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stringer bell posted a topic in Minnesota Twins TalkThe 40-man roster is full and the Twins have several invitees not on the 40-man roster. If history is any guide, the Twins will employ many players not currently on the 40-man. More often than not, one or more players not now on the 40-man make the club out of Spring Training. For the purpose of this poll, please make your choice with the number of days on the active roster the criteria for who is contributing the most to the club.
Nick Gordon's Future
stringer bell posted a topic in Minnesota Twins TalkDuring the first half of the disappointing 2021 season, there was speculation as to whether Nick Gordon would remain on the active roster or be subjected to the DFA process. He was nominally the second backup option for the Twins at both second base and shortstop so there was no clear path for Gordon to get playing time. With the onslaught on injuries in the outfield in '21 (remember Rob Refsnider and Kyle Garlick playing their first professional games in center) Gordon was given an opportunity to get playing time as an outfielder. Gordon eventually played in 45 games in the outfield, including 34 in center field. For someone who had never played there, he did surprisingly well. Adding the ability to play outfield including the key defensive position of center certainly added to Gordon's value going into 2022. In 2022, Gordon made the club as a utility infielder/outfielder and again got the majority of his playing time on the grass. playing in 95 games in the outfield including 62 in left field. Defensive metrics for what is still a small sample size indicate the Gordon is an acceptable outfielder and probably, with a bit more experience, could be above average in left field. Meanwhile, as a hitter Gordon has improved. In 216 plate appearances in '21, Gordon was worth -5 runs as a hitter. In 2023, in about twice as many plate appearances, he was worth +6 at the plate. Much of his improvement probably comes from experience and another positive factor in gradually increasing strength as he has mostly recovered from career-threatening intestinal problems. Gordon has shown he belongs in the major leagues and the trends are pointing north as an offensive player. Roster projections include Gordon as a utility player or perhaps the starting left fielder if Max Kepler is dealt away. I don't know if I am ready to declare Gordon a solid utility player or proclaim him as an every day outfielder. First of all, (again SSS) Gordon's metrics as an infielder are not good. At both second and short he grades out below average on range and defensive runs saved. He has played only six innings at third base and three innings in right field, so I wouldn't say he's a utility option at those positions. As a hitter, Nick is limited by rather extreme platoon splits, with only a .532 OPS versus left handers. Gordon only stole six bases (caught four times) last year so despite very good speed, his impact on the bases has been minimal. The Twins currently have a bunch of left handed hitters as candidates for the two corner outfield spots. Max Kepler and Joey Gallo are veterans and both are good defenders. For Gordon to get ample playing time as a corner outfielder, where he's been at his best defensively, he will have to displace one of Gallo or Kepler plus be better than Matt Wallner, Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff. There are DH at bats available and Kepler in particular has been rumored to be on the block, Despite the improvement Nick Gordon has made and acknowledging his progress as a hitter and improved health, I think Gordon is a trade candidate, particularly since Kyle Farmer looks like the principle backup in the middle infield. I don't know how other organizations would value Gordon and whether he could get a suitable return, but despite what he has done in the last two years, Nick Gordon could well not have much of a role with the 2023 Twins.
Half-A-Step Better: How The Twins Are Reinventing Infield Play
Parker Hageman posted an article in TwinsIn terms of runs prevented, last year’s World Series-winning Washington Nationals’ infield core stopped 17 additional runs from scoring. The World Series participation trophy winners, the Houston Astros, finished second with 8 runs prevented. The Twins? Their infield defense cost them 5 runs according to Baseball Savant’s system. For a team that won 101 games, it’s hard to say this aspect of their game was actually costing them yet the fielding metric is a significant decline from just two seasons earlier when the Twins’ infield finished with 25 runs prevented, the best in baseball. Tony Diaz is the Twins’ third base coach but he also manages the infield instruction. He’s seen the numbers. He’s seen the publicly available ones. He’s seen the team’s proprietary ones. He believes the team is much better than what the numbers say. “Obviously BaseballSavant, Fangraphs, and all of that, you have to definitely honor what they do, it’s objective data, but I thought we played better than the numbers show,” Diaz said this spring. “I think you can ask any member of our team and they feel the same way but that being said, we definitely have to get better and we are working towards it.” In Diaz’s first season with the team, he oversaw projects around the diamond. There was trying to improve Miguel Sano’s defense at third base. There was working with shortstop Jorge Polanco’s arm action as he went back to firing balls from a sidearm slot rather than over-the-top. He managed a shift strategy that saw the team shift right-handed hitters in 35% of their plate appearances (second highest only to the data-driven Dodgers). Now the focus is to get to more batted balls. “One of our main themes is ‘half-a-step better’ and we are working on that consciously and hopefully our range numbers increase, I think they are already increasing based on the spring training sample,” said Diaz. “It’s a conscious effort by everybody and adding Donaldson to the mix is going to help tremendously as well.” If 2019 was any indication, Donaldson should be a tremendous help. He prevented 7 runs last year, third best among qualified third basemen. One of his strengths was ranging to his left (3 runs prevented) which may help Polanco’s numbers at short. Plus, Donaldson allows for the Twins to transition Sano to first base where he can develop as a cornerstone. The veteran has already ingrained himself within the clubhouse’s culture and has embraced being a role model. “He likes to share his knowledge and experience,” Diaz said of Donaldson. “It’s been a blessed addition, for sure.” In order to improve overall, the Twins changed their routines. For starters, during infield work, Diaz uses a standard baseball bat rather than a traditional fungo. He also takes soft-toss feeds from another coach instead of tossing them up in the air himself. “It’s about replicating the ball coming off a real bat, which I’m using - a real bat - so try to replicate that as much as we can so hopefully that translated to better prepared infielders,” said Diaz. Fungo reps don’t provide the fielders with the game-like reads. While Tom Kelly’s infamous Good Morning rapid-fire fungo ground ball session that would last for two hours provided the players with excellent cardio, the reps were not mirroring what happens in game action. The ball spins differently off of the thinner fungo bat than it would during a live swing. It tends to have more top spin as a coach cuts down on the ball -- vastly different than an in-game swing. The soft-toss feed also helps close the gap in creating more game-like swing speed for fielders to get their timing down (more on that in a moment) and batted ball spin. If even a minor change like that can help players improve by one percent, the Twins are all in. On the player development side of the system, infield instructor Billy Boyer has been scheming ways to improve the overall play. Like Tanner Swanson’s approach to catching that disrupted the industry last year, Boyer and his staff have been rethinking how to do the same for the players on the dirt. They have introduced dailies that warm-up the hands long before they put spikes on the field. They bring out a junior hack attack pitching machine, having players take ground ball reps on their knees, using different sized gloves and different weighted balls, giving the players alternating feels in order to be more connected with their hands. “It's something we do every morning, we call it our tee work,” Boyer said, referencing how hitters will take multiple swings on a tee before seeing live pitching. “A lot of fielders will go right out to the dirt and start taking full length ground balls, we start in and just do a lot of routines that are fun, challenging and different. We're just trying to get the hands working. And then we add the feet, then we go full distance.” The Twins also train all of their infielders at each position to increase flexibility but also because of the reliance on shifts. Infielders like prospect Travis Blankenhorn will receive reps at multiple positions to make him more fungible if needed at the major league level. They have instituted some vision training, hoping to get players to fixate on the contact zone earlier and gain that half-step as the ball leaves the bat. Improvements in these areas should help increase the infield coverage. There is an emphasis on moving at the right time. The Twins found that being in the air at contact can help a player react better. If you watch closely, a third baseman might not even be touching the Earth when the barrel meets the ball. This can help players gain that vital half step. “I think technique can enhance [range],” says Boyer about using various prep steps. “I don't think it can astronomically advance it. One's ability to move laterally is one's ability. But there are techniques that we are trying to tap into to open up, again, the brain processing power and the ability to ready direction and adapt and move directionally.” Diaz said he enjoyed working with Boyer and discussing techniques. “We got a very good flow for communication, up and down and down and up,” said Diaz in regards to how the team values input from all levels. “Billy was here in the big league camp for the first couple of weeks. We’ve had numerous conversations and he’s got really good ideas.” There’s a lot that goes into infield play but getting the as many balls as possible is the organization’s number one priority. “Everyone is different so we make sure that we tailor our approach to the differences too,” Diaz said. “And whatever maximizes that first-step quickness, prep step, traditional or maybe walking into it, whatever they are comfortable with, we just have to maximize that on an infield basis.” Half a step better. Everyday.
Fielding in the age of shifts
mikelink45 posted a blog entry in mikelink45's BlogJudging the fielders in the age of shifts is a difficult challenge. As I read about Sano – should he move to 1B I am constantly trying to evaluate what the qualities are for those two bases. 3B – quick reflexes (believe me the ball gets to 3B quick) and a strong arm. 1B – reflexes of a different type, not grabbing missiles, but rather erratic throws, short hops, flexibility to stretch and grab, and still a range for fielding the position. 1B have that strange responsibility for “covering the base” when a runner is on, anticipating throws from C and P. It is a very challenging and underestimated fielding position. For generations we have put the big lunking Ted Klusewski or Dick Stuart at the base and just said throw at the body and he will be okay. Keith Hernandez and Joe Mauer were fielding examples at 1B, but Brooks Robinson, Nolen Arenando would not be mistaken for those 1B rolemodels because they are the gold standard for 3B. Sano is not quick but seems to have the reflexes for third and the arm to respond when balls bounce off his body. What now we shift and suddenly he is a SS – does anyone see him as a SS? He moves towards the “hole” and he has more area to cover. Now we need foot speed as well as reflex. The SS and 2B positions have now overlapped and the challenge for the players today is to make the turn at second base coming from so many new angles. Of course, in the launch angle age there is a major decrease in DPs. We used to judge these positions by range and athleticism – thing Ozzie and the 2B/SS was a tandem – Groat and Mazeroski, Fox and Aparicio, Grich and Belanger, Whitaker and Trammell (why is Trammel in the HOF and not Whitaker?), Robinson and Reese, and Morgan and Concepcion are examples. We had Versalles and Bernie Allen… In 2015 Dave Schoenfield wrote – “In 2015, the MLB average was 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.9 walks; in 1955, it was 4.4 and 3.7. That means more balls in play and more baserunners in 1955, although even with fewer home runs per team in 1955, the overall number of double plays has remained steady: 121 per team in 1955, 125 per team in 2015.” Fascinating stats show that the GDP leader stats do not really change from year to year. Ernie Lombardi (Mr Slow feet) 26 in 1933, Manny Machado 24 - 2019. https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/GIDP_leagues.shtml What has changed is the fact that 2B now a hybrid SS. Is Polanco a good SS in the old system? How does he and Arraez fit the new paradigm. Do we need to consider changing the names of the positions? Are players really interchangeable at these positions?
Clearing Space - the Infield
mikelink45 posted a blog entry in mikelink45's BlogI started with the outfield as I look at the Twins current 25 man active roster, 40 man overall roster and the crush of players who are on the field, plus those needing to be added to the 40 man and the potential free agents, and possible trade candidates. The current Major league infielders and catchers (who ocassionally move to a base): Cron Schoop Polanco Sano Arraez Gonzalez Adrianza Castro Garver Astudillo Cron and Schoop are FA - do we resign them? Schoop has been terrific this past week, but his performance otherwise has been a lesson in low level excellence and high level disappearance. He just turned that around, but does that convince you to keep him? Cron has been injured a lot and yet he has produced .257 .319 .475 .794. Do we resign him? Those are the first two questions that need to be answered before going ahead. More questions - is Gordon MLB ready? Can he hold up to a full season workload? Is Arraez the 2B of the future or is Polanco moving over since his glove and arm are so often questionable at SS. If Polanco is not at SS who is? Gonzalez is best left to play a little of everywhere and Adrianza had a break out season, but is it sustainable. Lewis is going to AZ, but will he be OF or IF in the future and how soon is he ready? Wander Javier is not ready and still needs to prove himself in MiLB. Will Sano stay at 3B or does he replace Cron? If so, who plays third? Blankenship seems like the only prospect who actually plays 3B - is he ready? Does Garver play more at 1B and if so, who catches if Castro is gone as a FA? Is it Astudillo or will we see Jeffers? Does Kiriloff go to the OF or 1B? Is Rooker even a consideration anymore? Has Larnach passed the others and does he stand in line for 1B? The crystal ball is cracked - this is a mess to sort out. Not too many minor leaguers, but a few important ones. First I predict that we will let Cron go and I feel sorry for him if he is cut two years in a row after productive seasons. Injuries did him in this year. Second I have a feeling Schoop slips away too, but not as positive on this one. I do not believe in the minor leaguers pushing the current infield so I see: 1B - Sano/Garver - maybe Kiriloff by the end of the season 2B - Arraez/Gonzalves - Gordon if Arraez was a mirage this year. SS - Polanco/Adrianza 3B - Sano/Adrianza/Gonzalves and Blankenship by season end if Sano is moved to 1B C - Garver/Astudillo/Jeffers by midseason What do you think? Who do you move?