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  1. Twins Lining Up a 2-Starter System

    Like many managers, Rocco Baldelli isn’t always forthcoming with specific information in relation to the strategies his team is employing. However, a picture of Minnesota’s rotational strategy seems to be emerging from the information available.


    Starters won’t likely be able to pitch late into games when the season starts, so pairing pitchers makes strategical sense. Let’s examine the team’s potential pitcher pairings.

    RHP Jose Berrios/RHP Randy Dobnak
    Jose Berrios had already been named the team’s Opening Day starter back in spring training, so it makes sense for him to get that opportunity when the shortened season commences. Randy Dobnak was fighting for a rotation spot in the spring, but his pairing with Berrios is intriguing. He surprised a lot of people last season as he pitched at three different minor league levels before making his debut. Berrios and Dobnak were two of the team’s starters during last season’s playoff series with New York and they could help the team get off to a strong start.

    RHP Jake Odorizzi/LHP Lewis Thorpe
    Jake Odorizzi accepted the Twins’ qualifying offer this winter and now he has fewer games to prove he is worth a potential long-term deal. There was a lot of buzz surrounding Lewis Thorpe back in spring training, but he left to deal with some personal matters and was eventually sent to minor league camp. With those issues behind him, he has a good chance to be back on the pitching staff. Odorizzi, a right-handed pitcher, and Thorpe, a left-handed pitcher, could make it tougher for opposing teams to create an optimal batting order.

    RHP Kenta Maeda/LHP Devin Smeltzer
    Kenta Maeda, Minnesota’s big off-season trade acquisition, has something to prove as a starter after being used as a starter and reliever with the Dodgers. Like Maeda, Devin Smeltzer started his professional career in the Dodgers organization. Smeltzer found success last season even though his pitching repertoire would hardly be called overpowering. He relies on a fastball that ranks in the 6th percentile for velocity and in the 86th percentile for spin. As with Odorizzi and Thorpe, this pairing gives the Twins another righty-lefty pitching combo.

    LHP Rich Hill/RHP Homer Bailey
    Following off-season surgery, Rich Hill wasn’t scheduled to be available to start the season. However, the delayed start means he’s ready to join the rotation. A shortened season might be just what the doctor ordered for Hill. He turned 40-years old in March and he’s averaged less than 110 innings pitched over the last four seasons. Over that stretch, he has a 3.00 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP and 10.6 SO/9. Homer Bailey is coming off a bounce-back season where he had a 4.57 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP over 163 1/3 innings. Together, they would comprise the team’s third right- and left-handed duo.

    RHP Jhoulys Chacin/RHP Sean Poppen
    Both Jhoulys Chacin and Sean Poppen were on the outskirts of the team’s original rotation plans, but expanded rosters to start the season allow for alterations. Chacin struggled last season in Milwaukee and Boston by posting an ERA north of 6.00. From 2015-2018, he posted a 3.97 ERA with a 1.28 WHIP, so he could be a good candidate to bounce-back in 2020. Poppen was the Twins 19th round pick back in 2016. Last season he made his big-league debut, but most of his innings came at Double- and Triple-A. Across 20 minor league appearances, he had a 4.01 ERA with a 10.7 K/9.

    Minnesota’s two-starter strategy could be key for the team getting off to a good start going into a shortened season where the Twins already have a great chance to win their first championship since 1991, according to the World Series odds we found at SBD.

    What do you think about this potential strategy? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Yesterday, 08:32 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  2. How Jose Berrios Used Video To Regain Confidence

    The Minnesota Twins are loaded with the latest gadgets and technology. They have the capability of measuring foot pressure into the mound, hip speed, chest speed, arm speed, arm path, release height, release speed, breakdown which fingertip touched the ball last, spin rate, spin direction, velocity and on and on.

    They have a team dedicated to biomechanical science to sniff out inefficiencies. They have what amounts to a world class pitching lab to isolate the root cause of any abnormalities.

    There are times, however, when a player requires more than metrics. There are times when a player needs not to be told what is wrong. They need to hear what they did right.

    This past November Wes Johnson was a presenter at an ABCA pitching clinic. There, the Twins pitching coach shared a story about Berrios’ late season issues and how they addressed them.

    “He was struggling a little bit,” Johnson said of Berrios. “Struggling mentally, struggling physically. I said ‘Jose that’s it, you are meeting me in the video room today at 2 and we’re gonna go over some stuff.’”

    As Berrios hit a rough patch, the pitching coach took his star pitcher and showed him a supercut of all his strikeouts. No mechanical talk. No pitch selection talk. It was simply a session for Berrios to be reminded of how dominating he can be.

    “It spurs the conversation,” Johnson tells the crowd about the video session. “What happened was his own perception of his own potential had fallen because he was struggling. All I did was show him was no, no, you are still pretty good. I didn’t do anything.”

    Berrios returned to the mound. The loud contact subsided, the walks decreased, and the strikeouts returned. Velocity was ticking northward and he began to execute his pitches with more precision. He had improved.

    And yet Wes Johnson claimed he did not do anything.

    He told the coaches at the conference that in the aftermath, reporters would bombard him with questions. They wanted to know what he did with Jose Berrios to get him back on track. What was the secret?

    “He just got back to who he was,” said Johnson. “Knew that he was pretty good. He watched himself execute pitches. I didn’t do anything with his delivery, I didn’t do anything with his throwing.”

    Of course Johnson did something. What he is saying is that he didn’t do anything conventional. There were no changes to his weighted ball routine. No messing with his pitch arsenal. No additional pregame hours working through movements on the mound. Nothing that a pitching coach traditionally does.

    It was all about the headspace.

    In Trevor Moawad’s book, It Takes What It Takes, the mental skills coach detailed some accomplishments he had with some professional athletes and how they achieved those victories.

    One of Moawad’s main clients is Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson. When the Seahawks went to Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX, Moawad compiled a video of Wilson’s extraordinary plays to help him prepare.

    “We started by giving Russell examples of the times when he has been at his most commanding,” Moawad wrote. “As he watched, he allowed himself to relive incredible moments when he was at his best.”

    The film included some of Wilson’s memorable moments in his college and professional career. It zeroed in on his posture before and after big plays. It captured the language he used on the sidelines to describe how he felt about the execution. Moawad goes further, adding that he included a song from the band The Head & The Heart that would remind Wilson that he is home in these moments.

    Johnson’s film session likely didn’t include a soundtrack set to an indie folk rock band but the overall intent mirrors what the mental performance coach was trying to accomplish with Russell Wilson: remind Jose Berrios that he is an elite performer.

    As we know, Wilson went out and threw the game-losing interception that Super Bowl. Berrios had more shaky outings later in the season. It’s not a magic elixir.

    Studies suggest that reviewing positive imagery before competition has helped athletes elevate their game.

    Researchers found that using imagery can stimulate various parts of an athletes’ brain, activating recall of a feel. By watching some performance clips the same athletes can experience those moments in great vividness. What’s more, if those images are overwhelmingly positive, such as Berrios throwing a dirty ass hook against one of the league’s better hitters, he may increase his self-confidence which can affect his future performance. He may also trigger the portion of his brain that remembers exactly how that pitch felt.

    So when Wes Johnson says he did nothing for Berrios, he’s simply being modest.

    It doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. After all, the Twins have given him a new offseason workout routine, a new shape to his curveball, and have tried to get him to sit in his heel more again this spring. They hope they can continue to build him into the pitcher who can last throughout an entire season -- be it 162 or 60 games.

    But while there are things to work on physically, sometimes it’s best to have someone in the clubhouse reminding him what he can do right.

    • Jul 07 2020 08:31 AM
    • by Parker Hageman
  3. Minnesota Twins 2020 Schedule Released

    Here’s a breakdown of what was known about the schedule going into Monday’s release:

    • All teams will play 10 games against each team in their division, so 2/3rds of their schedule will be against division opponents.
    • The other 20 games will be played against the corresponding regional division in the National League. For the Twins, this means playing teams from the NL Central.
    • Out of those 20 games, six will be with the closest natural rival. For the Twins, this means playing the Brewers six times.
    • Every team has six total off-days throughout the season.

    Before the full schedule was released, fans learned the Twins would be opening the 2020 season on the north side of Chicago against the White Sox. This likely means a pitching match-up of Jose Berrios versus Lucas Giolito starting at 7:10 Central. Chicago is expected to be better this season after adding some key pieces, but most prognosticators have them slated to finish third in the AL Central.

    After three games in Chicago, the Twins have an eight-game home-stand that includes two games with the Cardinals, four games against Cleveland, and two games versus the Pirates. Minnesota’s next eight games are on the road with two games at Pittsburgh, three games in Kansas City, and three game in Milwaukee.

    Next on the schedule is seven home games against the Royals (4 games) and Brewers (3 games). From there, the club goes on the road for 10-games with three in Kansas City, three games in Cleveland, and four games in Detroit. Following this, the club heads home for seven games with three against the White Sox and four against the Tigers.

    Also included in Minnesota’s final month of the schedule is two games in St. Louis, before coming home to face Cleveland in what could be a pivotal series in deciding the division winner. Minnesota’s last road trip includes four games against the White Sox and three games against the Cubs. This allows the team to end the year at Target Field with two games versus Detroit and three games versus Cincinnati.

    Notes on the schedule:
    • The Twins get seven home games against Cleveland which means the Twins will only play in Cleveland for three games.
    • Minnesota’s inter-league schedule includes six games against Milwaukee, four against Pittsburgh, four against St. Louis, three against the Cubs, and three against the Reds.
    • In September, 15 of their 23 games are against AL Central opponents.
    • August might be their easiest month with 18 of their 29 games against the Pirates, Tigers, and Royals.

    What are your thoughts on the team’s 60-game schedule? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Jul 06 2020 04:48 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  4. Twins All-Decade Team, the '10s (The Pitchers)

    The 2010s were a rough decade for the Minnesota Twins overall, though they have some fair seasons and a couple of playoff appearances. The final season of the decade was a 102-win season that gives fans hope for the coming decade of baseball.

    Pitching continued to be a huge question mark for the Twins throughout the decade. However, they did draft and develop Jose Berrios who, at 25, has already pitched in two All-Star Games. With Derek Falvey in charge, the hope is that he will help the organization develop pitching the same way he did in Cleveland.

    For now, take a look at the choices for five starting pitchers and five relief pitchers of the Twins decade.


    SP - Ervin Santana (2015-2018)
    85 games, 85 starts, 30-25 with 0 saves and a 3.68 ERA in 525 1/3 innings. 414 K. 159 BB.

    The Twins signed Santana in December 2014 after ten MLB seasons, eight with the Angels. He got a four year, $55 million deal. However, before the 2015 season, he was suspended for 80 games. He pitched the second half of that season and made 30 starts in 2016. Though he went just 7-11, his 3.38 ERA was 25% better than league average. He got off to a great start in 2017 and earned his second career All- Star appearance. Overall, he went 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA (35% better than league average). He led the league with five complete games and three shutouts. He hurt a finger late in the season and it just didn’t heal in 2018. He tried to come back but it didn’t work.



    SP - Kyle Gibson (2013-2019)
    193 games, 188 starts, 67-68 with 0 saves and a 4.52 ERA in 1,087 innings. 845 K. 392 BB.

    Gibson was the Twins first-round pick in 2009 out of Missouri. In 2010, he pitched at Ft. Myers, New Britain and Rochester. He was on his way to debuting in 2010, but his elbow didn’t agree. He had Tommy John and returned late in 2012. He made his debut in June 2013 and spent the rest of the decade in a Twins uniform. Gibson remained mostly healthy and provided over 1000 innings. He fit into a category of “generally kept his team in the game” and because of that, he finished with a record right around .500. He won 10 or more games in five of his six full seasons, winning 13 games in 2014 and 2019. His best season was in 2018 when he went just 10-13 but had a 3.62 ERA, 18% better than league average. He fought with ulcerative colitis in 2019, but he took the mound whenever asked. After a dozen years in the Twins organization, Gibson signed a three-year deal with the Rangers in the offseason.



    SP - Jose Berrios (2016-2019)
    104 games, 103 starts, 43-34 with 0 saves and a 4.21 ERA in 596 2/3 innings. 585 K. 195 BB.

    Berrios was the 32nd-overall pick in the 2012, draft out of Puerto Rico. He was the Twins Daily Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year in both 2014 and 2015. At just 21, he made his MLB debut in April 2016. He really struggled in his rookie season, posting an ERA over 8 in 14 starts. In 2017, he went 14-8 with a 3.89 ERA. He made his first All-Star appearance in 2018 when he went 12-11 with a 3.84 ERA in 32 starts. Last season, he returned to the All-Star Game. In 32 starts, he went 14-8 with a 3.68 ERA. He reached 200 innings for the first time in his career. He was set to be the Twins Opening Day starting pitcher again in 2020.



    SP - Phil Hughes (2014-2018)
    92 games, 79 starts, 32-29 with 0 saves and a 4.43 ERA in 489 2/3 innings. 360 K. 63 BB.

    Hughes was the 23rd overall pick in the 2004 MLB Draft. After parts of seven seasons with the Yankees, he signed a three-year deal with the Twins about a week before they signed Santana. He put together an incredible 2014 season. He went 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA. In 209 2/3 innings, he walked just 16 batters. His 0.7 BB/9 and 11.63 K/BB led the league. The latter was an MLB record. Just one out from reaching 210 innings, and a big incentive, his final start ended when there was a rain delay. The Twins ripped up his three-year deal and made it a five-year deal. He went 11-9 with a 4.40 ERA in 27 games in 2015. After that, he struggled with his shoulder and had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. He was unable to pitch consistently from 2016 until he was traded to the Padres early in the 2018 season.




    SP - Scott Baker (2010-11)
    52 games, 50 starts, 20-15 with 0 saves and a 3.90 ERA in 305 innings. 271 K. 75 BB.

    While Baker’s best season was in 2009, he was still quite productive the first two years of the next decade. In 2010, he went 12-9 with a 4.49 ERA in 29 starts. In 2011, he went 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 21 starts before his season came to an end. He ended up needing Tommy John surgery and missed the 2012 season. Between 2013 and 2015, he pitched for the Cubs, Rangers and Dodgers.

    RP - Glen Perkins (2010-2017)
    342 games, 1 start, 17-14 with 120 saves and a 3.18 ERA in 342 2/3 innings. 359 K. 84 BB.

    The Twins drafted Gopher great Glen Perkins with the 22nd overall pick of the 2004 draft. He came up through the minor league system as a starter and debuted late in 2006. He was a starter (and went 12-4 with a 4.41 ERA) in 2008. By 2010, he made the move to the bullpen. He took off in 2011. He posted ERAs of 2.48, 2.56 and 2.30 over the next three years, becoming one of the top left-handed relievers in the game. He became the closer midway through the 2012 season. He was an All-Star in 2013, 2014, and 2015, compiling 102 of his 120 saves in those three seasons.



    RP - Taylor Rogers (2016-2019)
    258 games, 0 starts, 13-10 with 32 saves and a 3.04 ERA in 254 1/3 innings. 278 K. 64 BB.

    Rogers was the Twins 11th-round pick in 2012 out of the University of Kentucky. He climbed the Twins ladder as a starting pitcher. However, early in 2016, Glen Perkins was hurt and Rogers was called up to work out of the bullpen. He’s been there since, and he has continued to get better as his role has gained leverage. In 2017, he posted a 3.07 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. In 2018, he had a 2.63 ERA anda 0.95 WHIP. Last season, he had a 2.61 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. His strikeout rate over the last three seasons has gone from 7.5 K/9 to 9.9 K/9 to 11.7 K/9 in 2019. He began the 2019 season being used in any late-inning, high-leverage situation. As other options struggled, he began getting more opportunities in the closer’s role. He often worked multiple-innings to record saves. He was also named an all-pro after the season.



    RP - Brian Duensing (2010-2015)
    330 games, 52 starts, 36-35 with 2 saves and a 4.20 ERA in 565 1/3 innings. 375 K. 177 BB.

    Duensing was the Twins third-round pick in 2015 out of the University of Nebraska. He made his MLB debut in 2009. In 2010, he went 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA in 53 games and 130 2/3 innings. He moved into the starting rotation for the 2011 season, and struggled. By mid-2012, he moved to the bullpen full time and became a reliable left-handed option for the next three seasons. He was called upon to get one out, pitch an inning or even pitch a couple of innings at a time. He left after the 2015 season and pitched one season with the Orioles before pitching in the Cubs bullpen in 2017 and 2018.


    RP - Ryan Pressly (2013-2018)
    281 games, 0 starts, 17-16 with 1 save and a 3.75 ERA in 317 innings. 282 K. 108 BB.

    Pressly was a starting pitching prospect with the Red Sox when the Twins picked him with their Rule 5 selection in December of 2012. He impressed in spring training 2013 and made the team. He had a 3.87 ERA in 49 games that season. He was able to be sent to Rochester the next year and split the season between AAA and the big leagues. By 2016, he was an oft-used reliever in the Twins bullpen. He continued to show great stuff so as he worked more, he became a high strikeout pitcher. He was traded to the Astros at the July deadline in 2018 and became even more dominant. Before the trade, he had 69 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings. He was an All-Star in 2019.


    RP - Casey Fien (2012-2016)
    257 games, 0 starts, 17-15 with 1 save and a 4.21 ERA in 237 1/3 innings. 209 K. 42 BB.

    Fien pitched in 11 games for the Tigers between 2009 and 2010. He spent 2011 in the minor leagues. The Twins signed him to a minor league deal before the 2012 season. He began in Rochester, but something clicked for him midway through the season, and he took off and earned a call to the Twins where he finished the season posting a 2.06 ERA in 35 games. He spent three seasons as a reliable reliever for the Twins. He struggled early in 2016 and was claimed by the Dodgers. He pitched for Seattle and Philadelphia in 2018.


    For more from this series, see below.

    Previous Installments
    Twins All-Decade Team, the '60s (The Hitters)
    Twins All-Decade Team, the '60s (The Pitchers)
    Episode 15: Get t o Know the 1960s Twins (with Dave Mona)
    Twins All-Decade Team, the '70s (The Hitters)
    Twins All-Decade Team, the '70s (The Pitchers)
    Episode 16: Get to Know the 1970s Twins (with Patrick Reusse)
    Twins All-Decade Team: the '80s (The Hitters)
    Twins All-Decade Team: the '80s (The Pitchers)
    Episode 17: Get to know the 1980s Twins (with Howard Sinker)
    Twins All-Decade Team: the '90s (The Hitters)
    Twins All-Decade Team: the '90s (The Pitchers)
    Twins All-Decade Team: the '00s (The Hitters)
    Twins All-Decade Team: the '00s (The Pitchers)
    Twins All-Decade Team, the '10s (The Hitters)

    • May 14 2020 08:17 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  5. Ranking the Twins Best Pitches

    Best Fastball: Trevor May
    FBv: 95.6, wFB: 17.4
    With Brusdar Graterol no longer on the roster, there’s a new sheriff in town. Trevor May was supposed to evolve into a middle of the rotation starter when the Twins traded for him, but now he has become a shutdown late-inning relief pitcher. One of the biggest reasons for his improved performance… a lights-out fastball that has continue to improve since he switched to the bullpen.

    Back in 2014 May was a starter, trying to find himself on a struggling Twins squad. His fastball wasn’t hitting 93 and it didn’t seem like the rotation was a spot where he would thrive. Fast-forward to 2019 and his fastball has jumped to 95.5 mph and he is using it almost 62% of the time. The transition to the bullpen can be tough for some players, but opponents compiled a .150 batting average against his heater and most fans will take that every day of the week.

    Honorable Mention: Jake Odorizzi (20.8 wFB), Jose Berrios 11.5 (wFB)

    Best Slider: Taylor Rogers
    SLv: 82.3, wSL: 7.4
    Taylor Rogers is good. Let me restate that, Taylor Rogers is really good, and I don’t think the rest of baseball realizes how good he was last season. One of the biggest changes for him last season was using his curveball less often and relying more on his slider. Spoiler alert… his slider is unhittable when paired with his other off-speed pitches.

    Outside of Jose Berrios, Rogers might have been the most enjoyable Twins pitcher to watch last season. His calm demeanor on the mound separates him from more recent Twins closers, but his pitching repertoire certainly puts him in the same class as his successors. Having a shortened 2020 season is depriving fans of another stellar year from Rogers.

    Honorable Mention: Sergio Romo (wSL 3.6), Lewis Thorpe (wSL 3.9)

    Best Curveball: Devin Smeltzer
    CBv: 76.6, wCB: 3.0
    Smeltzer doesn’t have the velocity most would expect from a big-league pitcher, but the movement on his pitches helps to separate him from others on the staff. Fans are constantly in awe of the movement he is able to create from his lanky frame, especially when the pitches aren’t coming in at triple-digits on the radar gun. One of the biggest reasons for his success is his ability to change pitches and alter the batter’s vantage point.

    Last season, his spin on his curveball ranked in the 80th percentile across baseball. He only threw the pitch 24.5% of the time so it could be a pitch that see increase usage in the years ahead. Smeltzer is never going to blow away other batters. He has to rely on movement to be successful and he could rely on his unique abilities to be a back of the rotation starter.

    Honorable Mention: Jose Berrios (wCB -1.8), Tyler Duffey (wCB -0.8)

    Best Change-Up: Michael Pineda
    CHv: 87.2, wCH: 4.9
    Twins fans might not appreciate how good Michael Pineda was for the team last season. He was once a top prospect, but he has evolved as a pitcher with more big-league experience. His fastball and slider might be below league average but his change-up is on another tier. He threw it more with the Twins than in any other season during the StatCast era.

    Opponents were held to a .238 batting average and a .253 WOBA on his change-up last season. Compare that to previous seasons and opponents were hitting over .290 with a .318 WOBA. Granted he missed a season due to Tommy John, but it takes nothing away from how he was able to adapt last season.

    Honorable Metnion:Trevor May (wCH: 2.2), Sergio Romo (wCH: 1.6)

    Do you agree with these rankings? What is the best pitch in the Twins organization? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • May 06 2020 03:30 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  6. Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher

    Projected Rotation: Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey, Jhoulys Chacin

    Depth: Michael Pineda, Rich Hill, Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe
    Prospects: Jordan Balazovic, Jhoan Duran, Blayne Enlow

    THE GOOD

    The Twins will be at least three-deep with upper-tier starters out of the gates. Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi were All-Stars last year and both ranked among MLB's top 20 starting pitchers in fWAR. Kenta Maeda has a track record as one of the game's premium strikeout pitchers, and was a longtime cog for the always-dominant Dodgers.

    These are thoroughbreds, and Minnesota's sophisticated coaching infrastructure increases the likelihood of optimal output. As much as folks want to treat last year's rotation as a crippling weak point that doomed the Twins in October, their starters were collectively respectable in 2019. They ranked seventh among MLB teams in fWAR, 11th in ERA, and eighth in FIP.

    Those numbers were dragged down significantly by Martin Perez and his 4.99 ERA in 29 starts. He's gone, and it's tough to imagine any replacement coming close to his level of ineffectiveness. Kyle Gibson too was a liability down the stretch, diminished by his physical ailment, and he also has moved on.

    Tentatively slated to replace them in the back half of the rotation are veteran free agent signings Homer Bailey and Jhoulys Chacin. Each one brings a certain element of intrigue: Bailey made major strides late last year with a weaponized splitter, and Chacin has a better career ERA+ than Berrios, Odorizzi and Maeda.

    That said, the Twins are not beholden to either back-end option, least of all Chacin with his non-guaranteed contract. There are plenty of capable arms vying to take their places, not counting the eventual arrivals of front-end talents in Michael Pineda and Rich Hill.

    Randy Dobnak pitched exceedingly well as a rookie during the stretch run last year, and made a start in the playoffs. Devin Smeltzer posted a 3.86 ERA over 49 innings, looking very much up to the task as a fill-in. Lewis Thorpe offers the most upside of the three and flashed big strikeout stuff during a bumpy debut. Then you've got top prospects Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran, who are both nearing the point of a potential call-up.

    I can't ever remember a time where the Twins were this deep on quality options. Even back in the glory days, when boasting one of the league's top overall rotations led by Johan Santana, Minnesota always seemed to have blatant weakness on the back end, with a lack of high-caliber reinforcements to step in.

    Obviously nothing is guaranteed with the likes of Bailey, or Chacin, or the various mostly-untested minor leaguers, but there are a lot of quality options in this mix, providing the Twins with plentiful contingencies in the inevitability of health and performance setbacks.

    THE BAD

    The Twins might now have more depth than those classic Santana-led rotations, but they what they don't have is a Santana. Minnesota has won two of its 21 postseason contests dating back to 2003, and both of those games were started by Johan, underscoring the vital importance of a shutdown No. 1 starter.

    It's not clear the Twins have one. It's also not clear they don't; Berrios and Odorizzi both bordered on that designation in 2019, and neither has turned 30 yet. Maeda has frequently been dominant on the big stage, and has qualities that put him into the potential ace discussion. Hill has put up stellar numbers when on the mound.

    Berrios in particular is interesting. He's still only 25. He and the team are fully focused on making the transition from excellent to elite, which would require a sturdier second half. One wonders how a shortened season might affect a pitcher who owned a 2.80 ERA through the end of July last year.

    But, unless and until such a fortuitous development takes place, the Twins are plainly lacking a prototypical ace to match their contending counterparts in New York and Houston. This may not greatly hinder them in their goal of winning the division, but it's certainly a hurdle for getting over the hump in October (November, December... what have you).

    THE BOTTOM LINE

    The Twins have put themselves in very good position with starting pitching. They brought back key pieces from last year's group by re-signing Odorizzi and Pineda, added veteran depth with Bailey and Chacin, placed an exciting wild card in the deck with Hill, and found their impact pitching in the form of Maeda.

    This plan might not live up to the hopes of those who clamored for the acquisition of a clear-cut No. 1 via trade or free agency, but such assets are in short supply, and Minnesota's front office did a helluva job improvising.

    This is the deepest Twins starting pitching corps I can ever remember, complete with legitimate upside and high-caliber reinforcements. It's well crafted to support an elite offense and propel the team where it needs to go – especially if the rotation's burden is lessened by a robust bullpen that carries much of the load.


    ~~~


    Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Catcher
    Twins 2020 Position Analysis: First Base
    Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Second Base
    Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Third Base
    Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Shortstop
    Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Left Field
    Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Center Field
    Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Right Field
    Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Designated Hitter

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    • Mar 31 2020 07:17 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  7. Opening Day: Patience is a Virtue

    What does Opening Day mean to you? For me, it can be a source of energy. It is one morning that I typically have had no problem waking up, excited for the day. In years past, I would take the afternoon off, set up two TVs side-by-side and watch anywhere from two to four games at a time throughout the afternoon.

    Spring Training is done. A long offseason is over. All our thoughts and opinions on what our favorite team will now become a reality. Hope reigns eternal.

    As Twins fans, it is especially difficult. The team won 101 games in 2019, and made some big moves in the offseason. It is entirely possible that the 2020 Twins roster is even better.

    The 2020 Twins season was to start in Oakland later this afternoon. While we all fully understand the gravity of the situation of the global pandemic, it is OK to still be disappointed that we don’t get Opening Day games today. The teams. The players. The fans. We all would much prefer to have baseball games today and know that there would be baseball for the next seven months.

    There are many things that Opening Day means to people. Living in northern Minnesota, there is - of course - still snow on the ground. But Opening Day means that there soon will not be snow on the ground, that the long winter is coming to an end shortly.

    There is a normalcy. As Nick wrote recently, baseball provides a sense of routine to a fan’s life. It is just something that you know will be there 162 times over six months, and hopefully seven months for your favorite team.

    There are the emerging story lines that we would now have answers to. Today, we would know who won the fifth starter job? Would the Twins go with 13 pitchers, or just 12 pitchers to start the season? We would all much rather be wondering right now if we would see Byron Buxton’s name in the lineup today. Who was named the 26th man?

    Most of even the most die hard baseball fans can certainly put those questions into proper perspective.

    Social Distancing has become a term we all have learned and now use in daily conversation. Shelter from home. Schools closing and parents, teachers and students trying to figure out what that means for them. Nearly 3.3 million jobless claims filed in the last week.

    Baseball feels so unimportant right now. And obviously, right now, it isn’t important.

    But at some point in the future - maybe in a month, maybe in July - there will be baseball again. We will get Opening Day. We don’t have any real idea of what that will look like yet.

    Frankly, I might argue that it is great to read news that MLB is having conversations about trying to still play a large number of games, though probably not 162, even if that means baseball in December. There may be a time when games are played with no fans in the stands. Baseball has a lot of very difficult discussions going on and coming in the near future.

    But the fact that there are planning meetings for a 2020 MLB season does provide hope. Hope that we will again see baseball this year, and hope that means that this global pandemic has been somewhat restrained.

    So we all do our parts. We wash our hands often. We cough and sneeze into our sleeves. We stay at home. We do those things to protect ourselves, and our family and loved ones, for our community, our state, our country and our world.

    And on the periphery of all that, we do it so that we will be able to see baseball on our TVs, hear baseball on our radios, and eventually congregate at stadiums like Target Field, or even our local community ball fields.

    And in the meantime, stop by Twins Daily. We are a community, here for each other. We can provide a place to keep talking baseball, and talking about our favorite team, even debate with other fans, in large part because we need it. We need the distraction. We need baseball. We need hope. And we need patience.

    There will be an Opening Day. We just need to wait a little bit. But, patience is a virtue, they say.

    • Mar 26 2020 09:14 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  8. Twins 0, Pirates 2: Berrios Adjusting

    The Twins were ready for Derek Shelton to return to Hammond Stadium. When the Twins were done with batting practice, the Pittsburgh Pirates came onto the field for their pregame work.

    When Shelton came out, he was met in the middle of the infield by a large contingent of Twins, starting with Rocco Baldelli. Derek Falvey wished him well. Shelton was given hugs by many Twins personnel. In addition, there were a few photos put into a slide show format on the stadiums video board.

    In addition, several chatted with Rick Eckstein, the Pirates hitting coach. He was the Twins minor league hitting coordinator in 2018 before getting the Pirates job before the 2019 season. Even after the Pirates made a change with their manager, Eckstein retained his job.

    Jose Berrios started and threw three scoreless innings. He gave up one hit, walked two and struck out two batters.

    It took him a little to get going at the beginning. "I tried to do the same thing I did last time. Throwing my four-seam fastball. Using the changeup, too. Trying to throw good changeups. But in the beginning, the first inning, I had issues with the grip because of the weather. Because I was thinking about it, I was being too fast with my first side. But other than that, I felt good about the outing."

    In addition, Berrios was working on a couple of things. "Yeah. I threw a couple of fastballs well, running up. That's something we've been practicing so far in spring training."

    He is also working on a spiked curveball, the more 12-6 variety, to go with his sweeping slider. It's something that his manager thinks will really help him, especially working in concert with his elevated fastball.

    Said Baldelli, "Being able to use those pitches off of each other, I think, is certainly a trick that Jose is aware of, and he's used, but I think he's still perfecting that kind of stuff and gaining even more feel for it. He can definitely sweep that breaking ball across the zone and that can be effective for some hitters, but if he can also be able to spin it up and down. We're talking slight adjustments here, but if he can do some different things with the breaking ball, that can come in in a useful way."

    Berrios said that he spent some time with Alex Avila after his outing. "After our outing, we talked and obviously, it's the first time we've played together. He said, 'The more I know you, the more comfortable it will be for me.' Today, I think we did great work."

    Asked if he and his staff has strategically aligned pitchers and catchers who have not worked with each other to work with each other early in camp, Baldelli said, "Yes. It doesn't always work out [perfectly where you get to match everybody up with exactly who you want them to work with. But I think it is important. know Wes and Mac and Bill also think it is important. We will ty to get Alex out there with as many of our pitchers as we possibly can throughout the spring. Hopefully he sees everyone. Hopefully he will see most of them multiple times. And the same with Bailey and Kenta with all of our guys, just trying to get feel for all these guys. It starts in the bullpens early on in camp and goes into live b.p. then obviously real games The more they can work together the better off we are going to be once the season starts."

    Littell Velocity

    Do Hyoung Park from twinsbaseball.com chatted with Zack Littell about his bullpen role. He told pitching coach Wes Johnson that he wants to hit 100 mph.

    Littell has really taken to the bullpen role. On Saturday night, he tossed two scoreless innings and struck out three.



    Nelson Cruz(es)

    Several of the players kids were in the clubhouse before the game on Saturday night. Nelson Cruz's son - also Nelson - was pretty involved in the night. When the Twins were taking infield practice, he was in line with the other Twins third basemen and fielded grounders and made the throws to (or most of the way to) second or first base. Whatever the other guys were doing. They stood together for the national anthem, and Nelson (the younger) got to spend time as a bat boy.

    Posted Image

    Notes

    Rocco Baldelli did say that Jorge Polanco is expected to start at DH on Sunday afternoon. It will mark his first game of the spring. Marwin Gonzalez is expected to make his first appearance this week as well.


    Please feel free to ask questions. I've done several interviews and I have several more planned. They definitely won't all be published by the time I leave here next week. One thing is for sure. We will have a lot of pictures to use with the Twins Daily articles.

    Be sure to follow Twins Daily on Twitter.

    • Feb 29 2020 11:35 PM
    • by Seth Stohs
  9. Twins 5, Blue Jays 5: Donaldson Debuts, Berrios Shines

    It also means I’m breaking a vow. A couple of years ago, I swore I would forever go through an entire spring training visit without reporting individual results of games. Why? Because by reporting on them, it lends credence to them meaning something, and they don’t. None of them. And especially not early spring training games. But I also get it: we’re hungry for baseball. So here are a few notes about the Twins 5-5 tie with the Blue Jays.

    Berrios looked awfully good. He gave up a lead-off hit and the next batter hit a line drive, but it went right to second baseman Travis Blankenhorn, who caught it and turned an easy double-play. After that, he got his last four outs on strikeouts, and there is plenty of excitement about Berrios’ age-25 season. If Berrios can maintain his early season success over the whole season, the sky’s the limit.

    Miguel Sano spent the second inning taking the extra bases available to him. He got on base with a sawed off blooper. Advanced to second base on a ground ball to left field. Tagged up and took third on a fly ball to center field. Then tagged up again on a medium fly ball to left field. He didn’t look especially fast in any of those events, but he was easily safe on all of them. I don’t think it means anything, but it’s sure fun to see.

    Sergio Romo looked like he got a strikeout on a changeup to a right-handed batter in his third-inning appearance. It also looked like he got a called strike on a changeup to a right-handed batter two batters later. Romo threw a changeup 16% of the time last year – the highest rates in his career – but usually that pitch would be used against opposite-sided hitters as changeups tend to move toward the pitcher’s arm side. He could be experimenting with that pitch early in camp – or I could be wrong about the pitch. Either I or someone else from Twins Daily will ask him about it later this week.

    Lineup Stuff
    My theory on getting some idea of Twins manager Rocco Baldlli’s initial thoughts regarding batting order for this game looks … um … stupid, despite what we saw last year. The Twins only started three expected regulars for their home opener and they all hit right-handed, and so they batted second, third and fourth in the lineup. There’s not a lot we can glean from that.

    However, that meant we got to see Josh Donaldson hitting second, which could end up being his spot during the regular season. That’s the spot Donaldson has hit most often in his career, though he spent most of last year hitting cleanup for the Braves.

    The Twins leadoff hitter is likely Max Kepler or Luis Arraez, both of whom hit left-handed, so batting the right-handed hitting Donaldson in that spot would protect against a manager bringing in a left-handed reliever (or an opener) to attempt to neutralize the top two spots in the order. Last year’s #2 hitter, Jorge Polanco, is a switch-hitter, but he profiles as a left-hander with the bat: he posted a .891 OPS versus right-handers last year, and just a 728 OPS versus southpaws.

    It’s worth noting that the Twins may not see things the same way. Twins Daily followers on Twitter didn’t. They voted Polanco over Donaldson in the second spot, 46% to 41% in our poll on Friday. (Donaldson won the third spot in the lineup on Saturday.) You can add your two cents the rest of the week by following TwinsDaily on Twitter.

    For what it’s worth, the other two regulars in today’s lineup were Mitch Garver hitting third and Miguel Sano hitting fourth. One could make a pretty good case that Garver could hit third for a few MLB teams, but I expect him to be much further down the lineup for the Twins – perhaps as low as seventh or eighth. That shows just how deep this lineup is, especially with right-handed hitters.

    Prospects Getting Featured
    The Twins have been showcasing their prospects in these early games. Six of their top prospects started against the Gophers on Friday night’s game. Yesterday, top prospect Royce Lewis started at shortstop and number three prospect Trevor Larnach hit cleanup versus the Pirates. Today the Twins had Ryan Jeffers leading off in front of Donaldson, Garver and Sano. No pressure, kid.

    There’s a lot of buzz around Jeffers at camp this year. He’s a second-round pick of the Twins in 2018. He profiled as a bat-first player who had played catcher a bit in college but wasn’t expected to stick there. But Jeffers has worked hard to improve his defense while continuing to hit, including posting an .856 OPS in a limited stint (24 games) in AA last year. Twins Daily ranked the 22-year-old as our seventh best Twins prospect this month, and with Brusdar Graterol being traded to the Dodgers, he’s currently at number six.

    The Twins also started another top-20 prospect, 23-year-old second baseman Travis Blankenhorn, in today’s lineup, batting seventh. We ranked Blankenhorn as the Twins’ 18th best prospect this year, but he’s been bouncing around our prospect lists for four years. Last year he showed additional power, also at AA, and though he missed a good chunk of the season with an injury, the Twins added him to the 40-man roster this fall to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

    Repeating his early success last year could go a long way toward re-establishing him as a top 10 prospect or even late season contributor for the Twins. He’s certainly being treated like a potential contributor with some early preseason playing time. He went 0-2 today, but drove in two runs with his efforts.

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    • Feb 23 2020 04:21 PM
    • by John Bonnes
  10. Berrios In Line for a 2020 Cy?

    Berrios will turn 26 during the 2020 season, and he’s now played two full seasons in the big leagues. He finished 2019 with a 3.68 ERA and 8.8 K/9. Those numbers include a truly dismal six start stretch from August into September in which he posted an 8.07 ERA and allowed a .971 OPS to opposing batters. Going into that stretch he owned a 2.80 ERA and looked like he was cruising. Much was made of his decreased velocity and declining stamina, something the Twins made a concerted effort to address this offseason.

    Recently Dan Hayes of The Athletic wrote about Berrios’ offseason and the ways in which he hopes it helps to alter his 2020. Recovery was a big focus for the Puerto Rican this winter and figuring out how to sustain his performance throughout the whole season was a must. Utilizing everyone from pitching coach Wes Johnson to trainer Ian Kadish, there was an overhaul of his offseason regimen. Berrios is known as a workout warrior, and he didn’t give up that title, but modifications in hopes of avoiding that August slide made sense.

    Right now, oddsmaker Bovada has the Twins ace at 18/1 to win the American League Cy Young. That is 12th best among those listed and behind names like Mike Clevinger and Corey Kluber. A year ago, Berrios finished 7th in terms of fWAR in the American League. His 4.4 fWAR was a career best, and a nice leap from the 3.1 fWAR tallied in the year prior.

    After Steamer projections saw a step backwards for Berrios last year, both Steamer and ZiPS concur on that point in 2020. Projecting a 4.48 and 4.17 ERA respectively, he’d be well off the 3.68 mark of 2019 and well out of any conversation for a Cy Young Award. ZiPS does see an uptick in terms of K/9, generating 9.14 in 2020. It would seem odd that Berrios regress during his age-26 season, a period in which his prime should be considered. However, despite a 3.85 FIP last year, he had a gaudier 4.32 xFIP.

    I wrote up this exact same type of piece a year ago and ended it by saying, “I don’t know if I’m ready to get on board with Berrios winning a Cy Young just yet, but 2019 could certainly provide a strong foundation as the point looked backed upon that everything just clicked.” I feel like that’s where we are now and have a jumping point to watch this coming to fruition. Being deemed the best pitcher in the league is quite a significant feat, but he’s hovered around that conversation for a while now.

    We won’t know what dividends the offseason routine changes make until regular action gets underway. With Johnson and Kadish’s oversight though, he was positioned about as well as Minnesota could hope. Removing that six start stretch from the 2019 numbers would’ve provided Berrios the first votes of his career. I’d bet on them coming in 2020, and how many really is the only thing left up for debate.

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    • Feb 20 2020 01:36 PM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  11. Four Ways the Twins Could Avoid a Jose Berrios Second Half Slump

    1. Alter His Workout Routine
    According to the Star Tribune, Berrios altered some of his workout routines between starts at the end of last season and he saw some positive results. He worked throughout the offseason to develop his stamina and the Twins are hoping this stamina carries throughout the 2020 campaign. Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson was influential in this end-of-season metamorphosis.

    In his six starts from August 6 through September 4, he got knocked around to the tune of a .971 OPS and an 8.07 ERA. After his meeting of the minds with Johnson, he pitched six innings or more in his final five starts with a 3.08 ERA and opponents being held to a .631 OPS.

    2. Extra Rest in the Second Half
    There was talk throughout last season of giving Jose Berrios extra rest in the second half, which could include skipping his spot in the rotation or being strategic in his second-half usage. In the second half, his ERA was over a run and a half higher than the first half with opponents posting a .268/.328/.428 batting line.

    There were still some positive signs in those poor second-half numbers. His 9.8 SO/9 was a full strikeout higher than his career mark and he might have been unlucky with a .335 BAbip. Also, Minnesota’s perceived rotational depth could make it easier for Berrios to get extra rest. Rich Hill and Michael Pineda won’t start the year in the rotation and younger players like Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak and Lewis Thorpe will want an opportunity.

    3. Add an Early Season Innings Limit
    Innings limits are usually associated with younger prospects or players coming back from injury, but it could be a strategy utilized by the Twins to save Berrios for the second half. This could allow him to pitch more innings in the second half and keep him fresh. If his entire season as a tube of toothpaste, you don’t want everything squeezed out by the end of July.


    Historically, August and September have been his worst months. His ERA in August is nearly 6.00 for his career with batters hitting .279/.355/.456 with 42 extra base hits in 21 games. His September ERA is a more respectable 4.64, but that’s still over half a run higher than his next highest month.

    4. Throw More Pitches Out of the Zone
    This might seem like a counterproductive option for a player if you want to be pitching better in the second half, but Berrios threw 50% of his pitches in the zone last season, a career high. His 33.4% chase rate was also a career high, but batters were making solid contact when they weren’t chasing the ball.

    When it comes to his four-pitch mix, could any of his pitches be thrown out of the zone on a more regular basis?
    [attachment=13494:Berrios Pitches Out of the Zone.JPG]
    Being in the zone also likely caused Berrios to post a 6.5% Barrel % and an 86.5 mph Exit Velocity, which were both the highest since his rookie season. Granted the juiced-up baseball might have helped increase the exit velocity for all players. His 36.3% Hard Hit rate was the highest of his career and it was 8.4% higher than his career best mark in 2017.

    What do you think the Twins need to do with Berrios? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
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    • Feb 19 2020 01:36 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  12. Is Kenta Maeda Destined for a Late-Season Bullpen Role?

    Relief Numbers
    During the regular season, Maeda has made 34 appearances as a reliever while posting a 3.19 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. He has 58 strikeouts compared to eight walks and opponents have been held to a .219/.275/.381 batting line. While these numbers are strong, his postseason relief appearances are off the charts.

    Over the last three postseasons, Maeda has pitched 22 innings and only allowed four earned runs (1.64 ERA). One of those runs could come with an asterisk because it was a home run that came in Houston during the 2017 World Series. Opponents have struggled to the tune of a .504 OPS while he has stranded over 40% of inherited runners.

    Last season, Maeda voiced his concern over being moved to the bullpen. One of the biggest issues for Maeda is likely due to his incentive laden contract. His base salary is only $3 million, but he can make an extra $10 million per season if he can hit all the bonuses in his contract. Those bonuses aren’t possible if he is in the bullpen.

    Rotational Depth
    Minnesota looks like a great fit for Maeda to be a starter at the season’s start, but later in the year could bring his starting spot into question. Michael Pineda and Rich Hill won’t be in the rotation until later in the season. There are also young players like Lewis Thorpe, Devin Smeltzer and Randy Dobnak who are looking to make a big-league impact.

    One of the best-case scenarios for the Twins would be that Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi are pitching at an all-star level. At the same time, Pineda returns and pitches like he did before the suspension. Then only one other pitcher in the organization needs to be pitching well and Maeda’s spot in the rotation could be in question.

    Time to Decide
    The Twins will have plenty of time to decide if Maeda fits better in their rotation or in the bullpen. In his introductory press conference, he was asked if the Twins guaranteed him a rotation spot. He told reports through an interpreter, “Not necessarily a guaranteed position, but it’s been discussed that he’ll be starting in the rotation.”

    One of the toughest tasks for Maeda could be the switch from the NL to the AL. Facing a designated hitter versus a pitcher in the line-up can be a difference-maker for some pitchers. If he can pitch well in this transition, there is no question that the Twins will use him as a starter.

    Another piece of advice for Maeda could be the same advice the Dodgers gave him when they demoted him to the bullpen the last three seasons. That advice was “pitch better,” and while this might be a no-brainer, it can be tough for a pitcher to hear. If Maeda pitches well, there is no reason to move him to the bullpen and the same is true for any pitcher in October. Teams don’t mess around at the end of the year. If you are pitching better than your counterparts, you will start playoff games.

    Will Maeda be a reliever by season’s end? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Feb 17 2020 07:22 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  13. Marwin Gonzalez Addresses Media, Expresses Regret

    Gonzalez obviously wanted to make it clear that he most regretted how it impacted the fraternity of fellow ballplayers, some of who are on his team this year. Twins reliever Rich Hill was on the Los Angeles Dodgers team that the Astros beat in the World Series. Twins starting pitcher Jose Berrios was hit hard by the Astros in 2017 in his road start against them. Gonzalez plans to talk to them specifically.
    “I just got here yesterday,” said Gonzalez.

    “Obviously, we're teammates now and we're going to have a great relationship as I spend more time with these guys as a young family. Hopefully it's eight months, including spring training. That means that we're going to fight in the playoffs and try to bring a championship back to this city. That's plenty of time to talk. I'm sure we're going to have a great relationship.”

    The 2017 Astros won the World Series and Marwin Gonzalez had a career year, posting career-high numbers. It was later revealed that the Astros used electronic means to steal signals and then signal batters by banging a trash can in the dugout. Gonzalez was the recipient of more “bangs” than any other Astro, and his chase percentage on offspeed pitches point to him gaining a significant advantage that year.

    Gonzalez, a Scott Boras client, signed a two-year, $21 million contract with the Twins in late February 2019. The multi-positional every day player will be a free agent at the end of the 2020 season.

    MLB decided that the players involved in the cheating scandal would not be fined or suspended. In recent weeks, we have heard from former Astros players such as Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton. Morton talked at Rays camp on Monday and said, “Personally, I regret not doing more to stop it. I don’t know what that would have entailed.”

    Penalties and suspensions have been levied against Astros' management and their general manager and manager were both fired. They were also fined the maximum amount allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and lost four draft picks, their first- and second-round picks in 2020 and 2021.

    This was Gonzalez's first time talking publicly about the revelations. He was not at Twins Fest last month as he continued to rehab from offseason knee surgery. After his media scrum, he communicated through the Twins that it would be the last time he addressed the topic this season.

    • Feb 11 2020 10:12 PM
    • by John Bonnes
  14. Marwin Gonzalez, the Twins, and How the Astros Cheated Minnesota

    Back in early January Nick Nelson wrote about how the Twins may have been impacted by cheaters. We know that Houston and Boston were involved, but we aren’t sure how far that reach expanded. Thanks to Tony, who Marc Carig did a great job speaking with over at The Athletic, we now can see a pretty direct picture of the tainted Twins happenings.

    Here’s the thing, it actually appears like the Astros started off the year relatively clean. Maybe they were feeling out their new system, or maybe it was around the time that A.J. Hinch went on his smashing spree. Nonetheless, it was in July that Minnesota traveled to Minute Maid Park, and it was game one that produced the second most egregious results of the regular season.



    During the three-game series in Texas, Twins pitchers threw 472 pitches. Of those, there were trash can bangs on 112 pitches, a whopping 24%. In game one, 48 of a total 179 (27%) pitches were tipped off. 84 total pitches thrown that day were not fastballs. That means Houston hitters knew, at a 57% clip, when they’d see a breaking pitch during that specific game.

    Not surprisingly, the results suggested this was the case as well. Houston scored 10 runs that day, hanging seven on starter Jose Berrios. Phil Hughes came on to get the final out in the second inning but was tagged for three runs on five hits while allowing two dingers on his own. The Astros grabbed 10 runs before Minnesota was able to record nine outs. Good day at the office to be sure, but certainly not as impressive when it’s coming in on a tee. The Twins fared better in game two and three, splitting the affairs, but 64 more Rubbermaid bangs were used over the course of that action.



    Hughes had opined when the original story broke that this was a game he thought back to. Knowing it was the one time he pitched against the Astros on the road, and proceeded to get lit up, it isn’t a surprise it would stick in his memory. His tweets today immediately pointed to that performance and give significant credibility to the advantages Houston had.

    More bad news is that it wasn’t just the 2017 Twins who felt the impact of these exploits. Matthew Trueblood recently wrote how Marwin Gonzalez likely benefitted from Houston’s scheme. He posted a career best OPS, and despite favorable numbers on the road, Nick Nelson pointed out a wOBA that jumped off the page in the friendly confines of Fresh Squeezed Park.

    What’s more, the analysis provided by Mr. Adams shows that Marwin didn’t only participate, but he may have been a ringleader. No Astros player was given more hints as to what was coming than Gonzalez received. If he knew breaking pitches were coming that often, it’s pretty apparent why he would have posted career bests across the board.



    There’s a ton to unpack here and heading over to signstealingscandal.com will allow you to dig to your hearts' content. It’s interesting that Jose Altuve was the batter at the plate the least when the garbage can rang out, but if he was wearing an electronic device as suggested then there’s probably less of a need to be involved. Former, and very short-term, New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran appears near the top of the leaderboard which isn’t a surprise given his named involvement.

    At the end of the day, this whole orchestration will go down as one of baseball’s greatest transgressions. A wild card-reaching Twins team was definitely exploited on the arms of Berrios and Hughes, and a current utility man will likely have question marks follow his production wherever he goes. This doesn’t change punishments or make any new ones more likely, but it definitely points to the negative impact on the Twins as being more drastic than on most other teams

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    • Jan 30 2020 06:47 AM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  15. 3 Questions That Remain For the Twins Before Spring Training

    Will the club extend team MVP Nelson Cruz?
    Cruz will turn 40 at the beginning of July, but he certainly hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down in recent years. Last season, the team named him the Twins MVP and he earned his third career Silver Slugger after he posted a career high 1.031 OPS with 41 home runs. Over the last six seasons, he has averaged more than 40 home runs with a 148 OPS+.

    Thad Levine told fans at TwinsFest that the club has already contacted Cruz’s agent about an extension. “We are having ongoing conversations with his agent to discuss mutual interest in the future,” Levine said. “The reality is he’s one of those unique players right now who seems to be giving Father Time the business. Most of us aren’t blessed with that ability.”

    Is the Twins starting rotation set?
    Pitching, pitching, and more pitching was supposed to be the Twins off-season story and the narrative quickly shifted after signing a former MVP third baseman. Minnesota has added Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill so far, but Hill and Pineda won’t be in the rotation to start the season. There are also questions about what type of performance the Twins could get from Bailey, who ended the year strong, and Odorizzi, who had some second half struggles.

    Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak and Lewis Thorpe will all enter spring with a chance to make the rotation. However, the Twins would likely be more comfortable if only one of those pitchers must be relied on to start the season in the big leagues. Luckily, the early season schedule and weather-related cancellations allow for a fifth starter to be only occasionally needed before Pineda can come back from suspension.

    Names swirling on the trade market this off-season have included Boston’s David Price, Colorado’s Jon Gray and Arizona’s Robbie Ray. Can a deal still be struck with one of these clubs or will Minnesota wait until closer to the trade deadline to work out a trade?

    Will Jose Berrios agree to a long-term deal?
    Over the last two off-seasons, the Twins have been able to lock-up multiple pieces of their young core to long-term deals. Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco signed at the beginning of last spring training and now Miguel Sano has signed this off-season. Jose Berrios is the most likely extension candidate left on the roster, but there are pros and cons to any long-term deal.

    Berrios was approached last off-season about an extension, but he decided to have confidence in himself and that looks to be the right decision. Free agent pitching contracts continue to rise and Berrios isn’t going to get paid handsomely. As a first-year arbitration eligible player, he is under team control for the next three seasons. This still doesn’t mean the club won’t want to approach their ace about a contract to keep him in a Twins uniform beyond the 2022 season.

    Will any of these questions be answered before spring training? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Jan 27 2020 05:14 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  16. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of a Potential Jose Berrios Extension

    The Good
    Jose Berrios is a two-time All-Star and he has become Minnesota’s best starting pitcher. He’s ranked in the American League top-20 for ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, WHIP and opponents batting average. According to Baseball Savant, he ranks most closely to Mike Minor, Anthony DeSclafani, Joe Musgrove and Joey Lucchesi. These aren’t exactly perennial Cy Young candidates, but it is a combination of older and younger pitchers that are similar to Berrios.

    Last week, Matthew wrote about pitchers in their age-26 season, which he identified as the peak age for starting pitchers. Top pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg and Dallas Keuchel all hit peak numbers in multiple categories during their age-26 season. Minnesota needs Berrios to take steps next season to be even better than he has been over the last two seasons.

    The Bad
    Berrios and his second half slumps have been well documented over the last few seasons. His ERA is over a full run higher in the second half and his second half WHIP is 33 points higher. Opponents hit .229/.289/.391 (.679) against him in the season’s first half, while those numbers jump to .264/.343/.413 (.756) in the second half. There might be a small amount of bad luck involved in his numbers because his BAbip is 52 points higher in the second half.

    Since the Twins drafted Berrios, questions about his size and physical make-up. Berrios is roughly 6-feet tall and just over 200 pounds, so he isn’t exactly a daunting figure on the mound. Some have wondered if his body type is one of the reasons he has pitched more poorly in the second half. Most of his social media shows us that he gets into prime condition in the off-season, but even doing that doesn’t guarantee he will find second-half success.

    The Ugly
    Over the last two off-seasons, the Twins’ front office has been able to sign extensions with young core players like Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano. Reports last off-season mentioned the Twins also approached Berrios about a possible extension, but he they likely will have to “pay up” to buy out any free agent seasons from Berrios. Free agent pitchers have seen lucrative contracts this off-season and Berrios could be due a large contract if he hits the open market.

    As mentioned earlier, the Twins and Berrios couldn’t reach an agreement on his 2020 salary as part of the arbitration process. Berrios submitted at $4.4 million and the Twins filed at $4.025 million, which puts the difference at $375,000. Will the Twins and Berrios let this difference go all the way to an arbitration hearing? These can be ugly hearings with the team having to bring up flaws in a player that is a building block for the team.

    Do you think the Twins will be able to sign Berrios to a long-term deal? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Jan 13 2020 11:38 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  17. Twins Offseason Status Update: One Month To Go

    With Sergio Romo, Tyler Clippard, Homer Bailey, and Rich Hill now in the mix, here's a projection of the 2020 roster and payroll as of today. (Arbitration-eligible players now mostly have salaries locked in, but there a couple of assumptions highlighted in blue, which I'll discuss shortly.)

    [attachment=13414:roster112.png]


    Current payroll commitment checks in around $118 million, putting the Twins almost exactly on par with 2019 ($119.6 million, per Baseball Prospectus).

    TWINS AND BERRIOS HEADED FOR HEARING?

    Arguably the most important player up for arbitration this year happens to be the only one Minnesota was unable to reach agreement with. Unless they can work something out within the next month or so, the Twins and Jose Berrios will go before an arbitration panel to decide his 2020 salary.

    The two sides are currently about a half-million apart, with the Twins submitting an offer of $4.025 million and the pitcher's camp requesting $4.4 million. For what it's worth, Twins Daily's Offseason Handbook projected a $4.5 million salary for Berrios, while MLB Trade Rumors projected considerably higher at $5.4 million. By either of those estimates, the number put forth by Berrios and his agent seems quite fair, although I'm sure the Twins front office arrived at its own figure through a mathematical calculation based on precedent.

    Nonetheless, the optics here aren't great, especially when considering historical context. Last offseason, the Twins approached Berrios and his agent about a pre-arb extension, but talks fizzled as the offer wasn't deemed up to snuff. Then, in July when Minnesota traded reliever Mike Morin to the Phillies for cash, Berrios posted (and deleted) a tweet that said, "They just want to get money … I wish you the best my man!"

    It's probably a reach to suggest there's a schism between player and team, but the lack of alignment here is a bit disappointing. Going through the arbitration hearing process can be contentious, so it's hard to imagine that scenario having any sort of positive impact on the relationship.

    Worth noting: Aaron Nola, whose extension with Philadelphia is often pointed toward as the best precedent for a Berrios contract framework, was at odds with the Phillies on his first arbitration number a year ago; the gap was much wider in that case, as he submitted $6.75 million while the club countered with $4.5 million.

    One month later, his long-term deal was announced at four years and $45 million. It's hard to imagine why either side would flinch at similar terms in the case of Berrios. For now, the payroll projection above assumes he wins an arbitration hearing and remains year-to-year.

    SANO EXTENDED

    While the Twins haven't been able to lock up Berrios, they did get a deal done with another core piece: Miguel Sano signed a three-year, $30 million extension, which includes a $14 million option (and $3 million buyout) for 2023 – his age-30 season.

    It's yet another very favorable deal for the Twins, who gain cost-efficient control of an elite slugging talent in his prime. I ranked Sano as the organization's 11th-most valuable asset in last week's series, but this contract – doubling his team control from two to four years at friendly rates – would move him up a couple of slots (I'm thinking to No. 9, after Jordan Balazovic and ahead of Alex Kirilloff).

    I still haven't seen detailed specifics on Sano's annual breakdown. FanGraphs has these numbers listed as a guesstimate in their payroll resource:
    • 2020: $10M
    • 2021: $9M
    • 2022: $8M
    • 2023: $14M option ($3M buyout)
    That would be a very unusual structure for a deal like this, but it'd certainly make a lot of sense for the Twins given their situation, enabling them to take advantage of their extra spending room this year (while incentivizing Sano by nearly doubling his 2020 salary) and providing extra flexibility in '21 and '22.

    I went with the $10 million figure for 2020 in the projection, just to estimate on the high end, but I'm guessing we'll ultimately see a more traditionally progressive build-up (something like 7-9-11).

    An encouraging tidbit from Dan Hayes's writeup on the move at The Athletic:

    General manager Thad Levine said earlier this week that Sanó has continued with his offseason conditioning and that the slugger’s agent has inundated the front office with videos of Sanó working to improve his fitness.


    DONALDSON DRAMA DRAGS ON

    Josh Donaldson still hasn't signed anywhere, and that is fairly stunning given what we (think we) know.

    For some time, the free agent's market has been portrayed as a three-horse race between Atlanta, Washington, and Minnesota, with a return to the Braves being Donaldon's inherent preference.

    Well, the Nationals seem to be out of the running, since they've signed multiple infielders to guaranteed deals in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Phil Miller wrote an article for the Star Tribune indicating the Twins were "pessimistic" and "likely out of the running" for Donaldson.

    So the question is: what's the hold-up? Why hasn't the slugger signed in Atlanta yet? The only explanation I can see (barring at least one "mystery team" in the fray, which is very possible) is that he's still not entirely satisfied with their offer, and continues to try leveraging Minnesota and others. This would explain why the Twins have channeled the narrative publicly that they're moving on, and turning to the trade market.

    They'll probably need to go that route if they want any kind of legitimate upgrade at the hot corner short of Donaldson. On Sunday, Todd Frazier signed with the Rangers. He's one of the only other free agent infielders I've seen the Twins remotely connected to (not that I'd have considered him much of an impact addition).



    For what it's worth, Darren Wolfson of KSTP reports that the Twins continue to have "darn near daily dialogues" with Donaldson's reps.



    COACHING STAFF FINALIZED

    When we last checked in with an update post, the Twins still had two vacancies remaining on their coaching staff: bench coach and second pitching coach (previous occupants Derek Shelton and Jeremy Hefner moved on). Now, those spots have been filled.

    Mike Bell is the new bench coach, coming over from Arizona where he was vice president of player development. He's highly regarded, coming from "one of baseball's first families," and is viewed as a manager in waiting. By all accounts he looks like a great add as Rocco Baldelli's new right-hand man. More recently, the Twins rounded out their staff with the addition of Bob McClure as bullpen coach. Formerly a pitching coach for the Phillies, Red Sox, and Royals, the 67-year-old brings ample experience to a unit that is largely young and unseasoned.

    With former assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez getting the "assistant" removed from his title, here's how the Twins' 2020 coaching staff figures to shake out:


    Manager: Rocco Baldelli

    Hitting Coach: Edgar Varela

    Hitting Coach: Rudy Hernandez

    Pitching Coach: Wes Johnson

    Bullpen Coach: Bob McClure

    Bench Coach: Mike Bell

    MLB Coach: Bill Evers


    How are you feeling at this stage of the offseason? What moves do the Twins need to make for you to consider the winter a success? What's your level of confidence for a turnaround on Donaldson or a big trade? Sound off in the comments.

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    • Jan 12 2020 07:13 PM
    • by Nick Nelson
  18. Twins and 2020 Arbitration

    Earlier in the offseason, the Twins had to make decisions on which players they would offer arbitration to. Players with less than six years of service time, and more than three years (and the top 30% of players with more than two years of service time are Super-2 players) are eligible for salary arbitration.

    At that time, the team non-tendered RHP Sam Dyson early in the process. They also non-tended CJ Cron, who has since signed with the Tigers. They also agreed to terms with infielder Ehire Adrianza and RHP Matt Wisler.

    Below are the players that will know a lot more about their 2020 salaries by this afternoon. They will either agree to terms before 11:00 (which is usually what happens), or at that time, the team and the player will make their "bids" for their 2020 salaries. If they are unable to agree to terms before their arbitration date, the two sides will go in front of an arbitration panel and have the 2020 salary determined. This also does not happen often.

    So let's get to the players. What you will see below is the MLB Trade Rumor projection, and also the Twins Daily projection (found in the Offseason Handbook). When we see that an agreement has been reached, we will also post that under each player's name.

    UPDATE (5:00 pm.) - more specifics will be posted below when details are available.



    Trevor May

    MLB Trade Rumors Projection: $2.1 million
    Twins Daily Projection: $2.5 million
    Actual: $2.205 million

    Eddie Rosario

    MLB Trade Rumors Projection: $8.9 million
    Twins Daily Projection: $7.5 million
    Actual: $7.75 million

    Miguel Sano

    MLB Trade Rumors Projection: $5.9 million
    Twins Daily Projection: $5.5 million
    Actual: Agreed to multi-year deal through 2022, with option for 2023.

    Byron Buxton

    MLB Trade Rumors Projection: $2.9 million
    Twins Daily Projection: $3.5 million
    Actual: $3.025 Million (per Jon Heyman)



    Taylor Rogers

    MLB Trade Rumors Projection: $3.9 million
    Twins Daily Projection: $4.0 million
    Actual: $4.45 million

    Tyler Duffey

    MLB Trade Rumors Projection: $1.1 million
    Twins Daily Projection:$1.25
    Actual: $1.2 million.



    Jose Berrios

    MLB Trade Rumors Projection: $5.4 million
    Twins Daily Projection: $4.5 million
    Arbitration: No agreement yet.
    Twins offer: $4.025 mlillion, Berrios asked: $4.4 million.



    https://twitter.com/...803718043684864


    Feel free to discuss.

    • Jan 11 2020 09:22 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  19. Top 20 Minnesota Twins Assets of 2020: Part 4 (1-5)

    First, to reiterate the parameters and stipulations:

    • Things that are factored into these rankings: production, age, upside, pedigree, health, length of team control, favorability of contract, positional scarcity (within the system, and generally).
    • Players are people. Their value to the organization, and its fans, goes well beyond the strictly business-like scope we're using here. But for the purposes of this list, we're analyzing solely in terms of asset evaluation. Intangible qualities and popularity are not factors. (Sorry Willians.)
    • The idea is to assess their importance to the future of the Minnesota Twins. In this regard, it's not exactly a ranking in terms of trade value, because that's dependent on another team's situation and needs. (For instance, Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade Jr. would be more valuable to many other teams than they are to the Twins, who are rich with short-term and long-term corner outfield depth.)
    • This is a snapshot in time. Rankings are heavily influenced by recent trends and where things stood as of the end of 2019.
    • Current major-leaguers and prospects are all eligible. The ultimate goal here to answer this question: Which current players in the organization are most indispensable to fulfilling the vision of building a champion?
    Any questions or quibbles, holler in the comments. Let's continue the countdown.

    TOP 20 MINNESOTA TWINS ASSETS OF 2020 (1-5)

    5. Royce Lewis, SS
    2019 Ranking: 1

    It was a trying year for Lewis. He slumped frequently and finished with a .236/.290/.371 slash line, striking out three times for every walk. The exaggerated leg lift in his swing came under greater scrutiny as he struggled against higher-level pitching. His defensive work at shortstop caused some analysts to harden in their stances that he's destined to switch positions. Even his trademark confidence was framed as a negative in one postseason Baseball America report.

    Through all this, the fact remains: He started the year as a 19-year-old and finished it at Double-A, punctuating his pedestrian regular season with an MVP performance in the Arizona Fall League. Lewis's elite physical tools haven't wavered, and most of his present shortcomings seem like the correctable flaws of a raw young talent. He still looks like a star in the making, even if that path is a bit less straight and short than initially hoped.

    4. Brusdar Graterol, RHP
    2019 Ranking: 5

    Health was the big caveat attached to Graterol a year ago, as he vaulted into the national baseball consciousness with his triple-digit heater. His (in)ability to hold up rose to the forefront again this year, as the right-hander missed nearly two months with a shoulder impingement. But upon returning as a reliever in August, he did enough to restore all confidence – and then some.

    Ticketed for a late-inning impact on a contending club at age 20, Graterol made quick stops at Double-A and Triple-A before joining the Twins in September, where he was extremely impressive as a rookie. The 4.66 ERA is inflated by one poor outing against Cleveland – three earned runs, zero outs recorded – but the righty otherwise allowed two runs in 9 2/3 innings (1.86 ERA) with 10 strikeouts and only one walk. He added a perfect inning of work against New York in the ALDS, with two strikeouts.

    Durability remains a pre-eminent sticking point, as does the uncertainty around his future role, but the battle-tested Graterol is one of the most valuable arms in the game right now.

    3. Jose Berrios, RHP
    2019 Ranking: 2

    Whereas Graterol is a poster child for the volatile health of pro pitchers, Berrios lives on the opposite end of the spectrum: a model of durability. He hasn't missed a start since joining the Twins rotation, and that's basically been the case ever since he was drafted. The right-hander checked off another accomplishment last year, reaching 200 innings for the first time, but for the most part he was his usual self: steadily excellent, just short of elite.

    Since being called up for good in May of 2017, Berrios ranks ninth among American League pitchers in fWAR. He's not quite an ace but looks the part at times, and as a 25-year-old he still has plenty of time to find another gear. As the only Twins starting pitcher under control beyond next year, he's the glue of the rotation. But with arbitration now upon him, Berrios is going to start getting expensive quickly and is three years from free agency. A sensible extension would move him to the top of this list.

    2. Max Kepler, OF
    2019 Ranking: 9

    Pretty much the best thing a team can do to increase a player's asset valuation is lock him up with a long-term deal at an established baseline, only to have the player immediately reset that baseline. This is what happened with Kepler, who broke a three-year trend of good-not-great performance by taking a star turn in 2019, fresh off signing a team-friendly five-year contract.

    Despite missing the final two weeks as a shoulder injury plagued him, Kepler shattered career highs across the board and launched 36 homers. He's a top-shelf defensive right fielder and perfectly capable in center, which is especially valuable to the Twins given Buxton's frequent unavailability. Kepler's new contract, which can keep him under control through 2024 at bargain rates, gives Minnesota plenty of flexibility to continually build around the stud outfielder.

    1. Jorge Polanco, SS
    2019 Ranking: 7

    At the end of the day, these rankings are about the big picture. When you take a step back, which players are most indispensable, when factoring in risk and contract value? As core players that signed favorable extensions just before immediately breaking out and achieving upper-echelon status, Kepler and Polanco naturally rose to the top under this framework. Between the two, I give Polanco a slight edge.

    First, he plays an extremely valuable defensive position – one that is otherwise not well accounted for in the system, especially with Lewis's question marks. Polanco doesn't play shortstop all that well but he can handle it. Second, he's even cheaper than Kepler with an even more favorable contract; Polanco is controlled through 2023 for just $17 million total, and has an additional two team options. All this, as a switch-hitting 25-year-old All-Star who received MVP votes in 2019.

    At this point, I see Polanco as he most valuable player to the organization, but he's not a superstar. Nor is Kepler, or Berrios. Getting a true premium player in this spot – whether because one of these three takes another step forward, or Buxton pulls it all together, or someone like Lewis emerges in a big way, OR the Twins swing a trade for a centerpiece-type asset (leveraging some of these assets to do so) – will be instrumental in this franchise turning the corner. They're definitely in good shape and on the right track, just not quite there.

    RECAPPING THE TOP 20

    20. Ryan Jeffers, C
    19. Eddie Rosario, OF
    18. Michael Pineda, RHP
    17. Nelson Cruz, DH
    16. Tyler Duffey, RHP
    15. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
    14. Trevor Larnach, OF
    13. Jhoan Duran, RHP
    12. Taylor Rogers, LHP
    11. Miguel Sano, 3B
    10. Luis Arraez, 2B
    9. Alex Kirilloff, OF
    8. Jordan Balazovic, RHP
    7. Byron Buxton OF
    6. Mitch Garver, C
    5. Royce Lewis, SS
    4. Brusdar Graterol, RHP
    3. Jose Berrios, RHP
    2. Max Kepler, OF
    1. Jorge Polanco, SS

    • Jan 09 2020 09:30 AM
    • by Nick Nelson
  20. Can Max Kepler Reach Christian Yelich Status for the Twins in 2020?

    During 2019 the German native put up his best season in the big leagues. Posting an .855 OPS, he jumped his total over 120 points from the season before and added nearly 100 points on his career average. This was while playing through some injuries and being stretched to contribute more defensively than he’s ever had to.

    Garnering multiple MVP votes, Kepler finished 20th in the balloting among American League players, and there’s reason to believe he could make another leap in the year ahead. Before getting into the offensive numbers, 2020 was the fourth straight season in which Kepler has posted a positive DRS in the outfield. He picked up significant slack in centerfield, and while teammate Byron Buxton relies more on foot speed, Max generates positivity with his glove through well-targeted routes and closing decisions.

    No one is looking for Christian Yelich’s defense, however. The 2018 MVP has leapt to the upper tier of the game’s best because of his bat. Joining the Brewers during his age-26 season, Yelich had posted OPS marks of .859 and .807 in the two seasons prior. When taking home the award he swatted a ridiculous 1.000 OPS and won the batting title with a .326 average. Last season his triple slash of .329/.429/.671 led the league, and had he not gotten injured, a second straight MVP award would have been his. Before that transformation though, Yelich had drawn just a few MVP votes of his own, good enough for a 19th place finish in 2016.

    So, what changed?

    Baseball has long since become a sport of information. Whether through analytics or otherwise, adapting to how the game is played and the best avenues for success is something great players have jumped on board with. At the dish, elevating the baseball is now generally accepted as leading to the most positive outcome. That’s not to suggest swinging for the fences is a logical exploit, but the reality is driving the ball higher, harder, will produce optimum results. Major League defenders are too good to simply “hit it on the ground” and even when that strategy creates a desired result, the net gain is relatively minimal, at best.

    Although Kepler will be a year older than Yelich was before his MVP-winning season, 27 is an age that should genuinely be accepted as prime territory. Matthew did a wonderful job breaking down age curves as it relates to Jose Berrios earlier this week, and Kepler falls into a similar category. What’s maybe most important has been the implementation, intended or otherwise, of more desirable inputs. More succinctly put, Max is lifting the ball, and doing it with more force than he ever has.

    [attachment=13410:Capture.PNG]

    Starting in 2016, when Kepler entered the league, both Yelich and Kepler show very similar parallels. Having previously been hitters placing the ball on the ground, the former Marlin especially so, they’ve continued to show growth year over year. Results have followed suit as HR/FB rates have increased, and ground ball percentages have gotten out of a negative territory. Christian has always been a high-average hitter as well however, and that’s a talent Max has not had at his disposal.

    There’s a threshold of optimum launch angle, so continuing to increase loft isn’t the forever goal for Minnesota’s right fielder. From here, it’s about discipline and decision-making. Despite a career best OPS last season, Kepler actually posted a negative BABIP. With a .252 average, his .244 BABIP ranked 97th of 98 qualified hitters (min 500 PA) in 2019. As a pull hitter (career high 53.4% in 2019), lifting over the shift or settling back into career averages (46% pull 31% cent 22% oppo) is the next challenge.

    One of the most aggressive hitters in baseball, Kepler attacked on the first pitch in a whopping 98 plate appearances last season. Generating a .923 OPS in those instances, it was clear he goes to the plate with an immediate plan. The greatest deficiency comes when behind 0-1, where he posted just a .740 OPS. Making sure he can continue to own the plate, against either righties or lefties, when looking for the next pitch is a must.

    James Rowson is gone, Edgar Varela has stepped in, and one of the greatest opportunities in the year ahead remains the next step in Kepler’s development. Minnesota locked Max up to a five-year extension last winter because they saw what was yet to come. I don’t believe the 2019 version is the peak, and while Christian Yelich is among the best players on the planet, maybe Rozycki can get closer to that threshold in 2020.

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    • Jan 07 2020 07:45 AM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  21. Where Are We Now? (New Years Edition)

    The Twins front office has been busy this offseason. To this point, they have signed Jake Odorizzi to the qualifying offer. They brought back Michael Pineda on a two-year contract. They brought back Sergio Romo and brought in another veteran bullpen arm in Tyler Clippard. They took care of the backup catcher spot by signing veteran Alex Avila. And on Tuesday, they signed veteran starters Homer Bailey and Rich Hill.

    All that, along with the business-as-usual events such as minor league signings and bringing in new coaches throughout the organization. They have hired Mike Bell as bench coach, but they still need to hire an assistant pitching coach/bullpen coach.

    While the core of 2019’s 101-win team is largely still intact, Rocco Baldelli will have plenty of new faces as well.

    Let's take a look around the diamond and see what the Twins roster might look like if the season were to start today. Hopefully it gives Twins fans a glimpse at the work that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have ahead of them to fill out Rocco Baldelli's second Opening Day roster:

    Catcher (3) - Mitch Garver, Alex Avila, Willians Astudillo

    No question. Silver Slugger award winner Mitch Garver earned the Twins starting catcher gig. Alex Avila will be the #2 catcher, and yet we know that means he will likely catch a lot due to the team’s emphasis on rest. As the roster is currently comprised, Astudillo represents a good 26th roster option, at least until the team signs a first baseman or third baseman. Then he is an ideal 27th man for a 26-man roster.

    Non 40-man options: Tomas Telis, Juan Graterol

    Infielders (5) - Marwin Gonzalez (1B), Luis Arraez (2B), Jorge Polanco (SS), Miguel Sano (3B), Ehire Adrianza (UT)

    Clearly the Twins are going hard after third baseman Josh Donaldson. If they sign him, Sano moves over to first base and the infield is set. Sano at first base. Luis Arraez at second base. Donaldson and third base. Jorge Polanco at shortstop. Adrianza backs up four spots. Gonzalez backs up two spots and two outfield spots too. If they don’t sign Donaldson, Sano probably stays at third base and they bring in a Mitch Moreland type to play first base for a year.

    40-man Options: Travis Blankenhorn, Nick Gordon
    Non 40-Man Options: Alex Kirilloff, Cody Asche, Jack Reinheimer, Wilfredo Tovar, Zander Wiel

    Outfielders (4) - Eddie Rosario (LF), Byron Buxton (CF), Max Kepler (RF), Jake Cave (4th)

    Rosario is still a Twin! He may not have had a great year, but when a guy hits .276 (.800) with 28 doubles, 32 homers and 109 RBI, he shouldn’t be traded for just anything. Hopefully Buxton and his shoulder will be ready by Opening Day. And hopefully Kepler can continue to grow upon the progress he made in 2019. Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade will likely battle it out for an outfield spot as Marwin Gonzalez can also play out there.

    40-man Options: LaMonte Wade, Luke Raley, Gilberto Celestino
    Non-40-man Options: Brent Rooker, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach

    Designated Hitter (1) - Nelson Cruz

    I feel pretty comfortable with this one.

    Starting Pitchers (5) - Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Homer Bailey, Rich Hill (maybe in June)

    As of now, the Opening Day rotation will consist of Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Homer Bailey. Michael Pineda will have to miss about six weeks due to his suspension, and Rich Hill will be out until sometime in June after having a modified Tommy John surgery.

    The question becomes… who will make starts for the Twins until Pineda and Hill are ready to pitch?

    Short-Term Starter Options - Lewis Thorpe, Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, Brusdar Graterol,

    Last week, I wrote about the idea of Brusdar Graterol being a “primary” pitcher. Another option would be for him to get starts until Hill comes back in June. At that point, a decision could be made about how to proceed. Keep him starting, or move him to the bullpen to limit his innings. Thorpe, Dobnak and Smeltzer all made starts for the Twins in 2019 and had varying levels of success. All four should be a part of future Twins plans.


    The Bullpen (8): Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May, Sergio Romo, Tyler Clippard, Zack Littell, Cody Stashak, Matt Wisler.

    Taylor Rogers became a top reliever in the league in 2019, and Duffey and May both took huge strides in the second half. So did Zack Littell and Cody Stashak who pitched well in their rookie seasons. Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard provide a veteran presence and know-how. Wisler is out of option, so he would have to make the team or be placed on waivers. He’s got impressive strikeout rates. The bullpen has a chance to be a strength and has plenty of good depth. It will be interesting to see how the pecking order changes over the course of the season.

    Other Bullpen Options
    40-man Roster: Ryne Harper, Fernando Romero, Sean Poppen, Jorge Alcala, (Graterol, Dobnak, Smeltzer, Thorpe)
    Non 40-man Roster: Blaine Hardy, Ryan Garton, Mitch Horacek, Caleb Thielbar, Daniel Coulombe

    So, what do the Twins need to do over the remainder of the offseason?

    (There is likely no huge rush at this point. We have seen free agency trickle into spring training if not into the season. The trade market is always open..)

    • Corner Infielder - The Twins appear to be going after Josh Donaldson very strongly. Getting him would add a huge bat to an already potent lineup while improving the defense in the infield. If Donaldson signs elsewhere, it is likely that the Twins sign a first baseman in the Mitch Moreland mold.
    • Outfield - While it shouldn’t be a huge priority, a right-handed hitting outfielder might make sense as a platoon option with lefties Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler. It also makes sense for the guy to be able to play center field well when Byron Buxton is out of the lineup. Kevin Pillar makes a lot of sense.
    • Starting Pitching - I think the additions of Bailey and Hill on Tuesday likely signal the end of the Twins efforts in attracting starting pitchers. Unless teams drop their trade prices on possible ace-like pitchers (Jon Gray, German Marquez as examples), the Twins have improved their staff while giving themselves quality depth.
    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 the rest of the offseason?

    • Dec 31 2019 08:45 PM
    • by Seth Stohs
  22. A Decade of Greener Grass Ahead for Twins

    Over the last decade Minnesota compiled a 765-855 record (.472 winning percentage) while failing to win a postseason game (0-7). They competed in October baseball just three times, and won the AL Central Division twice. Long-time General Manager Terry Ryan was ushered out, and so too was long-standing skipper Ron Gardenhire. Concluding with a 101 victories in their final 162 games, a change appears to be on the horizon.

    In the decade ahead, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will look to assert themselves from a wins and losses perspective. Having established a new culture and blueprinted a strong foundation, the big league club is now beginning to see the fruits of that labor. We can’t accurately predict what will assuredly take place in the years ahead, but there’re some benchmarks that seem plausible to be cleared.

    $100 million and $150 million will be spent

    There will never be a time, until proven otherwise, that Minnesota won’t be viewed as a thrift-store organization. Despite spending significant resources on internal positions and developmental initiatives, the checks have not been cashed directly towards major league payroll. This should be the most straightforward slam dunk of all projections. Within the next ten years, as baseball continues to thrive, the Twins will ink both a $100 million free agent as well a team payroll of $150 million. They are entering a competitive window immediately in 2020, and allocating dollars to supplement in-house talent is only logical.

    Major award drought comes to an end

    No Twins player has won either the Cy Young or MVP since Joe Mauer in 2009. Mike Trout will continue to roll up his tally there through the 2020’s, but someone like Byron Buxton could pop up in contention for a year or two. Where I think it’s most likely is on the mound. Six different organizations captured Cy Young awards in the American League this past decade. Four times since 2007, a Cleveland pitcher has won the award. Having entrusted a former part of that brain trust with running the organization, and seeing the growth from a pitching development standpoint, I’d be far from shocked if the infrastructure bears fruit. Jose Berrios could get there. Maybe Brusdar Graterol or Jordan Balazovic emerges. An acquired arm looking to unlock that next level could be the key as well.

    Playing for it all sounds fun

    We are closing in on 30 years since the Twins even played in a World Series. The organizational failed to win a single postseason game in the last decade, and the one before featured a 6-16 record over five different playoff appearances. At this point, Minnesota looks poised to be a consistent threat for the immediate future, and painting them solely as a division winner seems foolish. If the current momentum is expanded upon and harnessed correctly, a couple of series victories could quickly turn into a deep run that winds up either with a parade or heartbreak, but a showing in the Fall Classic regardless.

    Prospect breakout finally comes through

    No Minnesota Twins prospect has broken onto the scene with a Rookie of the Year victory since Marty Cordova captured the trophy in 1995. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton had all of the pedigree but lacked some of the early results. Luis Arraez looked the part but didn’t have sufficient at-bats behind his body of work. With what Minnesota has built on the farm, it’s a good bet the drought will come to an end soon. Throw a dart between Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Jordan Balazovic, and Brusdar Graterol to claim which is going to make the biggest immediate impact in the near future. Then note the developmental prowess and drafting history of the organization as it stands today, and the reality is quickly apparent that high-quality graduating youth in this system will be an enticing proposition for quite some time.

    Without wanting to venture out on a limb incapable of holding the weight, these select suggestions seem monumental in action even if they aren’t substantial in number. Defining where the Twins are, and where they are headed, seems to be as simple as this: The future is bright and the direction is sound. Baseball is not at all a sprint, and this journey is one Twins Territorians should be giddy about.

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    • Dec 30 2019 05:46 PM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  23. How Long is the Twins Championship Window?

    “Windows Close Very, Very Quickly”
    The Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox are both in similar situations. Each team has won a title since 2016 and now they are facing some uncertainty. Rumors have swirled about the Cubs fielding offers for Kris Bryant and the Red Sox entertaining the thought of a Mookie Betts trade. These players were cheaper when each club won their title and now it might be time to move onto a less expensive player or prospect.

    “The two most important commodities in the game are payroll flexibility, No. 1, and young, controllable talent. Even if you’re a large-market team and have no payroll flexibility, you’re a small-market team,” said former Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd. “Windows close very, very quickly within the game. Everybody wants to build a Bill Belichick model [of sustainability], but with guaranteed contracts and the way our sport works, it’s very, very difficult to do that.”

    Forbes baseball writer Maury Brown believes MLB expects windows to be open for roughly five years. Low revenue clubs can expect to be a little shorter and higher revenue clubs can expect to be a little longer. Multiple prospects need to hit at the same time and the organization needs to make appropriate supplemental moves, but he feels confident the league likes to tout five years as a bit of a “standard.”

    Minnesota’s Window
    Last off-season, Minnesota was able to sign Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler to very team-friendly deals. Deals like these will help the Twins to keep their window open longer, but there are plenty of other players that still need long-term contracts. Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are all part of Minnesota’s young core and all three could be out of a Twins uniform by the time of the 2023 off-season.

    When it comes to revenue, Minnesota ranks near the bottom of MLB, so this likely means their window of opportunity will be less than five years. This makes sense when considering the core players mentioned above. Minnesota has one of baseball’s top-ranked farm systems and these up-and-coming players could help to keep Minnesota’s window open a little longer, but there’s no guarantees that prospects will pan out at the big-league level.

    Another option for the front office is to supplement the roster by trading away prospects. If Minnesota’s window is going to be less than five seasons, it makes sense to take full opportunity of the window being open. The 2019 season showed the front office a lot of things and last off-season they had a clear message to fans.

    “The best moves are made not when you’re trying to open the window to contend, but when the window is wide open,” said General Manager Thad Levine. “We’re very eagerly waiting for this window to be opened, and when it is, we plan on striking.”

    Many fans would agree that the window is now open and it’s up to the front office to take advantage of the opportunity.

    How long do you feel the window is for the Twins to win a championship? Can the front office do anything to extend the window? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    • Dec 30 2019 05:35 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  24. Twins Need to Make a Splash With the Rain Man: Sign Josh Donaldson

    The Twins absolutely need another starting pitcher, and they have been very active in seeking help for the rotation. The problem, however, is that the cost and demand are at unforeseen levels. Strasburg and Cole combined for 16 years and $569 million, and even Tanner Roark, Kyle Gibson and Michael Wacha saw their stocks balloon. The Twins may not be willing to commit four or five years for $100 million or more to Madison Bumgarner or Hyun-Jin Ryu, and that is understandable.

    Even with Gibson and Martín Pérez struggling down the stretch, the Twins rotation ranked seventh in baseball in fWAR in 2019,. José Berríos, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda fused together for a 3.72 ERA and 513 strikeouts in 505 1/3 innings in 2019. General manager Thad Levine told Dan Hayes of The Athletic that they feel they have “stabilized” by bringing their three best pitchers back from a year ago. As much as Bumgarner and Ryu would excite fans, multiple California teams are involved with both, and the odds that they leave the west for Minnesota seem worse with every new report.

    The Twins have to improve this winter. They have the talent, youth, financial flexibility and opportunity in the weak AL Central to hang division title banners on a yearly basis. So, since the “top” pitchers are unattainable or ridiculously priced, they should focus on bringing in another impact bat, while supplementing with someone like Dallas Keuchel. What if I told you the Twins could add one of the best hitters and premier defenders in baseball?

    Joshua Adam Donaldson played in 155 games last year for the Braves and hit .259/.379/.521 with 37 home runs, 33 doubles, 94 RBI, and 15 runs saved defensively at third base. This was not a breakthrough year for the former MVP, as his career slash line is .273/.369/.509 with 219 home runs. He is a certified stud at the plate and is still a premier defender entering his age-34 season.

    Many people will point to career trajectory and his demand of a four-year contract as deal breakers. I will happily remind you that Nelson Cruz just hit .311/.392/.639 with 41 home runs in his age-38 season. Donaldson could be different and has a history of injuries, but that is well worth the risk. A four-year, $100 million deal for Donaldson is the likely contract, and the Twins should make it happen.

    But can the Twins actually convince Donaldson to come to Minneapolis? I believe they can. According to MLB Trade Rumors, Donaldson has a relatively small market. The Nationals and Braves have been most heavily linked to him, but neither team has the financial flexibility of the Twins. The ink is still drying on Strasburg’s huge deal with the Nationals, and they seemingly made no effort to resign Anthony Rendon this winter. I would be surprised if the Nationals committed $100 million to a different third baseman.

    The Braves want to keep Donaldson, and he has expressed a preference to return to Atlanta, but they are not confident in being able to pay him.This leaves the Dodgers as another linked team, but something tells me they won’t move Justin Turner over to first base for someone not named Rendon. This is a bidding war that the Twins can win.

    There will be push back from the fan base if the Twins add a big time bat over an arm, but the goal here is to get better. Donaldson is a six-win player and the Twins can pound teams into submission while developing their pitchers from within. The left side of the infield was weak last year and Donaldson brings outstanding defense. Brusdar Graterol, Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran are on the horizon, and avoiding ludicrous contracts with aging pitchers is nothing to scoff at.

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    • Dec 13 2019 07:32 PM
    • by Nash Walker