Dman reacted to Ted Schwerzler for an article, Royce Lewis is Ready to Rock
For Rocco Baldelli’s Twins, Carlos Correa is back and here to stay at shortstop. He may miss time over the next handful of years, but the hope is that he remains an anchor in the lineup. That doesn’t change Royce Lewis having a focus on cracking the roster and factoring in wherever his manager can use him.
Having undergone a second ACL surgery, Lewis is now on the way back and if you ask him he’s ready to go. Just recently he started stepping in for live at bats, and watching him work for the past week showcased an impressive talent ready to show out. His physical stature looks good, and the speed tool continues to remain in place. Though he’ll start the season on the 60-day injured list, Lewis will be an option for Minnesota early this summer.
I caught up with Royce and sat down to ask a few questions about this team, his rehab, and where the coming season may take him.
Twins Daily: With this being the second time going through rehab on a torn ACL, what’s different now?
Royce Lewis: The main difference is that I started in Fort Myers and then when the hurricane happened I went to Dallas to finish there. With the city being in such a bad condition, I didn’t have the same resources so it made sense to stay in Dallas. I talked with the Twins once or twice a week. As soon as Nick Paparesta signed, he talked to me once a week himself. Minnesota wrote up the schedule and would send it to my physical therapist. He acted as the middleman and just told me what to do.
TD: You recently started hitting, or taking batting practice. How does that feel? How is the lateral movement going?
RL: As of three days ago (March 16) we’ve been doing lateral stuff. I think I could be pushed a bit more and challenging myself more. I think I could be playing today, I truly feel great. I don’t fault the team, I’m not mad at all. The doctors got together and it makes the most sense with the second ACL injury on the same knee to play it safe. It’s about the next 15 years, I’m young.
TD: With Carlos Correa coming back, has there been a mindset change about position or where you may end up at all?
RL: I haven’t been told anything about positions and I’m still training like I’m a shortstop. To be honest, me playing shortstop last year and then moving positions randomly for ten days or whatever was something I could do with ease. If you can play shortstop you can play anywhere up the middle. Short, second, center, those guys can kind of play anywhere. I feel stable, and ready to go. As you saw I’m taking live at bats, but they aren’t letting me hit, I can’t swing. I’m just tracking right now, but I do feel like I’m seeing the ball great. I’ve had a couple of check swings because I’m antsy. Tuesday (March 21) is right around the corner, so I’ll hit Tuesday or Wednesday depending on who’s throwing.
TD: With regards to the new rules, both pitch clock and bases, is there an opportunity to be more aggressive?
RL: I usually just steal when the situation is right. I think I can get it. The bases will definitely help, it feels a lot closer. We exposed the three pickoff thing a lot in the minor leagues. As a runner, they’re promoting people to run more. Our team (Minnesota) was a bit lower on that last year, but I think this year we’ll push the envelope a bit more with the help of those new rules. I can’t wait, hopefully I get some more green lights.
TD: What’s the plan from here? Do you have a destination already after camp?
RL: The only thing I know is that I’ll be down here (Fort Myers) through April. Because of the whole 60-day thing, you only have 20 games you can play before. May 29th is the last day, so you’re thinking around May 9th or 10th to go somewhere to play. I think it will depend on the weather. If it’s cold, we’re not going to send you to St. Paul. Even healthy people get stiff in the cold, so maybe Wichita.
TD: What makes 2023 a success for you? What are you shooting to accomplish?
RL: Really to come back and make the roster. Our team is so good. We have great players and depth on both sides of the ball. To be able to crack that roster you have to be playing good. I think that’s a good goal of mine. I want to be able to help this team make a playoff push. In my heart of hearts I believe this is a playoff team. We need to stay healthy. This is a World Series contending team.
TD: Why is this team different from last year? What about 2023 Opening Day looks different?
RL: Having everyone have a bit more experience and be a bit more comfortable with each other. Guys like Trevor Larnach, Alex Kirilloff, myself, there’s been debuts and people feel a bit more ready. The depth is truly a thing. Good teams like the Astros and Dodgers have depth. You see a guy like Jose Altuve out for 8-10 weeks and it’s like guess what we have so-and-so to fill in and he’s also a baller. Look at Nick Gordon, he’s the best utility player in baseball. Twins fans are going to see how good this team really is. We have health right now.
TD: Ending on a light night, new jerseys, which one is your favorite?
RL: I like the gray pinstripes, but I think the cream Twins Cities top is the best. I love that we switched it up. I wish we had one or two more in our back pocket. I loved the red and the baby blue.
There is no denying the short cameo last season was among the highlights of the year for Twins fans. Seeing Lewis play alongside Correa on the dirt this season would be great, and he remains one of the most exciting prospects Minnesota has had in quite some time.
Dman reacted to Ted Schwerzler for an article, The Night Luis Arraez Blew Up Baseball
After advancing out of pool play, the United States was set to square off against Venezuela, with the latter representing the home team with an undefeated record in this WBC. Shuttles were offered from downtown garages, with nearly 40,000 people heading into a congested area outside South Beach. Street vendors lined the sidewalks, and an ambiance far different than your typical baseball game was apparent.
Make no mistake; this was not some meaningless game in March.
Having been to LoanDepot Park once before, coincidentally for the second game it had ever hosted, my expectations weren’t high. I wasn’t impressed with the ballpark but also took it in, lacking almost any semblance of a crowd. That was for a meaningless spring training game as the Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle led Marlins played host to a collegiate foe in Florida Atlantic University. Last night couldn’t have been more different.
Gates opened three hours before first pitch. The Venezuelan squad took batting practice first, and the outfield bleachers already began to fill in. When Team USA took over, the likes of Kyle Freeland, Miles Mikolas, and bullpen catcher Carlos Munoz consistently drew fans' favor by flipping balls into the seats.
Having purchased a get-in ticket, I knew I planned to wander around. I didn’t make it very far after asking the Recess Sports Lounge attendant if I needed special access to enter the area. Recess offers seating and food options at the field level in a club-like scene beyond the left field fence. A pool in the space used to be similar to the Arizona Diamondbacks Chase Field, but that has since been replaced with a DJ booth.
It was game time after the unveiling of flags, introductions (of which Venezuelan supporters were substantially more vocal), and national anthems.
The pitching matchup was one of intrigue for Twins fans. Lance Lynn was on the bump for the United States, while Martin Perez took the ball for Venezuela. Unfortunately for the current Texas Rangers hurler, he gave up three runs on five hits and only recorded one out. Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Kyle Tucker were all over his stuff.
This tournament has produced plenty of exciting tilts. Just a night prior, fans saw the Puerto Rican team ahead 4-0, only to give up five runs without an answer and fall to an unlikely Mexican squad. 3-0 was not safe for the Americans, and they knew adding on was a must.
Unlike any other baseball game you have ever seen, there was pandemonium after each base hit, out, or routine play. Cheers from supporters were deafening, and the reality was an outcome unlike anything seen outside of a soccer or football stadium. When former Twins batting champ Luis Arraez stepped in, it was as though the world stopped.
Not known for his power, Arraez turned on a Lynn pitch and sent it over the fence in right field. He sped around the bases in a quick home run trot but celebrated at third base in front of his dugout. The Venezuelan fans in the crowd were going absolutely crazy. The team on the field had spilled out of the dugout and waited to celebrate at the plate. This wasn’t just baseball; it was the World Baseball Classic.
Producing moments that we otherwise won’t see during a regular situation, Tucker stepped in against his teammate Luis Garcia. While the baby rocking is since gone, given Major League Baseball’s new rules, Garcia remains among the better pitchers in the game. Tucker hit a double in their first matchup of the night, and rather than being able to exact revenge, it was again Tucker winning the battle as he took Garcia out of the yard for a 365-foot solo blast.
As the Venezuelans were silenced momentarily, their time came in the 5th inning. Daniel Bard was on and wild. He hit Jose Altuve, who unfortunately suffered a broken thumb on the play. Continuing to be wild, runs came in, and Arraez again delivered, drawing the deficit to one. Scoring on a Ronald Acuna Jr. sacrifice fly, the lead changed hands again.
With the pace of the action, no lead seemed safe in this one. Expecting this level of excitement or energy over the consistency of a 162-game season would be an unimaginable trip. Playoff atmosphere rivals the intensity, but each lineup was looking to deliver knockout punches, and the fans were ready for the roller coaster of a ride.
Again, not a power hitter, Arraez stepped in during the 7th inning and took David Bednar deep. He turned on another pitch and doinked it off the foul pole. Late in this one, Miami’s newest hero sent his country’s fans into insanity.
Then, it happened.
The Philadelphia Phillies $300 million man took the box against Silvino Bracho. With the bases chucked and a deficit of two, Turner crushed a 407-foot blast right over my head to create a homer he called the best of his life. A man that has won a World Series, played in All-Star games, and earned a Silver Slugger, called that home run the biggest hit of his career.
Fans agreed. As beers were thrown, whistles rang out, the music went crazy, and the atmosphere was something out of a storybook, Turner became Captain America, if only for an instant. Another former Twin, Ryan Pressly, got the opportunity to slam the door in the 9th inning and picked up his second save of the tournament.
Once again, insanity ensued.
The results didn't go the way of Arraez's Venezuelan squad, and Turner stole the show late, but it was the show he started that kicked off what would be the craziest night of baseball I have ever experienced.
It’s unrealistic to think that every game throughout a 162-game regular season slate could hold this level of importance or excitement. It is evident, however, to note that the World Baseball Classic’s importance goes well beyond anything else played in March, and to experience it in person may be a bucket list venture.
There was no discussion of a lacking pitch clock, and allowing shifts didn’t stifle offense. Two juggernauts went back and forth like heavyweights and gave passionate fans everything they hoped for. We may find ourselves with a pair of favorites in the championship as both Japan and USA remain, but no matter how it plays out, you can bet LoanDepot Park will be the spot for the biggest party of any sport this month.
I didn’t know what to expect when heading into the stadium. Now I’m wondering how soon I can experience that again.
Dman reacted to Cody Christie for an article, Ranking the Twins Top-5 Power Tool Prospects: 2023
The Twins have altered their roster recently since setting MLB's all-time home run record in 2019. Last season, Minnesota didn't have any 30-home-run hitters, so the last two Twins hitters with 30 homers were Jorge Polanco (33 HR) and Miguel Sano (30 HR) in 2021. The five prospects below can join the 30-homer club when given a chance at the big-league level in the years ahead.
Scouts and front office personnel use a 20-80 scale to evaluate players' tools. This ranking system also projects how those tools will improve as the player develops. Below are the top five Twins prospects regarding current and future power potential.
5. Royce Lewis, SS/OF
Current Power/Future Power: 55/60
Lewis is recovering from his second ACL surgery in as many seasons, but he has many skills to be considered a five-tool player. Throughout the rehab process, he has added muscle to his frame, and the Twins saw some of those results in 2022. Last season, he hit .313/.405/.534 (.940) with 12 doubles and five home runs in 34 Triple-A games. Lewis showed flashes of his power in 12 big-league games by going 12-for-40 (.300 BA) with four doubles and two home runs. Minnesota hopes to have Lewis back in the line-up for the second half of the 2023 season.
4. Brooks Lee, SS
Current Power/Future Power: 55/60
Lee makes such consistent contact that power is natural and can spray the ball to all fields. In his final two collegiate seasons, he averaged over 40 extra-base hits with a 1.073 OPS. Lee showed flashes of his power potential during his professional debut. He combined for ten extra-base hits and an .839 OPS in 31 games. During spring training, Lee has impressed many, including Carlos Correa, with his offensive approach and work ethic. He is likely heading to Double-A to start the season, but he may debut during the 2023 season.
3. Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF
Current Power/Future Power: 55/65
Rodriguez is one of the most exciting prospects in the Twins system, and he could be a monster power hitter. He was a breakout prospect at Low-A last season while hitting .272/.493/.552 (1.044) with more walks (57) than strikeouts (52). The Florida State League can be a challenging environment for hitters, but Rodriguez shined with five doubles, three triples, and nine home runs. He's entering his age-20 season, and he hopes to add even more muscle to his frame to increase his power. By this time next season, he has a chance to be the Twins' top-rated prospect and a global top-20 prospect.
2. Aaron Sabato, 1B/DH
Current Power/Future Power: 60/60
The Twins drafted Sabato for one reason, his tremendous power potential. The pandemic limited his college career, but he posted a 1.158 OPS in 83 games. Last season, he hit .215/.336/.438 (.774) with 17 doubles and 22 home runs between High-A and Double-A. Sabato will spend the 2023 season in the minor's upper levels as he attempts to compile a breakout season. He is the lowest-rated prospect on this list, but the current front office drafted him in the first round, so they will give him every opportunity to find success.
1. Matt Wallner, OF
Current Power/Future Power: 65/65
Wallner is coming off a season where he was named the Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Year. In 128 minor league games, he hit .277/.412/.542 (953) with 32 doubles, four triples, and 27 home runs. The Twins called him up in September, and he went 13-for-57 (.228) with five extra-base hits and a 105 OPS+ in 18 games. Minnesota's added depth at the big-league level has pushed Wallner down the organizational depth chart, but he's had fewer than 200 at-bats in Triple-A. Wallner will start the year in St. Paul, with his powerful swing being one injury away from the big leagues.
Who do you think has the best power in the Twins system? Should someone else make the list? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
Dman reacted to Cody Pirkl for an article, Is Jeff Hoffman an Opening Day Bullpen Option?
The Minnesota Twins could end the competition for the final bullpen roles if they declared the incumbents (Trevor Megill and Jovani Moran) victors. Given how the Twins have operated this offseason, particularly in terms of depth, it’s likely that they may insulate their roster by sending one or both of them to Triple-A instead. With a few non-roster invites in camp staking their claim, The Twins could add depth to their bullpen.
Dennis Santana, already holding a 40-man roster spot, looked to be the likeliest candidate to make the Opening Day roster at another reliever’s expense. After quietly being put on waivers, Santana’s name is no longer in the competition.
Instead, it may be time to turn our eyes toward veteran Jeff Hoffman , who signed an interesting minor-league deal earlier this spring.
Hoffman has never quite put it all together, but he has pitched in parts of seven MLB seasons. Originally a starter, Hoffman transitioned to the bullpen in 2020 and has been able to strike out over a batter per inning in each of the last two seasons. His 3.83 ERA in just over 44 innings last season may be the most successful campaign of his career thus far. So why would the Twins be enticed by such unexciting numbers?
Hoffman averaged a solid 94.2 on his fastball in 2022. It wasn’t a dominant pitch, but opposing batters hit only .237 and slugged .443 off of it that season. Despite a spin rate in the 93rd percentile, the pitch only had a swing-and-miss rate of 16.5%. For a pitch with solid results but potentially lacking something, it seems that he went to work on it this winter, and early on, the returns are encouraging.
Hoffman has consistently sat in the mid-90s all spring and has hit the high 90s on the heater with regularity. Gains made on the fastball could be a game-changer for Hoffman, and the Twins may be inclined to take a gamble considering the low risk.
Hoffman’s two secondary pitches were legitimately dominant in 2022. The slider earned a 38.5% whiff rate and punished hitters to a .222 batting average and .370 slugging. His changeup had a whiff rate of 37.6% and allowed a .209 average and .348 slugging. He threw both pitches around 24% of the time.
The assumption based on the pitch mix is that Hoffman’s repertoire is built to match up with both right-handed and left-handed opposing hitters. His numbers don’t match what would be expected from a reliever with two dominant secondaries. It’s possible the Twins planned to bring him in and cut back on fastball usage while increasing the offspeed. While this still may be the plan, Hoffman potentially increasing his fastball velocity brings his potential to a whole new level.
Hoffman has only made three appearances this spring, allowing two runs in three innings. He’s walked one batter and struck out six. With multiple opt-outs in his contract (March 28, May 15, June 15), Hoffman may not be a candidate to take a Triple-A assignment. Given his velocity gains, he’s likely to take the first opportunity to pursue a job elsewhere unless the Twins add him to the 40-man roster by March 28. The organization is obviously aware of this.
For the bottom of the bullpen pecking order role that Hoffman would likely fill, the Twins would have little to lose if they believe in the improvements he’s shown early this spring. An arm like Trevor Megill could be stashed in Triple-A in case of injury or if Hoffman himself struggles. The Twins may see this as a more advantageous option than letting Hoffman walk for nothing and having no obvious replacement waiting in St. Paul should another reliever go down.
Has Hoffman’s performance this spring been enough to earn an Opening Day roster spot? Should we trust the velocity gains we’ve seen from him early in camp? Let us know below!
Dman reacted to Greggory Masterson for an article, The Twins could have Six Top-50 Draft Picks in 2024
The rules governing MLB are nothing, if not labyrinthine. The draft rules are no different. Between qualifying offers, competitive balance picks, and the standard first-round pick, the Twins have the potential to fill their draft boards.
MLB teams can offer their impending free agents a Qualifying Offer (QO) at the end of the season. If the player rejects it, teams can receive an additional draft pick. The rules are complicated, but if the Twins are still a revenue-sharing recipient and the player signs a contract north of $50 million, they will gain a draft pick between the first and second rounds. The pick would be between the second and third rounds if the player signs for less than $50 million.
Have you got it? Super simple. The bottom line is that if the Twins give the QO to an impending free agent, and he rejects it, they essentially get an extra first-round pick.
Do the Twins have any players who could receive the QO? Yes, several. To give a player the QO, the team has two criteria. First, the player must not have received a QO from their current team or any other team. Second, the player has to have spent the entire season on the team’s roster.
The Twins have seven players projected to be eligible for the QO. However, the QO is a one-year deal equal to the average of MLB’s top 125 player salaries, likely around $20 million. Something has to go horribly right for three players—Donovan Solano, Michael A. Taylor, and Emilio Pagán—to sniff the QO.
Depending on how they play, a solid case can be made for each of the other four to receive the QO. It’s something of a win-win for the team. If the player accepts the offer, the team pays them a hefty salary for only one year—no strings attached. The team gets a draft pick for their troubles if they reject it.
So, who are these four players, and what are the odds they will receive a QO?
Maeda is likely the longest shot in this camp, but it’s not unfeasible. It’s hard to predict how he will play this season, coming off of Tommy John surgery at almost 35, but if he pitches anywhere close to how he did in 2020, it’s reasonable.
He would also be the most likely of the group to accept the offer. At his age, his chances of securing a multi-year deal are lower, so if he doesn’t think he could get a deal in free agency around $50 million over two years (Justin Verlander’s 2022 deal coming off of Tommy John, for reference), a $20 million payday would be good for him. It would also be an affordable veteran arm for the younger 2024 team.
2023 will be Gray’s 11th year in the big leagues, but he signed an extension early in his career that kept him from testing free agency (and kept him underpaid). Now he’s 33 and an established #2 starter heading into free agency after the season.
A comparable (albeit more durable) player who signed a deal in free agency this year is Chris Bassitt. Bassitt signed a three-year, $63 million contract with the QO attached to him. If Gray has another season like 2022, with better health and more innings, he could be in line for more than Bassitt got. The Twins would gladly bring him back for $20 million or get a draft pick.
Mahle is the highest-upside pitcher in this group and, not coincidentally, the youngest. If his shoulder proves healthy and he keeps his home runs down in pitcher-friendly Target Field, he could put together a season solidifying himself as an upper-level number-2 starter.
In 2022, similar starters in age and ability Eduardo Rodriquez and Marcus Stroman fetched contracts over $70 million guaranteed. Rodriguez had the QO attached, and Stroman accepted his QO the year prior.
If Mahle and his representation saw $70 million as feasible, they would likely pursue free agency. Given his age, he may sign a contract for five-plus years, taking him into his mid-30s and even push $100 million. Again, the Twins would gladly accept either outcome from him.
Here’s the wildcard. Gallo is a two-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner. He also hit .160 last year. If he had been a free agent last offseason, he would have netted over $100 million on his next contract, even with his struggles down the stretch. Instead, he’s on a make-good, one-year deal with Minnesota.
If he rediscovers his form, playing elite defense in the outfield, getting on base at a .335 clip, and hits 35 home runs, he will assuredly receive the QO and reject it. Even if he plays at 80% of that pace, there’s a case to be made. (Andrew Benintendi signed a five-year, $75 million deal this offseason).
What are the odds that all four players play well enough to justify a QO? Probably low. The Twins current front office has only ever offered one player the QO—Jake Odorizzi in 2019—and he accepted it. I would be shocked, though, if none of them received it, and I think there’s a better chance for all four to get one than for none of them to get one.
Combined with their standard first-rounder and a potential competitive balance pick, which they have been receiving lately due to market size and revenue, the Twins could have as many as six draft picks before the second round.
I’m not saying it’s likely, but as JP from Angels in the Outfield would say, “It could happen.” I’m sure Twins scouting director Sean Johnson is licking his chops.
Dman reacted to Nick Nelson for an article, Twins 2023 Position Analysis: Right Field
Projected Starter: Max Kepler
Likely Backup: Joey Gallo
Depth: Michael A. Taylor, Trevor Larnach, Kyle Garlick
Prospects: Matt Wallner, Jose Rodriguez, Kala'i Rosario
Even during a 2022 season that rated as the worst of his career, and had him somberly reflecting on whether he picked the right sport, Kepler's underlying skill and baseball prowess were easy to see.
As usual, he roamed right field with excellence, ranging all over to track down fly balls and line drives most peers cannot reach. The standard for RF, at the bottom end of the defensive spectrum, gives Kepler a big advantage as a stellar athlete with a glove that could play in center.
He ranked fifth among MLB right fielders in Defensive Runs Saved with 10, and was in the 97th percentile for Outs Above Average. FanGraphs pegged him as the second-most valuable defender at the position, behind Arizona's Daulton Varsho. Kepler's fielding is verifiably elite.
His bat has of course been a different story, but you wouldn't know it from looking at the raw batted ball metrics. Kepler's Statcast sliders are a sea of red, indicating high-end rankings on measurements like exit velocity, expected batting average, chase rate, and beyond. Kepler has a very good plate approach and he routinely makes quality contact.
Yet, this all manifested last year in a .227/.318/.348 slash line, which – even in a depressed offensive environment – compared quite poorly against the average AL right fielder (244/.310/.407).
Analysis shows that to a large degree, Kepler creates his own bad luck with a hitting profile so predictable that opposing pitchers and defenses have learned to expertly suppress it. That said, last year his level of bad luck was off the charts. The outfielder's fortunes seem naturally likely to rebound, and the new shift limitations figure to further aid his improvement.
This dynamic gave the Twins hope that another team might fancy Kepler as a buy-low candidate worth ponying up for. Alas, they didn't get an offer that moved them, so the front office held on, and will hope to cash in on their own bounce-back threat, whose return alongside the Gallo signing creates an abundant level of corner outfield depth.
Taking Kepler's history here out of the equation, I think that if the Twins were to trade for a player sharing Kepler's attributes – an underperforming great athlete in his prime with one more year under contract followed by team options – most fans would see it as a smart gamble.
Among the top five players we have listed on the RF depth chart atop this article, here are their final OPS+ figures from the 2022 season:
Kepler: 93 Gallo: 79 Taylor: 90 Larnach: 104 Garlick: 104 Only two modestly above-average hitters in the bunch, and they both missed most of the season due to injury. As helpful as Kepler's glove is in the outfield, his lack of offense has made him a limiting factor in the lineup. The same could potentially be true of Gallo or Taylor if they're pushed into duty.
With so many questions elsewhere, the Twins could really use a steady and reliable producer at this bat-driven position. Since Kepler's career year in 2019, the Twins have been below-average in wOBA from right fielders every year, ranking 23rd in both of the past two. If Kepler can't snap that trend, the team is now in a realistic position to move on.
If and when that time comes, Gallo or Taylor or Larnach might not be next in line. Wallner is their reigning Minor League Player of the Year and he got a taste of the majors last September. With decent outfield range and maybe the best arm in the system, Wallner is built for right field.
Bringing lots of strikeouts and lots of power, the organization's No. 11 prospect contrasts sharply from Kepler stylistically, but it's not hard to envision him offering equal value (at a small fraction of the cost) as soon as this year.
That is: if Wallner can break the mold of K-prone sluggers who mash in the minors but struggle to break through in the majors. The 25-year-old's development this season will have a decisive influence on the plan for this position going forward.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A changing of the guard is afoot in right field for the Twins. Kepler is one of their longest-tenured players, but the nearing end of this player-team relationship feels apparent from a number of different perspectives.
He's entering his final guaranteed year under contract, was openly the subject of trade rumors all winter, and is now being pressed by several up-and-coming prospects as his game stagnates.
For the time being, Kepler's still here. Though down and out, he's a skilled and athletic player coming off the unluckiest season of his career, with a few things due to finally break in his favor.
If he doesn't turn it around, the Twins have a wealth of other current and future options. If he does, it could introduce create an interesting set of decisions for the front office. For as long as he's been around, Kepler is still only 30 and he has a 2024 team option for $10 million.
Catch Up On Our Position Preview Series:
Position Analysis: Catcher Position Analysis: First Base Position Analysis: Second Base Position Analysis: Third Base Position Analysis: Shortstop Position Analysis: Left Field Position Analysis: Center Field
Dman reacted to Ted Schwerzler for an article, How Good Can Carlos Correa Be in 2023?
Last year, Carlos Correa found himself in Twins camp following a lengthy lockout and an odd free agency process. He was thrust into action while only getting a handful of game at-bats. Despite the challenges, he parlayed it into a successful first year in Minnesota.
Across 136 games, held back only by an unfortunate hit by pitch and a bout with Covid, Correa posted an .834 OPS, which translated to a 140 OPS+. He blasted 22 homers in his first year calling Target Field home, and while the defensive metrics were slightly down on him, he played a solid shortstop.
However, if you watched the Twins consistently last year, you know there were stretches where it seemed Correa got lost. What if a complete spring training and traditional lead-up to the season unlocks a new level?
The reality is that Correa could be embarking on a path that leads him to the Hall of Fame. His career trajectory is already impressive, and continued production for the Twins will have him in the conversation when he hangs up his cleats. Still in the prime of his career at just 28 years old, this should be another high-producing season for the superstar shortstop.
Correa’s 140 OPS+ last year trailed only his 155 OPS+ during 2017 when he was named to his first All-Star team. Last season was odd in that offense was down due to MLB again tampering with the baseball. We don’t yet know how this season’s ball will play, and we don’t know to what extent it will be manipulated on a per-game basis. What we can look into is Correa’s production as a whole.
Through his first 24 games last season, Correa owned just a .693 OPS. It’s unsurprising that a player would start slow, even less so when playing in a cold-temperature state like Minnesota. His next 47 games culminated in an impressive .876 OPS and saw the former Houston Astros post nearly a .400 on-base percentage.
Correa hit the skids from the end of July into early September, though. While teammates were dropping like flies, he remained in the lineup but had little protection. He hit just three homers in his next 36 games and owned an ugly .695 OPS with just seven total extra-base hits.
During the final month, over a span of 29 games, Correa did everything he could to produce for the Twins. Correa posted an impressive 1.032 OPS while batting a whopping .370. He had 15 extra-base hits, of which seven left the yard, and he was arguably the best hitter in baseball during that time.
Baseball is a sport of streaks, and while you will have cold streaks, Correa keeping his trends pointing up could go a long way in 2023. ZiPS and Steamer projections have him slated for slightly diminished OPS marks with two additional home runs. However, ZiPS sees the fWAR tally coming in at 5.9 after being 4.4 last season, which certainly accounts for enhanced defensive production.
For a guy who has twice topped a .900 OPS in his career, it’s not unthinkable to believe he could do so again this season. The projection systems seem a bit light regarding how offense may change this year, and Correa has more comfort going for him in 2023. He likes hitting in Target Field, and knowing it’s his home for the long haul could bring on an excellent show this summer.
How high do you expect Correa’s stock to rise this season, and where is a reasonable expectation for his offensive production to check in at?
Dman reacted to Nick Nelson for an article, Twins 2023 Position Analysis: Center Field
Projected Starter: Byron Buxton
Likely Backup: Michael A. Taylor
Depth: Joey Gallo, Nick Gordon, Gilberto Celestino
Prospects: Royce Lewis, Emmanuel Rodriguez, Yasser Mercedes,
Since 2019, Buxton ranks sixth among all MLB center fielders in fWAR, which is pretty amazing considering that he's played in roughly half of his team's games (51%) during that span. Even at half-capacity, Buxton is among the most valuable handful of players in baseball at a crucial defensive position.
Minnesota's utmost priority is finding a way to keep Buck on the field as much as possible, and they know that. New head trainer Nick Paparesta came aboard this past offseason knowing it would be his primary directive.
The Twins are taking it slow this spring with Buxton, who has yet to appear in an exhibition game and may see very little action on-field until Opening Day despite being ostensibly healthy.
The Twins know how much Buxton means to their lineup. And while his bat is a game-changer, they also know that a big portion of his peak value derives from top-tier defense in center field. Even if he's lost a touch of speed and (tried to) cut back on hazardous risk-taking, Buxton remains one of the rangiest and overall outstanding defenders in the game when he's out there.
He takes away runs. Lots of them. Add that to all of the runs he's creating with his elite power and you've got the recipe for one of the most impactful players in baseball.
The Twins need to balance keeping him on the field as much as possible with adequately protecting his body and maximizing his chances of helping the team all season. This might mean adopting a usage model with built-in days for DH and rest. It's a luxury the club can more easily afford thanks to one of their most underrated offseason moves: the acquisition of Taylor from Kansas City.
Taylor is the closest thing you'll find to Buxton's equal defensively in center. He's a lightning-quick playmaker with great instincts and a big arm. Another human highlight reel covering the vastest expanse of the baseball field.
As Nash Walker pointed out, Taylor leads all MLB outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved since the 2020 season. Buxton ranks third on that list. Sandwiched between them? Gallo, whom the Twins also insist they're factoring in as CF depth even though he's played just one game there since 2019.
Between those three, the Twins can be fairly confident they're fielding a great glove in center almost every night, setting the tone for what could be the best defensive outfield in the majors.
This experienced and proven depth will hopefully prevent the Twins from needing to press players like Gordon and Celestino, who combined to make 98 starts in center field last year, beyond their means. Those two are now padding a robust depth chart, further bolstered by prospects like Lewis and Austin Martin who might eventually profile best in center.
The looming downside in center field, as it ever was: Byron Buxton's likelihood of missing significant time. Last year seemed to hammer home the inevitability of attrition for Buxton, who managed to make his first All-Star team while leading the team to a strong start before, once again, succumbing to multiple injuries that kept him off the field in September.
Is the knee issue that plagued his 2022 season behind him? For that matter, can we count on his right hip to hold up after sustaining serious strains in back-to-back years?
Outside of those carryover concerns ... Is there any feasible preventative measure that can stymy the crimson tide of injuries relentlessly keeping Buxton off the field?
These are the questions no one likes to ask, and Byron certainly doesn't like to answer. Unfortunately, they overwhelmingly control the team's fate. That's always going to be true. No one else can replicate or replace what a semi-healthy Buxton brings to the table.
What the Twins did do this offseason is work to ensure the table won't be bare without him present.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Last year, when analyzing the center field position for the Twins ahead of the season, I concluded: "Their immediate depth behind Buxton is questionable, which is quite troubling all things considered."
Questionable was being kind. Buxton ended up missing a ton of time – unfortunate but not unexpected – and the ill-prepared Twins were forced to give more than two-thirds of their center field starts to: Celestino, Gordon, Mark Contreras, Jake Cave, and one sadly unforgettable appearance from Lewis.
This has been a continuing trend for the Twins over the years, and a costly one. All the way back in spring training of 2017, while covering camp in Fort Myers, I wrote an article underlining the urgency of strong contingency plans for Buxton. Even then, when he was 23 and less than two years into his career, the writing was on the wall. He was never going to dial back the aggressive style that helps make him special.
"I can’t really be worrying about getting hurt out here," Buxton told me. "I'm focused on being myself between those lines instead of trying to be somebody I'm not."
His top backup that season was Zack Granite. In many years since, we've seen plenty of other flawed stopgaps in center, but never a player truly capable of substantially lessening Buxton's void.
At long last, the front office seems to have learned its lesson. Buxton's top backup is now a defensive whiz who's started 262 MLB games in center field over the past two seasons, and won a Gold Glove there in 2021. (That's in addition to Gallo, Gordon, Celestino, and the multitude of CF-capable prospects at all levels of the system.)
Michael A. Taylor is a joy to behold in center. Here's hoping we see very little of him there in 2023.
Catch Up On Our Position Preview Series:
Position Analysis: Catcher Position Analysis: First Base Position Analysis: Second Base Position Analysis: Third Base Position Analysis: Shortstop Position Analysis: Left Field
Dman reacted to Theo Tollefson for an article, How Will the Twins Get to their Opening Day Roster?
Seven players on the 40-man roster have been either optioned (Jordan Balazovic, Matt Canterino, Brent Headrick, Edouard Julien, and Simeon Woods Richardson) or placed on the 60-day Injured List (Chris Paddack and Royce Lewis). That leaves decisions to be made on seven players, whether it’s an IL move or an option, before Opening Day.
Alex Kirilloff remains the biggest question mark for the Twins. Will he be ready for Opening Day? The 2016 top pick took live batting practice on Monday against teammate Kenta Maeda. No further news of injury or discomfort in Kirilloff’s wrist from the live BP was reported by Twins beat reporters. The possibility of Kirilloff landing on the IL and staying in Ft. Myers for Extended Spring Training remains a possibility.
At least one player will move to the Injured List before Opening Day. Gilberto Celestino's thumb injury will keep him out for six to eight weeks with a rehab assignment to follow. At that point, he will likely be optioned and play daily in St. Paul.
The status of Ronny Henriquez and his sore posterior elbow has not been updated over the last week. While his health status has yet to be confirmed for Opening Day, it’s unlikely he’ll start the season on the Twins' 26-man roster as he has not thrown in a spring training game.
Henriquez had a strong cup of coffee with the Twins bullpen last season posting a 2.31 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 11 2/3 innings pitched across three games. It’s likely that healthy or not, the Twins' front office will want Henriquez to develop at Triple-A before getting back into the team’s bullpen.
Minor League Options
Matt Wallner’s has had a decent spring hitting .250/.358/.450 (.798 OPS) in 20 at-bats across eight games. Since he is an offense-first player in a Twins outfield group filled with great defenders, it is likely he will start the season in St. Paul to have more guaranteed plate appearances and continue his development.
Wallner’s opportunity to crack the 26-man roster and expect everyday playing time is in the designated hitter role or if there is another injury.
Trevor Megill is second to only Jhoan Duran having the fastest pitch out of the entire Twins bullpen, but his lack of command from 2022 is still showing in spring training. Megill had a 2.88 K/BB ratio last year with the Twins. He has walked six batters and struck out 11 (K/BB ratio of 1.83) in 5 1/3 innings this spring.
The blazing fastballs will not be enough for Megill to crack the Opening Day roster if he cannot get his command of the strike zone under wrap before then.
Cole Sands has no bigger fan than the Twins Geek himself. However, with so many reliever options to choose from and Sands' bad streaks in the majors last year, the Twins front office may see more benefit for him to start the season in St. Paul getting innings as a starter and reliever. Sands can stay ready to be called up and sent back down based on injury moves.
Louie Varland and his abilities certainly are exciting. However, while Bailey Ober is forcing the hands of the Twins' front office to consider starting 2023 with a six-man rotation, Varland is Starter #7 on the depth chart. To open the season in the Twins rotation would mean that two of the top six starters would start on the Injured List.
Varland could theoretically make the Twins' Opening Day roster as a long reliever. However, the Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2021 and 2022 will go to St. Paul and continue to develop as a starter.
Who do you think will be among the Twins' last seven roster cuts to trim the Opening Day roster down to 26? Leave your predictions and thoughts below.
Dman reacted to Cody Pirkl for an article, Could Bailey Ober Still Win A Rotation Spot?
Bailey Ober has found himself on the outside looking in regarding the Opening Day rotation. With the additions the Twins have made the last few seasons and the return of Kenta Maeda, the 6-foot-8-inch right-hander seemed to have lost his job. It’s certainly about health more than performance, but Ober’s spring thus far may push the Twins into making a difficult decision.
Bailey Ober is the one homegrown starting pitcher the Falvey regime has produced that can be considered anything near “established”. That definition has to be used loosely, as his health has been a significant question mark. Ober’s size and frame have cost him significant time in his six professional seasons, topping out at 108 innings in 2021. It’s those health issues that have factored into the Twins trading for five starting pitchers during the last two seasons. The team’s inability to count on any significant amount of innings is a concern. He’s showing this spring that he’s at 100%, and that could and probably should force the Twins to bring him north with the big league club for Opening Day.
His velocity is up, and his offspeed pitches look dominant thus far this spring. With a track record of such a limited workload in his career, it can be argued that healthy innings shouldn’t be burned in St. Paul. So how could Ober find his way onto the Opening Day roster?
Injury Opens A Spot
It’s worth noting that finding space for Ober isn’t an issue as of now with plenty of spring training time remaining. We can’t forget the injury-riddled 2022 season in regard to the possibility that a starting pitcher could still find their way to the Opening Day IL, including Ober. Many times when we ask where someone fits in, the problem solves itself. Hopefully, it doesn’t, but Ober is insurance for the possibility that it does.
He Outright Wins The Job
The Twins haven’t alluded to any kind of formal rotation battle going on, but if there was, it would likely be between Ober and Kenta Maeda. We’re talking about a ridiculously small sample of spring training stats, but it would be hard to argue that Ober hasn't looked much sharper this spring. Having only thrown six innings in three outings, Ober has struck out six and only allowed two baserunners with his velocity up across the board.
Maeda on the other hand has looked rusty as should be expected following his Tommy John recovery. In his 5 2/3 innings. He’s struck out four and walked five. His velocity continues to sit in the danger zone of around 90 mph.
Could the Twins be swayed into going with Ober and pushing Maeda out of the rotation? It’s worth noting that he showed signs of falling off in 2021 before injuring his elbow. Maeda has also pitched effectively out of the bullpen before where his offspeed pitches could be used more effectively. It may be a long shot, but it may be a possibility worth keeping in mind during the last few weeks of spring training. Six-Man Rotation
The Twins are considering a six-man rotation more seriously than ever. While it would cost them an arm in the bullpen, the concept makes a lot of sense in order to give an extra recovery day to a rotation full of health-related landmines. The question in this scenario becomes “How long do they stick with it?”. This could also answer itself very quickly due to either health or performance.
In this situation the Twins keep all six of their possible Opening Day starters stretched out to ensure they still have five viable arms should one go down with an injury. While it’s a bit unorthodox, a six-man rotation would give an opportunity to start to all six pitchers who at this point are deserving. While Maeda’s spring has been questionable thus far, it’s hard to put much stock in the numbers he’s putting up, and this would give him an opportunity to show what he has left in the tank. It seems to be the best option for all parties involved if the Twins are willing to sacrifice a relief pitcher.
How it all will play out remains unclear, but the Twins had a very simple solution to their unusual stash of depth in the rotation, and Bailey Ober has shown up to camp and made it complicated. Should Ober go to Triple-A and wait for an opening in the big leagues? Should he earn an Opening Day spot should his good performance continue? Let us know below
Dman reacted to Ted Schwerzler for an article, The Twins Have an Overlooked Lefty
Rocco Baldelli will have a much better bullpen entering this season than last year. That much is already a given. Jhoan Duran is established as an elite arm, Jorge Lopez was an All-Star closer in 2022, and Griffin Jax has emerged as a high-leverage arm. The Twins are in a much better position.
There are a few candidates when trying to figure out the final pieces. From the left-handed side, Caleb Thielbar and Jovani Moran have been considered the top two candidates. That is still true, and while he’s not on the 40-man roster, Danny Coulombe continues to make noise for Minnesota.
This is the fourth straight season that Coulombe has agreed to a minor league deal with Minnesota. He has made it into major league action each year and clearly feels a level of comfort with the organization. Coulombe established himself as a big league reliever with Oakland spending the 2016-2018 seasons there, but has truly taken off with the Twins. For a team that has built more depth this season across the roster, Coulombe is another example of that.
A season ago, the veteran reliever pitched just 12 1/3 innings before dealing with an injury. Calling his season a wash is a pretty accurate description. In 2021, Coulombe threw 34 1/3 innings for Minnesota, and his 3.67 ERA was plenty usable. He recorded roughly a strikeout per inning and limited walks to less than two per nine innings.
Now healthy and back to work for the Twins, Coulombe has looked the part of a quality left-handed arm this spring. He has pitched in four games and has not given up a run across six innings. He has eight strikeouts and four walks. The sample size is admittedly small, but it’s not as though he hasn’t shown this type of production previously.
It would stand to reason that Minnesota currently has two spots open for southpaws in their bullpen. There is almost no way that Thielbar misses out on the 26-man roster, and even if Moran is optioned, there would still need to be room made on the 40-man roster. The more likely outcome is that Coulombe starts his season with Triple-A St. Paul, but he could be relied upon when first needed.
A year ago, Minnesota saw a substantial amount of injury and had to constantly shuttle pitchers from different levels of the farm system. Rather than immediately relying upon an unproven resource, Coulombe could provide a level of veteran depth that the starting rotation now seems to be afforded.
We won’t know how this story plays out until later during spring training. The expectation should be that Coulombe is among the Twins final cuts, and that will give him plenty of opportunities. He has seen a good amount of work through the first two weeks of spring, and that should only increase as additional bodies are sent out of camp.
Combining ZiPS and Steamer projections show Coulombe throwing something just north of 30 innings at the big-league level this year. Both systems see him posting an ERA similar to 2021 and a modest strikeout rate. While there is no such thing as a lefty specialist anymore, given the three-batter minimum, the Twins have helped the 33-year-old develop a few new tricks to keep him relevant.
Don’t be surprised if we see Coulombe throw some serious innings for the Twins this year, and that really shouldn’t be a bad thing.
Dman reacted to Nick Nelson for an article, Twins 2023 Position Analysis: Left Field
Projected Starter: Joey Gallo
Likely Backup: Nick Gordon
Depth: Michael A. Taylor, Trevor Larnach, Gilberto Celestino
Prospects: Emmanuel Rodriguez, Yasser Mercedes, Misael Urbina
In many ways, Gallo presents the ideal corner outfield specimen. He's surprisingly fast for his build, bringing the range of a low-end center fielder to left or right (not unlike Max Kepler). He's got an absolute cannon arm, the mere threat of which helps to limit the opposing run game.
Most years, he also brings all the slugging prowess you could ask for in a corner bat. In 2021, Gallo launched 38 homers and led the league in walks on the way to an OPS that was 21% above average – despite batting just .199 and also leading the league in strikeouts.
That's always been Gallo's game: boom or bust, personified. His ability to bring plenty of boom made him a fairly consistent asset over a five-year span from 2017 through 2021, notching two All-Star appearances and averaging more than 3 fWAR per season. Gallo is a big, strong dude with a ferocious swing. His exit velocities and hard-hit rates consistently rank near the highest percentiles.
With this signing, the Twins are clearly hoping to add a game-breaking factor to their offense that was amiss last year when Byron Buxton wasn't on the field.
Even if he's the primary starter in left field, as planned in a best-case scenario, Gallo still figures to spend time at other outfield positions and at first base. This will open up LF at-bats against right-handers for Gordon and Larnach, who both probably profile best at this position. Against left-handers, Taylor brings an elite glove and capable bat.
Kyle Garlick is also around, and he's a nice depth piece to have on hand for platooning purposes. Don't sleep on Austin Martin to emerge as an option here at some point if he can get healthy.
Minnesota's depth at the outfield corners is tough to knock. The front office added Gallo on top of what was already a strength. He brings real upside to the lineup if he's consistently playing in left alongside the likes of Buxton, Alex Kirilloff, and others.
A more likely scenario has the defensively flexible Gallo frequently backfilling at other positions, which would allow the Twins to showcase their multitude of quality options in left field. Gordon, Larnach, and Taylor would be clear starters on a lot of teams.
So, what's not to like? The concern here, I suppose, is the specter of Minnesota sticking with Gallo too long in the event he simply doesn't have it anymore. His 2022 season points toward such a probability; he batted .160 with a 79 OPS+ and 40% K-rate.
The slugger struggled both before and after a midseason trade from Yankees to Dodgers. He was barely a replacement-level player.
Gallo and the Twins are both banking on a rebound, which is why the two sides agreed to a one-year, $11 million contract. His contract and MLB track record will rightfully earn him some length of leash, and it can be difficult to gauge how much slumping is TOO much for a guy who batted .199 during an All-Star season two years ago.
He's still under 30, entering a refreshing change of scenery in Minnesota, and good players have bounced back from worse. At the same time, for boom-or-bust types like Gallo, starting to fall behind major-league pitchers – even a little bit – is anathema. The appeal of waiting out those extended "bust" periods starts to fade quickly when the "booms" are too far and few between. (Just ask Miguel Sanó, still looking for a job at the same age as Gallo.)
There's hope that cutting down his K's slightly and benefiting from the shift could get Gallo's batting average back up into an acceptable range (by his standard). But without an obvious injury to blame for last year's drop-off, and with teams already exploring ways to try and stifle him under the new rules, it's not the most favorable of bets.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Gordon can play several defensive positions. Left field might be the only one where he's truly an asset. It's also where Larnach's glove profiles best. So long as Kepler remains entrenched in right field, these two – along with Matt Wallner, and a handful of defensively ambiguous prospects nearing readiness – must look to left field as one of their best paths to MLB playing time. (Sans DH, which we'll break down soon.)
The Gallo acquisition throws another barrier in the way for this group. But given the uncertainties surrounding most of these players and prospects, it's not a bad gamble. "Too much depth" is a problem the Twins, and any team, would love to have.
Should Gallo rebound in left field while guys like Buxton, Kirilloff, and Kepler stay healthy and productive enough to keep him from being needed frequently elsewhere, they may find themselves with that happy problem. What a thought.
Nothing wrong with dreaming big, so long as you're responsibly planning real-world contingencies. The Twins have plenty in left field. And as we'll see in then coming days, they have them across the outfield.
Catch Up On Our Position Preview Series:
Position Analysis: Catcher Position Analysis: First Base Position Analysis: Second Base Position Analysis: Third Base Position Analysis: Shortstop
Dman reacted to Seth Stohs for an article, Twins in the WBC: De Leon Dazzles in Historic WBC Start
The Twins finally got their guy! In January, the Twins quietly signed right-handed pitcher Jose De Leon to a minor-league contract and invited him to big-league spring training.
Yes, this is the same Jose De Leon that the Twins (and Twins fans) coveted back in 2016 when there were Brian Dozier-to-the-Dodgers rumors. The Twins were said to be very interested in the Puerto Rican right-hander, although they were also interested in the likes of Cody Bellinger and another player on a minor league deal with the Twins, RHP Brock Stewart (reportedly).
On Tuesday night, De Leon made the start for Team Puerto Rico in their matchup against Team Israel. The right-hander started the very first Perfect Game in WBC history as Puerto Rico topped Israel 10-0 in eight innings. De Leon was dazzling. The 30-year-old tossed the first 5 2/3 innings. Obviously, he gave up no hits, walked none, had no errors behind him, and was completely in control. He had a WBC-record 10 strikeouts.
De Leon showed a very good curveball, a very good slider, and effectively got swings and missed up in and above the zone.
Team Israel has been sneakily good in recent international competitions. Their lineup in this game included former Twins infielder Danny Valencia, outfielders Joc Peterson and Alex Dickerson, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, and Cubs power prospect Matt Mervis.
Yacksel Rios replaced De Leon with two outs in the sixth inning. De Leon was at 64 pitches, so he could have pitched to one more batter. Instead, manager Yadier Molina came out and took the ball. De Leon was able to walk off the field in Miami to a huge ovation.
Edwin Diaz came on and pitched a perfect seventh inning. Duane Underwood pitched the eighth frame. The game ended in the bottom of the eighth inning when Enrique Hernandez singled to score Martin Maldonado to give Puerto Rico a 10-0 lead. With the Mercy Rules of the WBC, the Perfect Game was complete.
So, where would Jose De Leon fit into the Twins starting pitcher depth chart?
Julien Leads Canada to Win
Team USA and Team Canada are about to start their WBC matchup. Canada's first WBC game came against Great Britain on Sunday afternoon. Twins infielder prospect Edouard Julien, a native of Quebec, was the leadoff hitter and second baseman.
Great Britain had scored three runs in the top of the first and chased Guardians starter Cal Quantrill after just two outs.
Julien stepped to the plate for the bottom of the first inning. He got a first-pitch fastball and launched it (110 mph) into the right field seats. While there have been 12 leadoff homers in WBC history, Julien's was the first to come on the first pitch.
Maybe the British team heard scouting reports on Julien and didn't want to pitch to him after that. He walked the next four times he came to bat to get to Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman and Cardinals outfielder Tyler O'Neill. Canada won that game 18-8.
(Monday Night Update - Former Twins starter Lance Lynn has struck out Julien in his first two at-bats tonight. In his third at-bat of the night, Julien was facing Cardinals two-time All-Star pitcher Miles Mikolas. He beat the shift with a single to left field.)
Pablo Shuts Down Puerto Rico
On Sunday afternoon in Miami, new Twins starting pitcher Pablo Lopez made the start for Team Venezuela against Puerto Rico in a game filled with current and former Twins players.
Lopez was incredibly impressive, keeping the Puerto Rico batters completely off balance. He went 4 2/3 innings and gave up just one run on two hits. He added six strikeouts. He could have finished the fifth inning. He was at just 58 pitches (65 is the limit in Round 1). However, he was taken out to a standing ovation by many of the fans that watched him as a Marlin for the past four years.
It may not surprise you that the one run that Lopez gave up came on a solo home run by former Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario. Jose Berrios started for Puerto Rico and was charged with six runs (5 earned) on five hits and two walks in one inning. Jovani Moran got three outs, two on strikeouts, though he also walked two batters. Jorge Lopez pitched a scoreless inning as well.
TVS Tops Ohtani
Finally, former Twins prospect Todd Van Steensel has had a very interesting baseball career. He's been playing professional baseball for about 15 years. He reached Double-A with the Twins, and actually won a championship with the St. Paul Saints in one of their final seasons as an independent team. Van Steensel has been representing Team Australia for a long time too including previous WBCs.
For the first time, Australia is advancing to the second round of the WBC. They are the second seed, behind Japan, in their pool, and will head to Taiwan for Round 2.
Australia lost to Japan 7-1 over the weekend, but Van Steensel had a highlight. He faced, and struck out, Shohei Ohtani. To no one's surprise, he had a comical response to it.
What have been your highlights from watching the WBC so far? Discuss in the COMMENTS below.
Dman reacted to Nick Nelson for an article, Twins 2023 Position Analysis: Shortstop
Projected Starter: Carlos Correa
Likely Backup: Kyle Farmer
Depth: Nick Gordon, Willi Castro
Prospects: Brooks Lee, Royce Lewis, Noah Miller
Every projected starter in the Twins infield has been saddled with limitations this spring. All of them, that is, except for the guy whose injury concerns cost him $150 million during the offseason.
Correa, currently away from the team for the birth of his new baby boy Kenzo, has looked healthy and unhindered in Twins camp. The ankle issue that cratered contract agreements with the Giants and Mets was always considered more of a long-term concern, but nonetheless it's good to see Correa out running around in games after all the hoopla.
Even aside from the health thing, whatever weight you want to assign it, we should objectively expect the 2023 season to be the best of any in Correa's new long-term contract – merely because he's as young as he'll ever be. At 28, the shortstop is still in his physical prime, and hasn't shown many signs of slowing down on the field.
The Twins would be perfectly content with a repeat of his '22 campaign, in which Correa slashed .291/.366/.467 with 22 homers and was worth 4.4 fWAR. But we know he's got another gear, and saw it truly emerge in the second half, when Correa found his groove and posted an .866 OPS, mixing in many clutch moments that were amiss in the early months.
Fast forward to this year: Correa is familiar and comfortable with his new surroundings, settled in for the long haul. If we see the late-season version of C4 from Day 1, he'll be an MVP contender, as he was in 2021.
The organizational depth chart behind Correa is quite loaded. I hesitate to call it an embarrassment of riches, but the Twins boast a lot of shortstop talent, and that's a very good place to be. Correa's backup, Farmer, has started more than 200 MLB games at short over the past two seasons. The utilityman Gordon came up as a shortstop, and has played 31 games there for the Twins.
Beyond those two, four of the system's top 20 prospects – Lee, Lewis, Austin Martin, Miller – have played shortstop exclusively in the minors. The Twins are obviously hoping Correa sticks at the six-spot for quite a while, but there's no shortage of current or future replacements in the wings.
There are a few things to note regarding Correa and his future at shortstop. The first is that his defensive metrics dropped off a cliff last year, following a long and very stable run of excellence. It's difficult to know what to make of this, but the stark contrast against all previous seasons is too much to ignore.
Even if you think his nosedive in Outs Above Average, Defensive Runs Saved, and other fielding stats last year was noise, there's reason to believe Correa's biggest strength (his arm) could be neutralized by rule changes that prevent infielders from touching the outfield grass. Playing deep was a big part of the cannon-armed shortstop's edge.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the Mets were ready to sign Correa as a third baseman and he was ready to accept the assignment. The idea of life at a new position has already been implanted.
He's staying at shortstop with the Twins, but it now feels like an ephemeral arrangement. If the ankle starts barking at some point, or last year's defensive stat trend presages things to come, Correa will likely move off short. That eventuality seems implied in the structure of a contract with steeply declining salaries in the latter years.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Twins have one of the premier shortstops in the game, and he's locked in for the long haul. There are a few different factors that make it reasonable to wonder just how long Correa will stick at short, despite his being only 28 years old and one season removed from a Platinum Glove, but that eventual scenario doesn't instill much dread at the moment.
This is the strongest position in the Twins organization, featuring arguably their best player and inarguably their biggest concentration of top prospects. Not all of those young talents will stick, of course, but several have a real chance.
If Correa puts together a season that convinces the Minnesota brass his tenure at shortstop is nowhere near done, those prospects could easily become the club's most valuable trading collateral for buy moves at the deadline.
Catch Up On Our Position Preview Series:
Position Analysis: Catcher Position Analysis: First Base Position Analysis: Second Base Position Analysis: Third Base
Dman reacted to Cody Pirkl for an article, Another Setback for Austin Martin
Austin Martin mysteriously disappeared from spring lineups for about a week before the Twins announced that he was shut down with the dreaded UCL sprain, an injury that often leads to Tommy John surgery in pitchers. The Twins have their own history of position players undergoing the surgery as well such as Miguel Sano and Alex Kirilloff. The severity is unknown at this time, but Martin will not return to action any time soon. How could this potentially devastating injury affect all parties involved?
Martin is attempting to bounce back from his worst season as a professional, although his time in last year’s Arizona Fall League brought some hope. Any time missed would be difficult, as he still has to prove he can perform against Double-A pitching in order to be considered as an MLB option in 2023. If he were to miss an entire season, it would likely drop him significantly in the organizational depth chart.
Martin dealt with injuries in 2022 as well which may have contributed to his below-league-average slash line in Double-A. Some call 2022 a “lost season” for Martin. If he were to have another in 2023, it may become difficult for the Twins to count on him being a legitimate future asset given his struggles to perform as well as his difficulties staying on the field. Other players who perform well will certainly pass him by, and it could create an uphill battle for him to establish himself on the Twins MLB roster.
Martin missing significant time opens the door for other prospects. He had a legitimate shot to play himself onto the Twins this year with a bounce-back season. The Twins have enough players that could be expendable if a top prospect forces the issue. He had already been surpassed by Edouard Julien, and now many other young players will get an opportunity to capitalize.
All eyes likely fall on Brooks Lee who, like Martin, was drafted as a shortstop but may settle in at second or third base down the line. Lee had already made it to Double-A just three months after being drafted by the Twins, and he’s likely to soak up Martin’s playing time in Wichita to begin 2023. Thus far, Lee has shown the skills to take hold of whatever position the Twins settle on, and Martin will have no ability to stave him off if he’s sidelined.
If Martin’s injury turns out to be long-term, Royce Lewis could also beat him back to action. Lewis finds himself in the same boat as Lee and Martin. They may be looking for another position after the Twins gave Carlos Correa a six-year deal. If Martin were to play his way onto the big-league roster and establish himself at a position before Lewis returned this summer, it would’ve been hard to make a change. Instead, a long-term injury could lead to Lewis having a chance to establish himself first.
There’s also the possibility of other infield prospects playing their way to Double-A in 2023 such as Jose Salas, Ben Ross, and Tanner Schobel. They would get every opportunity to cement themselves into whatever position they could, and if that position happened to be second or third base if Martin is still recovering, it would be their spot to lose.
It would have been difficult to plan on Austin Martin making a significant impact on the 2023 Twins roster, but he was a part of their depth chart. With Jose Miranda having yet to prove himself as a passable defensive third baseman and Jorge Polanco’s injuries at second base, it’s likely the Twins utilize their minor-league infield depth at some point this season. While Julien is technically a second baseman, he has question marks defensively, and the Twins undoubtedly value a player’s glove work highly. Martin had flashed an ability to be a plus defender away from shortstop.
With a good spring, the Twins could have seen added depth from Austin Martin, and if he performed well to start the season, they would have loved to bring him up with the right opportunity. Instead this likely leaves the recently-drafted Brooks Lee as the closest legitimate middle infield prospect to MLB action, and they’re still likely to be careful with him. As a result, it means players such as Kyle Farmer and Donovan Solano will likely hang around for a good while regardless of their performance.
Little is known of the extent of Martin’s UCL injury while he’s currently shut down. Some such injuries don’t require surgical intervention and it’s possible Martin is back on the field in a few weeks. Regardless, the best-case scenario is that an unfortunate injury will delay a very important season in the 2020 #5 overall pick’s career. The worst-case scenario is that Martin could endure his second consecutive lost season having never surpassed Double-A.
In addition to his skillset raising significant red flags in 2022, injury has now become a legitimate concern as well. All the Twins and fans can do is wait to see how Martin’s elbow recovers with time off for now. The severity of his injury and the amount of time lost could have consequences across the organization.
Dman reacted to Ted Wiedmann for an article, Ryan Jeffers is Facing an Uphill Battle
There's been plenty of speculation about how MLB's new rule changes will affect hitters and pitchers. It makes sense, given the current roster the Twins have that contains Joey Gallo, Max Kepler, and a plethora of fly-ball pitchers. But, one other Twins player may be significantly affected by these rule changes, catcher Ryan Jeffers.
Jeffers has a classic backup catcher prototype, lots of power with little contact, and a good defensive reputation. However, the current and some inevitable rule changes could hinder Jeffers' value this year and moving forward.
First off, we need to understand where Jeffers provides value. This piece will focus purely on his defensive strengths and weaknesses, so offense aside for now. We have comparable quantitative data for three defensive categories: pitch framing, blocking, and throwing out runners. Other aspects of catcher defense, like understanding the pitching staff, calling pitches, leadership, and other intangibles, play a significant part in catching too. Still, from the outside, it's difficult to see who excels in those areas outside of player and staff quotes.
Let's start with the good for Jeffers, his pitch framing. It's a big reason the Twins have been high on Jeffers coming into the season the last two years. From 2021 to 2022, Jeffers established himself as one of the better pitch framers in baseball. According to Fangprahs, Jeffers' 3.3 framing runs above average (FRM) placed him 22nd among 51 catchers that caught at least 400 innings. However, limiting the pool to catchers that have caught at least 1000 innings over those two years makes him look much more impressive. Jeffers' 6.8 FRM ranks 14th out of 36, notably ahead of the presumed starter, Christian Vazquez, who was 18th at 3.7 FRM.
This data is supported by Statcast as well. In 2022 Jeffers was 18th out of 60 qualified catchers in catcher framing runs, which was good for the 64th percentile. He also finished 21st out of 60 in strike rate. Jeffers performed similarly in 2021, finishing 21st out of 59 qualified catchers in catcher framing runs and 15th in strike rate. While not among the elite in strike zone manipulation, Jeffers certainly provides value in stealing strikes behind the plate. Unfortunately for Jeffers, with the automated strike zone being tested in the Minor Leagues, this could potentially neutralize his best skillset as a catcher.
Let's move on to areas Jeffers could improve. The first area is his ability to control the running game. Jeffers had a poor caught-stealing rate in 2022, only throwing out 7 of 38 runners in motion. That is a stolen base success rate of over 81%. This has been a problem for Jeffers throughout his career, as in his three years behind the plate, he has allowed more than 80% (91/113) of stolen base attempts to be successful.
We can also look to another stat to show Jeffers' struggles in this area. Fangraphs as a stat called stolen base runs saved (rSB). This statistic credits the catchers with their caught stealing rate and the rate at which runners try to steal. In 2022 Jeffers finished with -1 rSB, placing him 35th among 51 catchers that caught at least 400 innings. While -1 might not seem like a huge issue, if we expand the sample, we get a better picture. If we look at catchers that have caught at least 1,000 innings between 2021 and 2022, Jeffers ranks 35th out of 36 in rSB at -5. Only Austin Nola finished below him.
The third defensive area to focus on is pitch blocking, the first thing youth catchers learn to do. Statcast recently released a new stat called blocks above average, which measures "the number of passed balls and wild pitches compared to the expectation of an average catcher." Jeffers ranks 53rd out of 66 qualified Statcast catchers in this metric with -3. There is a pretty sizable runs gap between the bottom ten players and where Jeffers ranks, as the bottom couple of catchers are -11 and lower, so that 53rd ranking may be a bit misleading. Nonetheless, Jeffers still finished below Gary Sanchez, who was made notorious (probably too much so) for having passed balls and wild pitches issues.
While it is unclear how the pitch clock, the pickoff limit, and the bigger bases will affect baserunning, they were undoubtedly created to incentivize aggressive baserunning. This likely means more stolen base attempts, bigger leads, and better jumps on balls in the dirt. Because Jeffers already struggles to control the running game as is, these new rules can potentially severely hurt Jeffers' value as a defensive catcher. In addition to his struggles at the plate, if Jeffers' most valuable asset on defense also becomes neutralized, Jeffers’ ceiling as a starting catcher could be in question.
Dman reacted to John Bonnes for an article, Report from The Fort: Injury Updates
An Unusual In-Game Return
The Minnesota Twins beat the Red Sox 4-3 in a sold-out Hammond Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The return of Boston left-hander Chris Sale from a wrist injury partially explains the attendance. He looked solid versus a predominantly right-handed Twins' lineup, striking out five in three innings.
The Twins countered with Tyler Mahle on the hill, and his start didn't go as well, though defensive miscues and infield hits also hurt him. He was replaced on the mound in the second inning after only recording one out but returned in the top of the third inning to pitch a scoreless frame.
That is something we are seeing almost regularly in spring training this year: pitchers being pulled in the middle of an outing only to return the next inning. The thought process is that the team doesn't want to endanger the pitcher by overextending how many pitches he throws in one inning, but they want him to return to reach his pitch count and stay on track for his Opening Day workload.
Roster Moves Made, but More on the Horizon?
The Twins made two roster moves on Saturday. First, they optioned pitcher Matt Canterino to AA-Wichita. Canterino is recovering from Tommy John surgery and likely won't be activated until mid-August, so it was just a paper move. Canterino is Twins Daily's #15 prospect.
They also optioned Twins Daily's #6 prospect, pitcher Simeon Woods Richardson, to Triple-A St. Paul. Woods Richardson is one of the earliest healthy players to be optioned, but the move is likely not based on his performance.
We're at the point of spring training where starting pitchers' pitch counts make it difficult for two starting pitchers to get enough work in the same game. Woods Richardson has been piggy-backing - pitching a couple of innings after the starter - with veterans likely to be in the Twins' starting rotation. As starters work on going four or more innings, it's difficult for Woods Richardson to get his work in. After all, he must also be ready for a starter's workload for the St. Paul Saints.
You're right if you think there are usually more roster moves before this point in spring training camp. Derek Falvey talked before the game about how they're keeping guys in major-league camp as they monitor some returns from injury and deal with so many players playing in the WBC games. The Twins also have split-squad games scheduled for Tuesday. I expect we'll see some roster moves shortly after that.
Mostly Good News on Injuries
We received some updates on players returning from injuries, most of it good.
We haven't seen Jorge Polanco or Byron Buxton in a game yet, and no return date has yet been revealed. But per Derek Falvey, both are on schedule to return, and the target return date is before Opening Day.
Also, two players who developed issues during camp are making progress. Nick Gordon, who suffered a high ankle sprain last week, has been cleared for betting and fielding without limitations. Jose Miranda, who had a sore shoulder, has resumed throwing. He also has no hitting or fielding limitations, but does with throwing until his shoulder gets stronger.
The news is not as good on Alex Kirilloff, though it's also not clear if it's very bad. He is "a little behind our schedule" in part because he has held back from some live batting practice sessions. It is not clear if he is still on track to be recovered by Opening Day.
Presumably, the leading candidates to replace Kirilloff on the roster would be Trevor Larnach or Matt Wallner. Both have been starting regularly in road games over the last week.
Dman reacted to Lou Hennessy for an article, Can Jorge López Rediscover His First-Half Success?
In late-July of last year, the Twins were still grasping to a small division lead, with more holes seemingly appearing by the day. One of the biggest gaps in their roster at the time fell between superstar relief ace Jhoan Duran – and pretty much anyone else in their relief corps. Sure, Griffin Jax had built some trust equity from the skipper, as did Caleb Thielbar. They weren’t all-star caliber players, but they could be trusted to pass the baton in a relay that led to Duran.
The team then went out and made a trade for the star-level arm that was desperately needed to help bridge the gap.
Enter Jorge López.
The former Baltimore Oriole was having a career-year when the Twins acquired him in exchange for pitching prospects Cade Povich and Yennier Cano. He had a fantastic 1.68 ERA with a 27.6% strikeout rate and a 60% ground ball rate, leading to his first all star nod. His fastballs ran hot, with an average of 97.4 MPH for his four-seamer and 98 MPH on his preferred sinker, and he paired them with a slew of secondary offerings that have carried over from his time as a starting pitcher. His curveball, in particular, was a real weapon, with his slider and changeup serving as additional tricks up his sleeve.
So Lopez had big strikeout numbers, got plenty of ground ball outs, and had two and a half years of club control at the time of the trade. What’s not to like?
While he wasn’t a train wreck with his new team, Lopez’s first two months as a Twin were disappointing based on the expectations that were set when the team acquired him. In that time, he had a 4.37 ERA across 23 innings pitched, due in large part to a walk rate (13.7%) that nearly eclipsed his strikeout percentage (17.6%).
Lopez’s sinker was his bread and butter in the first few months of the season, but its success trailed off considerably once the calendar flipped to July. In the first three months of the 2022 campaign, he allowed just 11 hits on that offering, but in the second half that figure nearly doubled to 20 (six of which went for extra bases). This pitch wasn’t just his most used offering, but it was a notable choice when deciding what to use as a “put away” pitch – or what he used in an effort to get a strikeout once he got to two strikes in the count. That rate for his sinker went from about 16.5% in April and May, all the way up to 29.6% in June and July, but then it plummeted to just 4.5% by the time September rolled around.
That’s a big kick to his confidence in his best pitch.
That "put away" pitch selection is vital to Lopez’s end results because he’s one of the best at getting to that point when facing opposing hitters, especially those that are right-handed. Last year, he was able to get at least two strikes in the first three pitches against 73% of the right-handed hitters that he faced, according to Inside Edge. Obviously that can be a huge advantage in the grand scheme of things, and indeed it was for the first half of last season when he had a 28.7% strikeout rate. But for whatever reason -- whether it was trying a different pitch mix, or his sinker lost some zip, or he wasn’t locating his pitches as well, or hitters were merely catching up to him -- he was unable to tap into that put away stuff in the second half.
That could come across as a grim outlook going forward. Baseball fans suffer from perpetual recency bias, and Lopez’s most recent month of work was uninspiring. However, the Twins don’t need him to be the monster that he was for Baltimore in the first few months of last season. They just need him to be in the same mix as Jax and Thielbar, which is probably somewhere between the two poles that Lopez set last season. The Twins need him to be in that group of guys that can be trusted in a relay that leads to Duran taking on the highest-leverage situations at or near the end of the game.
But what do you think? Can Jorge Lopez regain some of his value that the team had in mind when they traded for him? Or did the club get duped into buying-high on an inconsistent arm? Let us know your thoughts and expectations in the comments below.
Dman reacted to Greggory Masterson for an article, Can Edouard Julien Hit Enough to Stick at Second?
As we each race to be the first person to put the cart before the horse of 2023 Spring Training Flavor of the Week Edouard Julien, it’s worth taking a minute to consider where the lad will play. He’s not renowned for his defensive chops, but he may be able to hit well enough to stick at second base.
“Gregg, you lout!” you might be saying, “You messed up the phrase; it’s ‘defends well enough to stick at second base.’” Allow me to explain.
Many are familiar with the concept of the defensive spectrum. shortstop, catcher, and centerfield are the most demanding positions, whereas first base, left field, and designated hitter are the easiest. Most players are moved down the spectrum as they are proved incapable of being one of the best defenders in the world at each position. There’s no shame in it.
However, the further one moves down the spectrum, the more their value is derived from their ability to hit. Andrelton Simmons made an 11-year career out of a bat 13% below league average. He wouldn’t have even been drafted if all he could play was first base.
Teams will give players as many chances as possible before sliding them down the spectrum, so Julien played exclusively at second base in 2022 at AA Wichita. The Twins are in luck if his big bat can stick at second. Playing Julien at second (or third, for that matter) frees up playing time for even less gifted defenders who can only play first base or designated hitter.
You don’t have to believe in the value of WAR as a statistic to agree with a basic premise: a player should create more offensive runs than they give up defensively. If the bat is good enough, teams can deal with suboptimal defense.
Two prime examples of this working out are the cases of Gary Sheffield and Derek Jeter. Sheffield played shortstop, third base, left field, and right field during his career, and he was awful at each spot. Sheffield was an approximate 80 WAR hitter for his career but lost approximately 20 WAR because of his defense. Still, he hit well enough to have a strong Hall of Fame case.
Most people are also familiar with Derek Jeter’s defensive woes. The Captain—never moved off short—is regarded as a poor defender due to his lack of range, despite his Gold Gloves and propensity for highlight plays. It wasn’t the end of the world for either player because their bats more than made up for their defensive ineptitude.
Julien isn’t on a fast track to the Hall, but if he hits enough, he can make it work at second base despite his lack of range and arm. Scouting reports are not kind to the young Canadian, as FanGraphs and MLB rate his defense as a 30 and a 40 on the 20-80 rating scale, respectively.
The Twins themselves have dealt with bat-first infielders in recent years. Jorge Polanco certainly made it work. Despite his defensive struggles, he was named to the 2019 All-Star team as the starting shortstop.
He hit 20% higher than the league average that year, with a slash line of .295/.356/.485 and 22 home runs. Even after his move to second base, where he is still a slightly below-average fielder, he hits enough to be consistently rated in the top 10 second basemen in MLB.
Luis Arraez, often the first comparison drawn for Julien, given his positional “flexibility” and high on-base skills, was moved to first base out of necessity. Arraez has been an average-to-below-average second baseman, but he can be an option there because of his excellent on-base skills.
In 2022, he was named an All-Star with a .338 batting average at the break. Although he struggled down the stretch with nagging injuries, he still hit 30% above league average for 2022 and was an above-average big league regular throughout the year.
However, Julien’s defense appears worse than Polanco’s and Arraez’s. Although he shouldn’t at this time be expected to make an All-Star game in his career, he probably needs to hit somewhere in the same ballpark as Polanco and Arraez to overcome the additional runs he would give up as an everyday second baseman.
Two other fun examples are worth mentioning. Daniel Murphy could affectionately be called a first baseman playing second base. Through his first seven years in the league, he hit about 10% better than the league average, and although he gave up many runs with his poor defense, he was still a solid regular.
Then, in 2016, he hit a blistering .347/.390/.595 with 25 home runs and a league-leading 47 doubles. His defense was no longer a consideration. When you win the Silver Slugger, how you field doesn’t matter much. Eventually, he did move to first base, though Father Time was also catching up to him, and he couldn’t produce enough to be a Major League first baseman.
Alfonso Soriano, another slugging second baseman, won the Silver Slugger three times in his five years as an everyday second baseman. He also led the league in errors at second base all five years before being moved to left field.
All things considered, errors aren’t the most reliable statistic, but leading the league in them at your position is not a good thing. Still, Soriano was an All-Star four times during that stretch, hitting approximately 20% higher than the league average.
If Julien comes up and tears the cover off the ball as he has at every level of the Minor Leagues, playing poor defense might not be the end of the world. However, his defense probably can’t be horrible without him being a Silver Slugger candidate to justify sticking at second base.
If he can improve defensively to merely below average, a solid bat might be enough for him to play there. He could also hit enough to justify bouncing between second, third, left, and first based on need, similar to early-career Arraez.
Also, Chuck Knoblauch.
Dman reacted to Ted Schwerzler for an article, It’s Now or Never for Jordan Balazovic
Last season got off less than ideal for Jordan Balazovic. Due to the lockout, he couldn’t communicate with the organization and entered Spring Training with a knee issue. Despite suggesting he was healthy, he was slow out of the gate and battled ineffectiveness all season long. Even while he turned things around late with the St. Paul Saints, Balazovic finished with a gaudy ERA north of 7.00 across more than 70 innings of work.
Just a year removed from being a guy that put up a 3.62 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning at Double-A, Balazovic had turned into a complete pumpkin. The walks ballooned, and while the strikeouts held on, he inexplicably allowed more than two-and-a-half homers per nine innings. It was shocking for a guy who had always been stingy regarding the long ball.
Coming into this Spring Training, Balazovic needed to set a new tone. Instead of accomplishing that and impressing the big-league staff, Balazovic got punched square in the jaw. While he contends that it was a surprise and unprovoked attack, there is no denying it was a distraction and could have been avoided by choosing different whereabouts.
Instead of impressing the Major League staff, Rocco Baldelli and his coaches sent a message to Balazovic.
Sent out of camp as the first cut, all by himself, it is beyond clear where the Twins stand. It’s now or never. Balazovic is not an old prospect, as he will pitch all of this season at 24 years old, but he isn’t viewed the same as he was a year or two ago. After putting up lackluster results all season, Minnesota needs to see more. The starting pitching depth may be better than ever, and with the emergence of talents like Louie Varland and Simeon Woods Richardson, Balazovic has been knocked down in the pecking order.
For everyone involved, the hope would be that the message was received loud and clear. It stands to reason that Balazovic wouldn’t have been happy being jettisoned so quickly from big league camp, but there is no time for him to stew on it. As minor league action gets underway on the back fields, Balazovic will again be ticketed to Triple-A. He can start the turnaround by dominating hitters this spring, and we’ll need to take those same efforts with him up to St. Paul.
Last season Balazvoic didn’t make his debut until May. He’ll be months ahead this time, assuming the preparation is on track. He can go a long way toward making the impression he wanted to make in Florida by coming out strong. The talent that landed him on national prospect lists isn’t gone, and the knee issues that hampered him a year ago should be in the rearview mirror.
Maybe this spring wasn’t a reflection of maturity or anything but a culmination of some bad luck. The 70 innings last year reflect results that Balazovic can’t continue to be tied to, however, and putting up some sparkling numbers again is what he needs to get on track with. As the Twins continue to sort out their depth pitching plans, it would be good for the Canadian to force his way among them.
No matter how much depth the Twins have on the mound, more is always a good thing to find. Balazovic represents an opportunity for the organization to see a come up in a big way, and all parties involved would be thrilled to see that outcome. The physical altercation may have hurt more, but Minnesota hopes the mental message hits home harder.
Dman reacted to Nick Nelson for an article, Twins 2023 Position Analysis: Third Base
Projected Starter: José Miranda
Likely Backup: Kyle Farmer
Depth: Donovan Solano, Willi Castro, Elliot Soto
Prospects: Brooks Lee, Jose Salas, Austin Martin, Yunior Severino
It already seems safe to say Miranda is either going to be a good hitter or a great hitter. The type of hitting prowess we've seen on display over the past two years doesn't happen by accident. His ability to mix huge pull power with a penchant for going the other way give him a balanced offensive attack that yields consistent results.
It's yet to be seen if the run-producing monster we saw in Miranda's scorching June and July as a rookie (.329/.373/.557) was more emblematic of what to expect than his pedestrian August and September (.261/.332/.378) but there's little question the kid is going to carry weight offensively.
Defense is another question. Miranda lacks the quickness, agility, and arm strength to be anything resembling a lock to stick at third, as we'll discuss. But he's hardly a lost cause there. He's got a good build for the position and made several slick plays at the hot corner in 2022.
Even if he's not long for the position, Miranda provides crucial value to the Twins as long as he can hold his own at third, allowing the team to rotate additional quality bats through the first base and DH positions. This can provide a key competitive advantage that shows up in team results.
Do we think it's a coincidence that of the top 10 individual finishers in wOBA at third base last year, nine were in the playoffs?
As a rookie, Miranda made only 27 starts at third base, compared to 69 at first base and another 20 at DH. That seems telling. It's not like the Twins were abundant in great third base options, giving 131 starts there to Gio Urshela, whom they liked enough to trade for nothing at season's end.
When he played third last year, Miranda looked pretty rough, and he's been unable to shake away that memory this spring, with a shoulder injury preventing him from playing the field. That's not considered a long-term concern, but the Twins were already contemplating backup options at third even before this flare-up.
Though they let Urshela go, the Twins built out their depth at third considerably over the offseason, acquiring three infielders – Farmer, Solano, and Castro – with significant MLB experience. That said, any of those three would be an average-ish regular at best, so the Twins need to hope their gamble on Miranda pays off, at least for a while.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Down the line, it sure feels like this position is Lee's for the taking, which is why I have the Twins number one prospect listed in the pipeline picture here despite all of his pro reps thus far coming at shortstop. Martin or Royce Lewis could also be a factor here. Or maybe, eventually ... Carlos Correa?
The big question is how long Miranda will provide the luxury of waiting on those promising young infield talents, or Correa's eventual move off short. Will Miranda show enough improvement to convince the Twins he's viable, giving them a competitive edge in the lineup, or will they fall back on a steady-yet-unspectacular backup option?
Catch Up On Our Position Preview Series:
Position Analysis: Catcher Position Analysis: First Base Position Analysis: Second Base
Dman reacted to RandBalls Stu for an article, Local Man Selects March 16th as Byron Buxton Panic Day
The Twins are a little over halfway through spring training. One notable absence from pretend game action: Byron Buxton. The oft-injured superstar hasn’t played an inning of pretend baseball yet. The team says it’s standard operating procedure for players returning from injury. Doug Spivey is taking them at their word.
Until Thursday, March 16th.
“If he isn’t in the lineup by then I am flipping my [EXPLETIVE],” said the Eveleth pipefitter. “What if he’s out half the season? What if it’s career-ending? I’m going to freak the [EXPLETIVE] out and that is a promise.”
The Twins open the season at Kansas City on March 30th.
“By then it’ll be two weeks on the nose until the regular season,” said the 52-year-old. “Right now, I’m calm and cool. Let him work out behind the scenes, trust the process, embrace serenity. But at midnight next Thursday I’m going to run shirtless around town, weeping and wailing.”
At least one Twins expert agrees.
“I’m not conspiratorial about this at all,” said Twins Daily founder John Bonnes. “I don’t think there’s anything they’re trying to hide from us. The games aren’t as important as the rehab. He knows how to field and hit. But! If he’s not playing in a week, I will be rending garments and screaming for justice. I will drink IPAs that aren’t fruit-forward with notes of passion fruit and mango. I will lose my mind.”
Spivey says he’s noticed an uptick in internet chatter about Buxton’s absence.
“Once Correa started playing, I think everyone assumed Buxton would follow suit,” said Spivey. “And then he didn’t, and the comments sections started getting real suspicious about what was quote really happening unquote. I still think we’re fine and I have a big grin on my face for the upcoming season.
“However, I’m prepared to apologize to Reddit user frankviolamustacheride42069 if it turns out Buxton is still banged up. I was wrong to doubt you, frankviolamustacheride42069.”
The Twins face the Orioles today at 5:00pm. Buxton is not expected to play.
“I’m still not worried,” said Spivey. “Every moment spent waiting is agony, but I'm not worried.”
Dman reacted to Theo Tollefson for an article, Twins Add Another Left-Handed Outfielder on Minor-League Deal
The Twins signed the player who may be the hardest to remember from the Washington Nationals 2019 World Series roster at bar trivia to a minor-league deal. Andrew Stevenson, 28, spent all of his 2022 season at the Nationals Triple-A affiliate, the Rochester Red Wings. He had been removed from their 40-man roster early in the season and was never called back up.
Stevenson had spent his entire career in the Nationals organization. He made his MLB debut in 2017 and accumulated 449 plate appearances in 248 games from 2017-2021.
His greatest asset is his defense, but Stevenson has shown flashes of offensive production at times in the minor leagues and in the big leagues. During the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Stevenson posted a .366/.447/.732 (1.179 OPS), though it was in just 47 plate appearances.
His 2022 season with the Red Wings was solid. He hit .279/.344/.457 (.801) with 16 home runs and 67 RBI in 135 games for the Red Wings.
Stevenson’s addition to the Twins organization is great for any pending injuries. However, the possibility of his call-up would likely entail injuries to the other left-handed hitting outfielders including Max Kepler, Joey Gallo, Nick Gordon, Trevor Larnach, Matt Wallner, and Mark Contreras.
The timing of the signing is interesting. Gilberto Celestino had surgery on his thumb and will miss two months while rehabbing. Plus, the plan was to let him develop in St. Paul this season anyway. Byron Buxton has yet to play this spring. Nick Gordon has been out with a high ankle sprain. Could it mean those players will be out longer than anticipated? Alex Kirilloff has also not played in a spring game yet which might mean that Joey Gallo may find himself at first base early in the season. Providing the Saints with some outfield options is also wise.
Stevenson will likely receive nearly every day playing time with the Saints. His hitting abilities will be exciting to see against Triple-A pitching. If Stevenson ends up in a game for the Twins, hopefully, it will be due to hitting too well to ignore and not due to injuries.
While this is just a minor-league signing, what do you think it means? Discuss in the COMMENTS below.
Dman reacted to Cody Christie for an article, Pros and Cons of a Jhoan Duran Extension
There is no question about what Jhoan Duran meant to the Minnesota Twins during his rookie campaign. He immediately became one of baseball’s most dominant late-inning relievers. In 67 2/3 innings, he allowed 14 earned runs (1.86 ERA) with 89 strikeouts and 16 walks. He showed the Twins could use him in multiple situations, including closing games, multi-inning appearances, and getting the club out of jams. Duran led all AL pitchers in Win Probability Added while establishing himself as vital to the team’s long-term plans.
Duran is entering his sophomore season so he won’t be eligible for arbitration until the 2025 season, and his earliest free agency is 2028. He has yet to make life-changing money, and that can be a good window for a club to approach a player about a long-term deal that buys out some of his free-agent years. For both sides, there isn’t a rush to do this, but these types of deals typically happen before a player reaches the arbitration process. Here are some pros and cons of getting a long-term deal for Duran.
Pro: Cost Certainty
Earlier in the offseason, the Mets signed Edwin Diaz to a five-year, $102 million contract, the richest reliever contract in history. He was scheduled to become a free agent, but the Mets ensured he didn’t reach the open market. It seems unlikely that the Twins will spend over $100 million to sign a relief pitcher because this front office has relied on internal options to fill bullpen roles. Other recent contracts might be more similar to what the Twins can offer to Duran.
Entering last season, the Guardians signed Emmanuel Clase to a five-year, $20 million extension. The deal included a $2 million signing bonus and two option years (2027-28) at $10 million each. Incentives can make those option years worth $13 million, and they buy out his first two free agency years. Duran is a couple of months older than Clase, but Clase had roughly the same amount of service time as Duran when he agreed to his extension.
Pro: Investing in Bullpen
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have shied away from multi-year contracts for relievers. Addison Reed is the only reliever signed to a multi-year contract during their tenure. The Twins gave him $16.75 million, and he was limited to 56 innings because of multiple injuries. Reed was only 29 when he signed with the Twins, and he had been one of baseball’s most reliable relievers. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t pitch again at the big-league level following the 2018 season.
At some point, the Twins will need to invest in the bullpen. No one knows what baseball revenues will look like in five years, and Joe Pohlad has noted that he expects the team’s payroll to rise in the coming years. Minnesota is entering the 2023 season with the highest recorded payroll in team history at $157 million, which ranks 17th in baseball and second in the AL Central. Duran differs from many relievers, and the Twins should make a statement by investing in him.
One of the main reasons Duran is in the bullpen is because of his health issues throughout his minor-league career. The Twins managed to keep Duran healthy during his rookie season, but there are no guarantees he will stay healthy in the future. Injuries highly impacted Minnesota’s roster last season, so the club might not want to invest significant capital into any pitcher, especially those with injury concerns.
Reliever usage continues to evolve, and the Twins may continue using Duran in multi-inning appearances. Last season, the Twins were very careful with Duran and used him for more than an inning in 14 of his 57 appearances. It seems likely for that number to increase in the years ahead, but there are no guarantees his body can hold up to that increased workload. He has been a starter in the past, but there are scheduled rest days between appearances that aren’t guaranteed for a bullpen arm.
The Twins already have Duran under team control through his age-29 season. Even if he is baseball’s best reliever during the next five seasons, do the Twins want to guarantee him money into his early-30s? Clase’s contract has team options ($10 million) with buyouts of $2 million per season. That could help the Twins to approach this contract since they could get out of the deal for a relatively small amount.
Minnesota has been spoiled with All-Star caliber relievers in the past, like Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, and Taylor Rogers. Duran can enter the same category, but not all relievers can be this good. Relievers tend to have a high-level performance window that only lasts a few seasons before burning out. The Twins saw this recently with Tyler Duffey, one of baseball’s best relievers for multiple seasons, before being released last season. Few relievers can be among baseball’s best for more than a few seasons.
Can you see the Twins reaching out with a deal similar to Clase? Is the timing right for an extension or should the Twins wait until next offseason? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
Dman reacted to Nick Nelson for an article, Twins 2023 Position Analysis: Second Base
Projected Starter: Jorge Polanco
Likely Backup: Donovan Solano
Depth: Kyle Farmer, Nick Gordon, Willi Castro
Prospects: Edouard Julien, Jose Salas, Austin Martin, Tanner Schobel
In the 2021 season, his first spent playing second base, Polanco ranked fifth among MLB players at the position with 4.2 fWAR, instantly establishing himself as an elite player at his new infield home.
He launched 33 homers, drove in 98 runs, and was an easy choice for Twins Daily MVP. Polanco provided middle-of-the-order production from a middle-of-the-infield spot, which is a recipe for huge value. The Twins will hope to get him back there in the season ahead.
Polanco's absence in September last year was jarring: he's one of the few Twins players who has been able to avoid the injured list in his career, ranking second only to Max Kepler in plate appearances for the franchise since 2017.
If Rocco Baldelli can reliably write Polanco's name into the lineup on a regular basis, he'll feel confident in what they're getting from second base. Polo's been a good if not great hitter almost every year, including 2022 when he was 17% above average, and he's still not yet 30. His switch-hitting ability makes him an everyday staple.
The loss of Luis Arraez during the offseason subtracted a key depth piece at second, but the Twins backfilled with a couple of veterans in Farmer and Solano, who would both be capable if uninspiring regulars at the position should Polanco miss time.
Adding to their depth here, the Twins have a handful of near-ready infield prospects who could factor at second base in the short term – most notably Julien, who's seen plenty of time there this spring while really impressing with the bat. Martin and Royce Lewis are also realistic candidates to see time at second this year.
Polanco's lengthy run of durability came to halt in the latter part of the 2022 season. He didn't play after August 27th, plagued by a nagging knee tendinitis issue he couldn't shake. According to Betsy Helfand of the Pioneer Press, Polanco spent much of his offseason rehabbing the injury.
He's been noticeably slow to ramp up in camp. The 29-year-old still hasn't appeared in a spring game, and while that's not quite yet a red flag, it will be a week or two from now. As with so many other players on this Twins team, it is the ambiguity and lack of information around Polanco's health situation that makes it so inscrutable.
What was true at first base is also true here: the Twins have enough credible depth to sustain losing their starter, but such a scenario would also entail a huge drop-off in upside. The idea of Alex Kirilloff and Polanco holding down the right side of the infield is exhilarating. Alas, we've yet to see either of them on the field this spring.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A healthy Polanco is an excellent piece to have at second base. He has played at an All-Star caliber level in two of the past three full MLB seasons and could easily be one of the team's most critical fixtures this year.
But the lower-body injuries have clearly taken their toll on Polanco, who's undergone multiple ankle surgeries in the past. He's in his last guaranteed year under contract, and as mentioned, there are several young middle infielders in this system on the rise, so the coming season could be a pivotal one for the longest-tenured Twin's future with the franchise.
Catch Up On Our Position Preview Series:
Position Analysis: Catcher Position Analysis: First Base