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Article: Twins Trendspotting: Who's Hot, Who's Not?

eddie rosario byron buxton trevor hildenberger miguel sano jose berrios
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 13 August 2017 - 08:24 PM

With seven wins in their past eight games, the Minnesota Twins have stormed back into the postseason mix. Entering play on Monday, they're a half-game away from a wild-card position, and they'll have a chance to put a dent in Cleveland's 4.5-game division lead when the Indians come to town this week.

Let's take a look at some key players who've been trending upward and downward of late, with an eye on long-term implications.WHO'S HOT?

1. Eddie Rosario
Brian Dozier could've easily topped this list, of course – he's got 10 homers and a .630 slugging percentage since the All-Star break – but his second-half surging almost feels routine now. A dominant Dozier down the stretch is like clockwork these days. I've been much more surprised by Rosario's torrid stretch, which extends back even further.

By the time Dozier started finding his groove about a month ago, Rosario was already in the midst of a prolonged breakout at the plate. His four-hit, three-homer game against Seattle on June 13th proved to be a launching point for what's been the Summer of Eddie.

Twelve days later he collected three hits and scored three runs in a sweep-clinching 4-0 victory over Cleveland. A week after that he tallied five knocks in a win at Kansas City. He had eight multi-hit games in July. More recently, his power has been fueling Minnesota's winning ways. Rosario has ripped five homers during the club's latest 7-1 stretch.

Altogether, the 25-year-old outfielder has hit .344/.390/.617 since the three-homer outburst in Seattle, quietly emerging as one of the league's most dangerous hitters. It hasn't always been pretty, and his mental lapses can still be utterly confounding (his fine 2-for-3 day on Sunday was marred by one of the ugliest swinging strikeouts you will ever see), but they're happening less and less.

Rosario has always had the rare gift of being able to drive a pitch almost anywhere it's thrown, but he's doing a better job of resisting the compulsion to always do so. As Aaron Gleeman tweeted last week, he has dramatically cut down on his swing rate at pitches outside the zone:



The results speak for themselves. Two months ago Rosario's long-term viability was beginning to look somewhat suspect, but he has turned a corner in a big way. We should all be celebrating the Summer of Eddie.

2. Trevor Hildenberger
J.T. Chargois. Nick Burdi. Tyler Jay. As Minnesota's much-hyped, hard-throwing relief prospects have gone down, one after another, Hildenberger has continued to do the same thing he's always done: fly under the radar and get people out. Twins Daily readers were plenty familiar with our two-time Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year, but Hildenberger isn't the kind of flashy young gun who garners lofty prospect rankings or hyperbole-packed spring newspaper columns.

He's certainly making his name known since arriving in the majors, though. Hildenberger has been an absolute revelation for the Twins bullpen. On Sunday, he recorded his first MLB save, dispatching four hitters with a strike-throwing clinic – only two of his 17 offerings missed the zone. That's been the story for the sidearmer more or less since he joined the team.

Hildenberger has now gone 14 straight appearances without issuing a walk. He's averaging more than strikeout per inning. He has an outstanding 57.1% ground ball rate. The Twins certainly weakened their bullpen by trading away Brandon Kintzler two weeks ago, but they might actually have found a superior option for the ninth inning in Hildenberger – certainly from a big-picture view.

3. Byron Buxton
Hildenberger has made it look easy, arriving in the majors and instantly finding a comfort level. As we all know, it wasn't quite so smooth for Buxton. Anointed the team's No. 3 hitter coming out of camp this year, the 23-year-old sputtered out of the gates, flailing away at the dish and quickly falling back to his customary spot at the bottom of the order.

Yet, he shows real signs of figuring it out, albeit not as auspiciously as Rosario. Buxton's story has been one of slow and steady growth. After striking out at a 37% rate in April, he's cut that down to 28% since. He has found much more consistency at the plate since the season's midpoint, with a .347/.407/.458 slash line in 23 games since the start of July. He's also 7-for-7 on steals during that span, and 19-for-20 on the season.

So what you have in Buck right now is an on-base machine who can pretty much take second at will whenever he gets on. The power hasn't come yet, but it only feels like a matter of time.

WHO'S NOT?

1. Miguel Sano
The exhilaration of Buxton's progression has been tempered somewhat by a troubling backslide from his fellow franchise centerpiece. Sano has been striking out a ton, which isn't unusual, but lately he's paired it with an uncharacteristic lack of patience. He walked in 12.7% of his plate appearances up until the All-Star break but that figure has dropped to 4.5% since, and in his past 22 games Sano has drawn only two walks while striking out 40 times.

The slugger impressively still has .255 average and .737 OPS during that span, because a slump for him qualifies as average production for mere mortals, but it's concerning to see him so bewildered at the plate. Sano is far too talented a player to be giving away at-bats as frequently as he has.

The regressing discipline has been especially noticeable in contrast with the improvements we've seen playing out with Buxton and Rosario. If Sano can find a way to get back into that zone from those early months, the Twins are a legit threat in the playoff race. If he can't, it's really hard to envision.

2. Jose Berrios
When Berrios made his triumphant return to the Twins in May and proceeded to torch two high-caliber lineups, it looked like a potential turning point for the rotation. Finally, a vaunted young arm fulfilling his potential and becoming a true impact addition. It was the perfect way to wash away the bad aftertaste of Berrios' nightmarish 2016 debut.

His recent outings, however, have had an all-too familiar flavor. In eight starts since the beginning of July, he has a 6.28 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. He's failed to pitch into the sixth frame in five of those outings.

While his command hasn't been stellar, the issue this time around plainly is not a lack of control, as it was last year. The problem, oddly, is his stuff. The right-hander's reputed arsenal of hard, darting pitches has been completely hittable over the past several weeks. He hasn't induced double-digit swinging strikes in any of his past seven starts, and on Saturday he mustered only three whiffs on 72 pitches. Berrios had double-digit swinging strikes in seven of his first 10 starts.

So what's going on? Why are hitters barreling him up so much more successfully? He hasn't been losing velocity, or any evident bite on his breaking balls. Are teams simply coming up with better plans to attack him? Is he tipping? Are there sequencing issues at play?

Whatever the case, he and the coaching staff need to get it fixed in a hurry because it's been ugly lately and Saturday's clunker in Detroit might have been the most unsightly yet.

3. Max Kepler
One of the most encouraging things about Kepler's breakthrough campaign at Chattanooga in 2015 was that he finally overcame one of the most crippling flaws in his game: severe vulnerability to same-sided pitchers.

In 2013, at Cedar Rapids, he posted a .117/.232/.133 against left-handed pitchers. In 2014, he managed to bat .273 against southpaws but still had a dreadful 26-to-3 K/BB ratio against them in 83 plate appearances. So to see him move up to Double-A and bat .319 with an .863 OPS, and nearly as many walks as strikeouts, was big – a sign that perhaps Kepler could have a future as more than a platoon corner outfielder.

His rookie year with the Twins put a ding in those hopes, as he batted .203 with a .595 OPS against lefties, and now as a sophomore he is sitting at a brutal .138/.211/.172.

It puts Paul Molitor in a tough position, because right now Kepler doesn't look like a palatable option against left-handed pitchers, but he's young enough that you're doing him a disservice by taking away opportunities to face them. And at this point Robbie Grossman – another slumping hitter who could be listed here with his .205 average and .301 slugging percentage since the break – isn't framing himself as a superior alternative.

Which trending Twins have caught your attention lately?

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#2 jimbo92107

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Posted 13 August 2017 - 09:01 PM

Okay, let's go with crafty veterans and upstart youth. You never know!

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#3 mikelink45

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Posted 13 August 2017 - 09:35 PM

Good highlights which begs the question - if we continue this unexpected surge who will be the players who step up next?  Surely Sano has the potential and Buxton is no where near his peak, but what about perennial question mark Mauer?  Can Polanco surge more, will there be a promotion? Stay tune - this is a fun year.

 

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#4 Hosken Bombo Disco

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Posted 13 August 2017 - 09:47 PM

I think teams have something on Berrios. The Twins need to identify what that is. 

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#5 howeda7

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 12:00 AM

There's got to be better DH options than Grossman. Either get Vargas up here or Park. Or make a trade. 

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#6 Oldgoat_MN

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 07:08 AM

Robbie Grossman's OBP so far in August is a terrible .265.

If he adds .100 points to his OBP that puts him near the rest of the year. Then he is still an OK DH. Not the prototypical home run hitting DH, but a guy who often gets on base and, consequently, moves runners forward.

Hoping that in Robbie's case this is just a SSS aberration.

 

And yes, we badly need Berrios at his best.

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#7 Jacks02

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 07:47 AM

I agree about Grossman. Hitting and getting on base are his only valuable tools, if he can't do that anymore the Twins should be looking to make a move.

 

Replacing him with Garver makes a lot of sense. Garver can likely play similar defense as a 4th outfielder and gives another option to rest Mauer at 1B. Most importantly gives the Twins another RHB with some pop in the lineup.

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#8 markos

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 07:59 AM

Two thoughts:
First, Rosario can be such an enigma. Yes, he is playing great, and there are definitely some encouraging signs for sustainable improvement. But I'm a little skeptical of this breakout. Using June 13 as the start date:
.375 BABIP - Rosario is always going to be a high-BABIP guy, but this is pretty extreme
19.3% HR/FB - would be top-40 in the league over a full season. I don't think it is sustainable.
I also looked at the StatCast data, and he is 25th biggest overperformer compared to what his exit velocity and launch angle would predict.

 

Second, I can't see any argument for Kepler starting against a left-handed pitcher for the rest of the season. At this point it is a little embarrassing that the Twins don't have any kind of right-handed corner-outfield bat to platoon with him.

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#9 nicksaviking

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 08:14 AM

When you do the good news/bad news bit, always go with the bad news first so we end up with the sweet taste of triumph at the end!

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#10 FunnyPenguin

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 08:40 AM

My biggest problem with Berrios is his lack of pitches, he essentially has two pitches he relies on, fastball and curveball and while they are both good pitches, he needs something else to keep hitters off balance.  I know he has tinkered with a changeup, does he still throw it much?  Even an average slider or changeup I think would make a huge difference for him


#11 Mr. Brooks

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 08:43 AM

My biggest problem with Berrios is his lack of pitches, he essentially has two pitches he relies on, fastball and curveball and while they are both good pitches, he needs something else to keep hitters off balance. I know he has tinkered with a changeup, does he still throw it much? Even an average slider or changeup I think would make a huge difference for him


He actually throws his change 11.1% of the time, which is pretty good for a 3rd pitch.

#12 dbminn

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 08:57 AM

Since Rosario returned from AAA on July 3, 2016, his slash line looks like this:

 

631 PA, .299/.336/.493 with 23 HR

 

After his return from AAA to the end of 2016, his BABIP was .387 and his BB and K rates were 3.9% and 25.8%, respectively. He had improved his slash line but the jury was still out due to poor pitch selection. Now in 2017, his BABIP sits at .332 (basically his career average) and he's upped his pitch selection, reflected by his 6.0% BB and 18.8% K rates.

 

Rosario is a streaky hitter. He's going to have ups and downs. But he's become a productive ballplayer and he's still only 25. I'm optimistic he'll continue to be very good - with upside.

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#13 Doomtints

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 09:22 AM

The players who were lagging behind are now hot. Likely when they cool off, the usual gang will be out of their slumps. This is how a good team works. Exciting to see happening, finally.

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#14 Doomtints

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 09:25 AM

 

Rosario is a streaky hitter. 

 

This looks streaky to you? 

 

Capture.png
 

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#15 FunnyPenguin

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 09:35 AM

 

He actually throws his change 11.1% of the time, which is pretty good for a 3rd pitch.

Thanks, wow I never knew it was that much!  Where do you find stats like that?


#16 KidBro

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 09:57 AM

 

Thanks, wow I never knew it was that much!  Where do you find stats like that?

 

I like using Brooksbaseball.net.  There are a few others out there.  Google 'pitch f/x.' 


#17 bluechipper

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 10:05 AM

 

 

Second, I can't see any argument for Kepler starting against a left-handed pitcher for the rest of the season. At this point it is a little embarrassing that the Twins don't have any kind of right-handed corner-outfield bat to platoon with him.

I think your second sentence is at least one argument for starting Kepler against lefties.Two more are his fielding and his status as a promising young player who shouldn't be a platoon player yet.

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#18 Mr. Brooks

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 10:06 AM

Thanks, wow I never knew it was that much! Where do you find stats like that?


Fangraphs.

#19 bluechipper

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 10:09 AM

Sano would probably have a .400 OBP this month if he just stood at the plate. Is it really that hard to lay off a slider? Especially when everyone in the stadium knows it's coming.

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#20 dbminn

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 10:19 AM

 

This looks streaky to you? 

 

Capture.png
 

 

streaking upward

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