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  • Week in Review: Selling and Losing Steam


    Nick Nelson

    The Twins bounced back from a crushing sweep in Kansas City with surprising vigor, taking all three contests in Toronto and then the first at Fenway.

    Unfortunately, it all proved to be too little, too late. The front office was already in talks with trade partners for deadline 'sell' moves, and pulled the trigger on deals to send out Eduardo Escobar and Ryan Pressly in exchange for prospects.

    The Twins haven't won a game since Escobar's exit was announced on Friday afternoon.

    Image courtesy of Winslow Townson, USA Today

    Weekly Snapshot: Mon, 7/23 through Sun, 7/29

    ***

    Record Last Week: 4-3 (Overall: 48-56)

    Run Differential Last Week: +7 (Overall: -31)

    Standing: 2nd Place in AL Central (9.0 GB)

    Despite holding their own on the East Coast leg of their post-break road trip, the Twins essentially waved the white flag over the weekend by trading away key pieces of their lineup and bullpen.

    Their prospect haul was solid, and featured some pretty clear themes. The top two position players received (Gilberto Celestino and Gabriel Maciel) are speedy outfielders, with presently limited power, who can play center. The top two pitchers (Jorge Alcala and Jhoan Duran) are hard-throwing righties that can miss bats but need work throwing strikes.

    Alcala, acquired in the Pressly trade, is generally considered the top prize among newly acquired assets (none of which need to occupy 40-man spots yet). The 23-year-old was at Double A in Houston's system and is the only prospect added who's anywhere close to the majors. ESPN's Keith Law writes that Alcala has "shown enough aptitude on the mound that scouts I've talked to feel like he has a chance to start or end up as a high-leverage reliever."

    HIGHLIGHTS

    Although he's seen his name sprout up in various rumors and rumblings, Kyle Gibson is still a Twin for now. Ken Rosenthal reported on Friday that the Twins would need to be "blown away" to move the right-hander, and with good reason; one night earlier he'd shut down the Red Sox, allowing one run over eight innings.

    By silencing the league's best offense in their own yard, Gibson put forth his most impressive performance in a season that's been full of them, another convincing sign he's really pulled it together. If they're maintaining a focus on short-term contention, the Twins are wise to hang onto Gibson for 2019 and perhaps consider negotiating an extension this offseason, when they have some leverage.

    Although we lost one Ed, we've thankfully still got our Eddie Rosario. On Friday night, as Minnesota's clubhouse reeled from the loss of Escobar, Rosario stepped up and put on a show. With two outs in the top of the ninth, he banged a go-ahead two-run double off the Green Monster against All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. In the bottom half of that inning, he made a dazzling defensive play at third base – yes, third base, where he'd ended up due to a short-handed bench:

    https://twitter.com/TwinsHighlights/status/1023034279675265025

    Although there hasn't been much for Twins fans to rejoice over the past few months, Mitch Garver is a very notable exception. The rookie backstop has taken off following a slow start, batting .296/.386/.452 in his last 40 games. He's been stellar in July with a .969 OPS and 10-to-9 K/BB ratio in 63 plate appearances.

    Garver's past week included a four-hit, five-RBI effort in Toronto as well as a crucial RBI double in the opening victory at Fenway. It was also nice to see him draw five starts – four at catcher, one at DH.

    Hopefully Garver can continue to see that kind of regular usage the rest of the way. If he maintains his strong production he'll solidify himself as a valuable property heading into 2019, while considerably reducing overall concern around the catcher position.

    LOWLIGHTS

    One might argue the turning point of this starkly divided week arrived when news of Escobar's departure came down on Friday afternoon. After all, as mentioned earlier, the Twins didn't win another game after that.

    But really, the turning point came in the ninth inning of Friday night's game. After Rosario's clutch double had given the Twins a lead, Fernando Rodney came in and promptly coughed up a game-tying home run to Rafael Devers. Rodney's sixth blown save came one night after he converted No. 22 in harrowing fashion, walking the bases full with a one-run lead and then going to 3-0 against Jackie Bradley, Jr. before managing to throw three strikes and avert disaster.

    Rodney had a fantastic run in May and June but has been far less effective of late. In 11 1/3 July innings he has allowed 15 hits and four walks. Last week he surrendered six hits and three walks in four appearances. As the deadline approaches, Rodney is losing some luster as a trade chip.

    So too is Brian Dozier, whose walk-off grand slam heading into the break failed to serve as a launching pad. Since then, Dozier has zero home runs and a .175 average. Last week he produced one double and two RBIs in seven games.

    “It stinks," said Dozier of the team's decision to trade Escobar on Friday. He likely feels the same way about enduring such a letdown season on the brink of free agency. Dozier must recognize that his underwhelming play – he's been a net negative at the plate per Win Probability Added – is a direct contributor to this current state of affairs.

    Miguel Sano, another prime culprit, made his unceremonious return to the Twins roster over the weekend. He hadn't exactly forced the issue with his play at Rochester, where he was 2-for-14 in a brief stint, but Minnesota needed a third baseman after dealing Escobar, and didn't have much to gain by having Sano tread water perpetually at Triple A.

    Commendably, the slugger looks noticeably leaner now than when we last saw him, but that's where the good news ends. Sano went 0-for-7 with five strikeouts in his first two games back, looking flat-out terrible at the plate.

    His offensive regression has just been astounding. Once a supremely dominant force with an advanced understanding of the strike zone, he now seems to be guessing in every at-bat. The 2017 All-Star failed to clobber minor-league pitching and now, once again, looks overmatched by big-league arms. By all accounts he's fully healthy, and he's been playing regularly for two months so rust can't really be pegged as a factor.

    What are the Twins to do other than keep running him out there and hope he improves?

    Of course, the "Lowlights" section wouldn't be complete without our weekly lament of Matt Belisle and his lingering presence on the roster. As Tyler Duffey, Alan Busenitz and others toil in the minors, and Matt Magill goes mostly unused in the Twins bullpen, Belisle continues to throw consistently sub-par innings. He lost Friday night's game on two pitches, yielding a walk-off home run to Mookie Betts leading off the 10th.

    By trading Pressly, who was projecting as a key member of the 2019 bullpen, the Twins have an even greater need to evaluate possible righty relief options going forward. They're doing themselves and the fans a huge disservice by continuing to waste a roster spot and valuable innings on Belisle.

    TRENDING STORYLINE

    It's going to be a tense stretch leading up to Tuesday afternoon. Escobar and Pressly are out, with more players sure to follow. Gibson is most likely safe, but he'll be sweating a little as he awaits his next start just after the deadline falls.

    Lance Lynn is slated to start on Wednesday afternoon. Will he make it there? He made a pretty good impression in his latest effort on Friday, tossing six innings of one-run ball against Boston.

    Dozier seems almost certain to go – it's only a matter of when, where, and who replaces him. Nick Gordon's quiet arrival in Triple A (he went 1-for-22 in five games last week) suggests he could use more seasoning. Ehire Adrianza would probably be the main replacement, and he deserves a prolonged look; the slick-gloved infielder has an .826 OPS in his past 35 games and could easily play a significant role on next year's team.

    Rodney and Zach Duke are also on Hug Watch, along with Jake Odorizzi, Logan Morrison and a few others.

    DOWN ON THE FARM

    Another week, another series of eye-popping performances from Alex Kirilloff. He ran his hitting streak with the Miracle to 13 last week by collecting hits in every game, finishing 15-for-27 (.556) with six doubles and eight RBIs. Among players with 100 or more plate appearances in the Florida State League, the 20-year-old ranks first in batting average at .384. No one elsse is close.

    On Saturday night, while Kirilloff was extending his streak, Brusdar Graterol enjoyed a breakout showing for Ft. Myers, striking out 10 over 5 2/3 innings of two-hit, one-run ball. It was a big step forward from his first four starts in the FSL, in which Graterol had yielded a .346 average and managed a mere 6% swinging strike rate.

    On June 11th, in a game at Scranton Wilkes-Barre against the Yankees' Triple A affiliate, Stephen Gonsalves allowed nine earned runs on nine hits, both the highest totals of his pro career. He has responded to that blip with an absolutely incredible eight-start stretch, in which he has allowed four runs on 23 hits over 46 innings for a 0.89 ERA.

    During this six-week span, the left-hander has faced 176 batters and given up one extra-base hit. It was a triple, yielded in otherwise sterling effort on Tuesday in which Gonsalves hurled seven scoreless frames. He followed on Sunday with six innings of two-run ball.

    The most encouraging aspect of last week's work was the crisp control, cleaning up one of the few recurring weaknesses in his performance; across his two last outings, Gonsalves threw 66% strikes and issued two walks in 13 innings. Despite the fine work in his previous six turns, he'd handed out a troubling 21 free passes in 33 frames with 61% strikes.

    Gonsalves has achieved outstanding results at every level of the minors, so his relative lack of traction among national prospect analysts is conspicuous – especially his ranking 10th among Twins prospects in the updated Baseball America rankings released last week, amidst this untouchable run in the International League.

    Clearly, many aren't sold on the lanky left-hander, and it isn't too hard to see why. His relatively soft arsenal doesn't match the imposing frame and control issues like his tend to manifest against big-league hitters. For this reason, it'll be key for him to sustain the strike-throwing improvements from last week. One way or another, I suspect we'll see him up in September, if not before.

    Another lefty who is having no such trouble throwing strikes: Lewis Thorpe, who turned in another pristine performance in Chattanooga on Friday, scattering two hits and a walk over seven scoreless frames with seven strikeouts. He too is riding an amazing eight-start stretch: 4-0 with a 1.76 ERA, 53-to-5 K/BB ratio and one homer allowed in 41 innings. Thorpe is quietly becoming a candidate to play a role for the Twins very early next season.

    LOOKING AHEAD

    If things had gone more to plan, this week would shape up as an absolutely pivotal one for the Twins. With the trade deadline looming on Tuesday afternoon, they've got three home games against the division leaders followed by an ostensibly winnable weekend series against the lackluster Royals. From there, Minnesota will head to Cleveland for four more games against the Indians.

    If they were in the race the Twins would have an opportunity to make a charge for the top of the AL Central over the next 11 days. As things stand, they'd still be six games behind Cleveland even with a sweep at Target Field, and will find it exceedingly difficult to make up the rest of that gap without Escobar, Pressly and whoever else departs in the next couple days.

    MONDAY, 7/30: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Shane Bieber v. RHP Ervin Santana

    TUESDAY, 7/31: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Trevor Bauer v. RHP Kyle Gibson

    WEDNESDAY, 8/1: INDIANS @ TWINS – RHP Carlos Carrasco v. RHP Lance Lynn

    FRIDAY, 8/3: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Heath Fillmyer v. RHP Jake Odorizzi

    SATURDAY, 8/4: ROYALS @ TWINS – RHP Burch Smith v. RHP Jose Berrios

    SUNDAY, 8/5: ROYALS @ TWINS – LHP Danny Duffy v. RHP Ervin Santana

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    Stephen Gonsalves allowed nine earned runs on nine hits, both the highest totals of his pro career....  Despite the fine work in his previous six turns, he'd handed out a troubling 21 free passes in 33 frames with 61% strikes.

     

    Back when Gonsalves was experiencing the control issues and occasional high-contact games I wondered if that was indicative of focusing on a particular pitch. Were the staff running him out there with instructions to, say, throw 50% change-ups regardless of result? From a developmental standpoint I could see the benefit of forcing a pitcher to use a weaker pitch to build comfort in game situations. I would think by AAA the pitchers should have command of their repertoire but perhaps not. 

     

    If the issue was forcing development it seems to have worked.

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    I don't blame the Twins for selling. What's made me feel uneasy is the "grab bag-style" returns they're getting. A bunch of single-A prospects, essentially just a handful of lottery tickets that might pay off in 2022.

     

    I never minded the phrase "Wait 'til next year". But when someone tells me "Wait until five years from now", that's irksome.

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    It truly is amazing that the Minnesota Twins' ownership/management has no apparent interest in winning baseball games. The only people at Target for the home stand should be those on the payroll and fans of the visiting teams.

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    If I'm not mistaken, the trade deadline is Tuesday, 4PM ET, not Wednesday as alluded to in the article.

    Ah, appears you're correct. I thought they moved it back to August 1st a year or two ago? Guess not. 

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    I don't blame the Twins for selling. What's made me feel uneasy is the "grab bag-style" returns they're getting. A bunch of single-A prospects, essentially just a handful of lottery tickets that might pay off in 2022.

     

    I never minded the phrase "Wait 'til next year". But when someone tells me "Wait until five years from now", that's irksome.

    The short-term pipeline is quite robust. The Twins are trying to ensure that they've got plenty more after that wave, and this approach also helps them manage the 40-man roster. It's a good idea even if it's not sexy or exciting at the moment. 

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    The short-term pipeline is quite robust. The Twins are trying to ensure that they've got plenty more after that wave, and this approach also helps them manage the 40-man roster. It's a good idea even if it's not sexy or exciting at the moment. 

    eh?

     

    I don't see a single position player I feel confident will be worthy of a full time position next year. Who am I missing?

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    eh?

     

    I don't see a single position player I feel confident will be worthy of a full time position next year. Who am I missing?

    Out of the gates, maybe not (Romero and Mejia, possibly, though they don't have prospect status anymore). But plenty of others figure to debut and start acclimating next year: Gonsalves, Thorpe, Gordon, Rooker, Wade, Littell, etc. Even Lewis and Kirilloff aren't far off. I'd categorize all of these players as "short-term pipeline."

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    It truly is amazing that the Minnesota Twins' ownership/management has no apparent interest in winning baseball games. The only people at Target for the home stand should be those on the payroll and fans of the visiting teams.

    That's not even remotely true about ownership and management. I understand the frustration this year, but ownership and the FO didn't let this team down.

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    Out of the gates, maybe not (Romero and Mejia, possibly, though they don't have prospect status anymore). But plenty of others figure to debut and start acclimating next year: Gonsalves, Thorpe, Gordon, Rooker, Wade, Littell, etc. Even Lewis and Kirilloff aren't far off. I'd categorize all of these players as "short-term pipeline."

    I guess we just see a huge difference between acclimating and contributing to wins.

     

    The only position player who I see contributing next year would be Rooker.

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    It truly is amazing that the Minnesota Twins' ownership/management has no apparent interest in winning baseball games. The only people at Target for the home stand should be those on the payroll and fans of the visiting teams.

    Disagree. They spent the most they ever have, supplementing a playoff team. In no way did they do anything other than try to win this last off season.

     

    The players failed.

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    I guess we just see a huge difference between acclimating and contributing to wins.

    The only position player who I see contributing next year would be Rooker.

    I don't even know where that distinction is coming from. I said the short-term pipeline was robust and it is; the Twins have a lot of top prospects approaching MLB readiness.

    If you were expecting/hoping to get back prospects you could be confident were going to contribute significantly in 2019, I don't know what to tell ya. The Twins don't have the kind of assets to acquire such pieces, outside of maybe Gibson and that'd sorta defeat the purpose, no?

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    I don't even know where that distinction is coming from. I said the short-term pipeline was robust and it is; the Twins have a lot of top prospects approaching MLB readiness.

    If you were expecting/hoping to get back prospects you could be confident were going to contribute significantly in 2019, I don't know what to tell ya. The Twins don't have the kind of assets to acquire such pieces, outside of maybe Gibson and that'd sorta defeat the purpose, no?

    I'm actually good with what they got back, less so for Escobar but I'm okay with it, and I think your comment about not having to worry about the 40-man with these guys is good. That said, for me, 'short-term pipeline' means contributing in 2019, of which I think Hoskin is right ... I really only see possibly Rooker, and not immediately, maybe Gordon and/or Wade, but I see them next year as up and down as injury replacement and are really another year away from any kind of real contribution to a season on the 25-man roster. I'm hoping for some big off-season signings and/or trades if we are to compete next year. And I also hope that those who had down years bounce back. I know you can't count on anything, but I'm hoping.

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    I don't even know where that distinction is coming from. I said the short-term pipeline was robust and it is; the Twins have a lot of top prospects approaching MLB readiness.

    If you were expecting/hoping to get back prospects you could be confident were going to contribute significantly in 2019, I don't know what to tell ya. The Twins don't have the kind of assets to acquire such pieces, outside of maybe Gibson and that'd sorta defeat the purpose, no?

    I wasn't talking about trade return or "expecting/hoping" to get back any prospects.

     

    I was asking for clarification that the short term pipeline was robust, which I sort of read as "upper minors is already stacked," which I disagree with.

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    I wasn't talking about trade return or "expecting/hoping" to get back any prospects.

    I was asking for clarification that the short term pipeline was robust, which I sort of read as "upper minors is already stacked," which I disagree with.

    It's Wade, Rooker and Gordon, is there anybody else that I am missing?

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    It's Wade, Rooker and Gordon, is there anybody else that I am missing?

    That's pretty much it for hitting prospects in the upper minors. Perhaps you could add Zander Weil if you're high on him. I'm not sure I'd count on any of these guys in 2019 (though I would definitely be pushing Rooker to AAA effective yesterday, and of the guys listed, he's probably the one that will soonest provide impact). 

     

    We are, however, very stacked in terms of pitching prospects in the high minors. 

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