Mauer gone, Morrison's bat has been life-saving for the lineup.

    This is especially true when you consider Kennys Vargas, who'd have been counted on for the same role if not for LoMo's spring training sign-on, is batting .213 at Triple-A.

    LOWLIGHTS

    While Morrison has come around, another late-offseason free agent addition continues to flounder.

    What is the freaking deal with Lance Lynn?? After a horrendous month of April the veteran righty appeared to be finally getting on track with his first start of May, picking up his first win on six innings of two-run ball against the White Sox. Most notably, he issued zero walks and threw 73% strikes.

    But Lynn regressed in his next start, and further unraveled in his latest effort, lasting only three innings against St. Louis on Wednesday while issuing four walks and throwing only 46 of his egregious 82 pitches in the zone.

    There's a school of thought suggesting the starter's struggles can be attributed to his late start in spring training, and I was sympathetic to that notion for a time, but at this point it's out the window. We're now seven weeks into the season and Lynn has made eight starts. Plus, he came out of the gates firing in his first Grapefruit start, making it clear he was taking care of things on his end while waiting to sign a contract.

    It's possible, maybe even probable, that being thrown out of his routine contributed to Lynn stumbling out of the gates this year. But this no longer qualifies as a viable excuse. With each successive inexplicably erratic dud, it's becoming easier to see why he was forced to settle for a one-year contract in mid-March, despite his impressive career numbers.

    At least to some extent, the league saw this coming.

    Another thing that wasn't too hard to see coming: Jason Castro's absence, like those of so many Twins players to go down with injuries this season, extending beyond than the team's initial timeline. In this case, however, the news is especially bad: upon going under the knife last week, it was determined that Castro needed more extensive surgery than anticipated, and he'll miss the rest of the season.

    This is a bigger loss for the pitching staff than the lineup, but it's a painful one on that front. Castro brought excellent framing skills along with a good arm, and had developed trust and rapport with the staff. Now, the Twins are forced to rely on still-unproven Mitch Garver and 35-year-old minor-league journeyman Bobby Wilson. Not a situation that inspires a lot of confidence.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    It seems the best hope for the Twins right now is Sano returning to provide a serious jolt that electrifies this sleepwalking lineup. He's on the rehab trail, having played at Rochester on Saturday and Sunday. In those games, Sano went a combined 0-for-4 with three walks and two strikeouts. He committed an error on one of his three chances in the field.

    Rust is understandably a factor, particularly since Sano wasn't looking very sharp before the injury. But as long as that hamstring is sound, the Twins need to get him back in the fold ASAP to try and ignite something, anything, for the offense.

    It sounds like the plan is to take it slow with Sano, who will be in Triple-A at least through Wednesday. Ideally he'll show promising signs in LeHigh Valley early this week, then join the Twins in Seattle next weekend when they kick off a six-game road trip.

    Meanwhile, Trevor May is almost back. The righty stretched out to 58 pitches in a solid four-inning start at Rochester on Thursday. He'll likely work up to ~80 pitches this week and should basically be ready to start in the majors on May 28th, when he's eligible to come off the disabled list. Incidentally, that date (next Monday) coincides exactly with Lynn's turn in the rotation.

    DOWN ON THE FARM

    Things are happening in Cedar Rapids. While the most imminent wave of high-caliber young talent is either in the majors (Fernando Romero) or soon to arrive (Stephen Gonsalves, Nick Gordon), the slightly more distant group terrorizing the Midwest League should have Twins fans licking their chops.

    Right-hander Brusdar Graterol is the most exciting pitcher in the system right now and one of the most exciting in baseball. He dazzled everyone in attendance last Monday with 5 2/3 innings of shutout, two-hit ball. Unleashing numerous 100-MPH heaters, he racked up 10 strikeouts on 21 batters faced.

    In Twins Daily's profile on Graterol when we ranked him as the organization's No. 9 prospect before the season, Tom Froemming laid it out like this: "Graterol is one of the highest ceiling/lowest floor prospects in all of baseball, let alone the Twins’ system. He definitely has true ace potential, already possessing two plus pitches."

    We're seeing the ceiling early on from the 19-year-old flamethrower, and it is towering. We saw the floor a little bit in his fourth start on Sunday, when Graterol issued five walks in five innings, but nonetheless he has a 0.93 ERA and 27-to-6 K/BB ratio through 19 1/3 frames.

    On the same day of Graterol's 10-K masterpiece, Alex Kirilloff was firing up another big week at the plate with a two-hit game. He went on to collect 13 hits in 30 at-bats, and on the season he's batting .324 with seven home runs and a system-leading 34 RBI. Much like Graterol, Kirilloff is finding his stride quickly after losing major time to injury, quickly reaffirming his status as one of the farm's elite talents.

    LOOKING AHEAD

    We'll get our first look at Ron Gardenhire and the Tigers to start the week, then it's off to Seattle for late-night West Coast baseball on Memorial Day Weekend. Afterward, the Twins will head to Kansas City for three games before returning home to face Cleveland four times. That has the potential to be a pivotal mid-season series. Will the Twins be within striking distance by the time it arrives? Not if they keep playing the way they have.

    MONDAY, 5/21: TIGERS @ TWINS – LHP Blaine Hardy v. RHP Jose Berrios
    TUESDAY, 5/22: TIGERS @ TWINS – LHP Matthew Boyd v. RHP Lance Lynn
    WEDNESDAY, 5/23: TIGERS @ TWINS – RHP Michael Fulmer v. RHP Kyle Gibson
    FRIDAY, 5/25: TWINS @ MARINERS – RHP Fernando Romero v. LHP James Paxton
    SATURDAY, 5/26: TWINS @ MARINERS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. LHP Wade LeBlanc
    SUNDAY, 5/27: TWINS @ MARINERS – RHP Jose Berrios v. RHP Mike Leake

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game RecapsMore on Twins Daily

    • May 20 2018 09:23 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  25. Week in Review: Becoming Whole at the Halfway Point

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 6/24 through Sun, 6/30

    ***

    Record Last Week: 3-3 (Overall: 53-30)

    Run Differential Last Week: +6 (Overall: +113)

    Standing: 1st Place in AL Central (8.0 GA)

    Willians Watch: Back on the Injured List :(


    Willians Astudillo opened his week with a three-hit game that included this nifty catch in RF foul territory, but his hearty effort on that play proved costly. Astudillo went 0-for-4 the following night and was then placed on IL due to oblique soreness, apparently stemming from his run-in with the wall.

    The Twins also lost Eddie Rosario, who sprained his left ankle while turning first on Wednesday and will miss at least the next week. It's a shame because he was heating up again – 6-for-7 through his first two games last week – and his visible frustration upon sustaining the injury appeared to reflect this.

    It wasn't all bad news, though. Rosario is a big loss but it doesn't appear he'll be gone long (in fact, the team hesitated to even place him on the IL). The Twins crucially got back Byron Buxton and Marwin Gonzalez, who were both activated on Saturday, and Ehire Adrianza, activated a day earlier.

    Some other noteworthy roster moves from last week:
    • LaMonte Wade Jr. was called up briefly in the middle of the week with the Twins needing extra bodies in the outfield, and started on Friday (he reached once in two PAs, on an HBP, before being replaced by a pinch hitter in the seventh), but he was optioned alongside Jake Cave in order to make room for Buxton and Gonzalez.
    • Zack Littell was also optioned back to Triple-A, though not through any fault of his own (he threw four scoreless innings during his latest stint). The Twins simply needed more arms after burning through everyone in an 18-inning marathon loss to Tampa on Thursday. Prospect Lewis Thorpe was called up to replace Littell, and you can read about his sterling MLB debut in the Highlights below.
    • The Twins signed 36-year-old free agent reliever Carlos Torres, who'd recently been designated for assignment by Detroit, to a minor-league deal. He reported to Class-AAA Rochester. They also returned infielder Ronald Torreyes from the restircted list, making room on the 40-man roster by DFA-ing lefty reliever Gabriel Moya, who cleared waivers and returned to Rochester.
    HIGHLIGHTS

    On Friday, fan-selected starters for the All-Star teams were officially revealed, and we learned the American League lineup will feature one Twin: Jorge Polanco at shortstop. He won't be alone in representing the Twins, but Polanco's a fitting frontman, leading the team in WAR thanks to his steady work at shortstop and tremendously consistent production atop the lineup. Polanco had a fairly pedestrian week at the plate (7-for-27) but he also drew three walks and scored seven runs. The fact this counts as a down week for him says it all.

    Joining him on the All-Star roster is Jake Odorizzi, who surrendered two bombs on Wednesday against Tampa and has generally looked shakier in recent starts, but is still pacing the American Leagues with 10 while holding down a shiny 2.73 ERA.

    That's it for Twins All-Stars, for now. It seems pretty outrageous for a team that leads baseball in scoring and OPS to have only one representative among the AL's starters or reserves, but here we are.



    The good news is that we'll certainly see a few more players added to the roster, as a result of injuries and withdrawals, and the Twins have plenty of players near the top of the queue: Rosario, Max Kepler, Jose Berrios, and Taylor Rogers, to name a few.

    Missed time prevented Nelson Cruz and Mitch Garver from getting legitimate consideration as All-Stars, but they've both made strong cases while on the field. Last week was no different; Cruz went 10-for-23 with three home runs and 10 RBIs games, while Garver delivered an impressive three-hit game against Tampa on Tuesday, launching his 12th home run.

    It was an interesting week for Miguel Sano. In three games at home against Tampa, he went 1-for-13 with six strikeouts, extending a brutal slump that dated back to mid-June. Then, once he arrived in Chicago, he snapped right back into the dominant form we saw initially upon his return, blasting three homers and plating six runs in two starts, then entering with a clutch pinch-hit RBI single on Sunday. He struck out only once in 10 plate appearances, with two walks.

    Certainly an encouraging rebound, and one that was evidently driven by some mechanical changes involving hand positioning. Parker had written about this very issue last week, at the height of Sano's struggles. Credit goes to Miguel and Minnesota's hitting coaches for actualizing these adjustments; we'll see if they stick.

    As a final note on the offense, hitting machine Luis Arraez continued to do his thing, collecting six hits in 17 at-bats. The rookie's average stands at .426.

    On Sunday, Thorpe was able to make his first major-league start, on account of Kyle Gibson throwing a relief inning during Thursday's 18-inning affair, and thus having his scheduled turn pushed back to Wednesday. The young left-hander was absolutely sensational. Over his five innings, he allowed only two runs (both coming on an Yoan Moncada home run) while notching seven strikeouts and 11 swinging strikes. He continually worked ahead in counts and showed a stunning ability to execute while undoubtedly battling some serious nerves. Like Devin Smeltzer before him, Thorpe solidified himself as a quality rookie depth piece for the rotation.

    Elsewhere in that unit, Michael Pineda took another nice step, hurling six innings of one-run ball against the White Sox on Friday. The big righty struck out eight while walking one. He finishes June with a 25-to-4 K/BB ratio and 3.58 ERA. Most importantly: he quietly allowed just one home run, after coughing up 14 in his first 11 starts.

    Martin Perez provided his own promising flash from the back half of the starting corps, putting forth his best performance since early May against the Rays on Thursday. In seven innings he allowed just two runs with six strikeouts and one walk. Notably, per Brooks Baseball data, his improved outcome coincided with a return to leaning on the cutter, along with a reduction in sinker usage:

    [attachment=12789:perezpitchmovement.png]

    In the bullpen, Taylor Rogers once again starred, appearing twice and retiring all seven batters faced. He wraps June with an 11-to-1 K/BB ratio and only four hits allowed in 11 1/3 innings, continuing to reaffirm himself as one of the game's best relievers. And credit is also due to Matt Magill, who himself tossed five scoreless frames after a serious rough patch.

    LOWLIGHTS

    While Garver continues to be an offensive force, his catching counterpart Jason Castro has seen his early-season success dwindle. Last week he managed three singles in 12 at-bats, and for the month of June he slashed just .191/.240/.277 with one homer and one double. He saw his OPS plummet by 150 points as a result.

    Now, Castro's current mark (.782) remains plenty respectable for a catcher, but his regression has dashed the notion of two elite offensive players sharing time behind the plate for Minnesota.

    C.J. Cron's All-Star campaign at first base fell short, and meanwhile, his lengthy hot streak faded into a major cooldown. After putting up a .963 OPS with eight home runs in May, Cron followed with stellar production through the first three weeks of June. But last week, while starting every game, he went just 5-for-28 with seven strikeouts, zero walks, and zero extra-base hits.

    Also finding himself in a bit of a drought is Jonathan Schoop, who went 4-for-24 with eight strikeouts on the week.

    A few downspells here and there are to be expected. The Twins offense in general has come back to Earth in recent weeks, but remains a powerhouse to be reckoned with. As long as they continue to have multiple guys clicking simultaneously, as they have at all times, Minnesota's going to be okay in the run-scoring department.

    Blake Parker seems to have his swing-and-miss stuff back, which is a plus – after inducing just six whiffs through his first eight June appearances (4% SwStr), Parker has since induced 10 in his past four appearances (14% SwStr). Last week he tallied four strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings of work, but it still wasn't pretty as he yielded five hits, including his fifth home run of the month. Two years ago, when at his best, Parker allowed only seven home runs total.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    We're still waiting to see how the Twins will address their needy bullpen through high-impact acquisitions (a task that will be harder than many wish to believe), but for now it's about closely tracking how the team's lower-scale additions and internal options are progressing.

    Torres coughed up a two-run homer in his debut for the Red Wings on Thursday. Cody Allen debuted at Single-A for the Miracle on Saturday, tossing a clean scoreless inning with a strikeout, but he reportedly topped out at 91 MPH. (Two years ago, when he was last an outstanding MLB reliever, Allen averaged 94.3 on his fastball.) Fernando Romero and Trevor Hildenberger are both on IL at Rochester.

    His may not have the same name recognition as those above, nor is he on the 40-man roster as of yet, but Cody Stashak is really emerging as a name to watch. After he posted a 40-to-5 K/BB ratio in Pensacola over the first two months, Minnesota looked past his 4.76 ERA and promoted the 25-year-old righty to Triple-A and he has responded by decimating the highest level of minor-league competition. After striking out six in 2 2/3 innings last week, he now has a 19-to-1 K/BB ratio and 2.25 ERA through 12 innings with Rochester. I suspect we'll get a look at him in the bigs before the summer's over.

    DOWN ON THE FARM

    Acquired from the Yankees during the offseason, Torreyes spent much of the first half away from the team for reasons that weren't made public. He was activated from the restricted list last week and after a brief stint at Fort Myers, returned to Rochester with a bang on Friday, launching two home runs against Pawtucket. Torreyes followed with a three-hit game on Saturday and delivered a two-run single in his AB on Sunday. He adds another piece of credible depth to Minnesota's infield picture, albeit one made less critical by the play of Adrianza and Arraez.

    LOOKING AHEAD

    Hate those late-night West Coast games that linger past midnight on weekdays? Then I've got good news for you: the Twins will be playing their last such set in Oakland during the first half of this week. You might find it easier to stay up and watch the second game on Wednesday, with a holiday and afternoon contest coming on Thursday. Afterwards, the Twins finish out the unofficial first half with three home tilts against Texas.

    TUESDAY, 7/2: TWINS @ ATHLETICS – RHP Jake Odorizzi v. RHP Daniel Mengden
    WEDNESDAY, 7/3: TWINS @ ATHLETICS – RHP Kyle Gibson v. RHP Tanner Anderson
    THURSDAY, 7/4: TWINS @ ATHLETICS – LHP Martin Perez v. RHP Mike Fiers
    FRIDAY, 7/5: RANGERS @ TWINS – RHP Jesse Chavez v. RHP Jose Berrios
    SATURDAY, 7/6: RANGERS @ TWINS – LHP Mike Minor v. RHP Michael Pineda
    SUNDAY, 7/7: RANGERS @ TWINS – RHP Ariel Jurado v. RHP Jake Odorizzi

    Catch Up On Twins Daily Game Recaps

    • Jul 01 2019 09:51 AM
    • by Nick Nelson