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  1. 2020 has been anything but straightforward for sports, and Major League Baseball as a whole. For Miguel Sano, it got even more difficult when his return to the field during Summer Camp was delayed by an asymptomatic COVID-19 positive test result. He was finally ushered back into the action with roughly a week to go before Opening Day, and man did that show. 13 games into the season, and now playing a new position, Sano had bottomed out with a .111/.149/.356 slash line. He had a 23/2 K/BB and had generated just five extra-base hits in 47 plate appearances. For a guy that hits in the middle of the order and is expected to be an anchoring power bat, that’s about as bad as it gets. That was August 9th, and on August 12th I rattled off some thoughts about why he was scuffling. My conclusion was that it was a matter of timing. He was seeing 4.66 pitches per plate appearance, second most in baseball at that point. Despite seeing all of those pitches, he was striking out an astronomical amount and the balls he was putting in play were rather fruitless. What became apparent is that his timing wasn’t only off, but he was working through simply setting himself up for future success. Sano strikes out plenty, but he’s anything but an undisciplined hitter. He was taking pitches to get an idea of what he was seeing Pitchers exploited that to the tune of a 74.5% first pitch strike percentage. When he was swinging, the bat path wasn’t ideal as he was still behind, and the negative results followed. Statistics weren’t pretty, but the process here was a plan for something more. Hello, we’ve now arrived at that something more. Sano is currently seeing 4.38 pitches per plate appearance which is 8th most in baseball. Instead of all the whiffs though, he’s got a 33/13 K/BB in his last 21 games and owns a .329/.440/.686 slash line. In his last 84 plate appearances he’s generated 15 extra base hits (including five dingers) and has become among baseballs hottest hitters. The most drastic difference in the two separate splits are that Miguel Sano has gone from being the hunted to the hunter. Now timing pitches well and settled in, he’s seeing first pitch strikes just 48.8% of the time, down over 25%. Opposing pitchers realize he’s up there and ready to do damage, and it’s forced them to work counts rather than immediately get ahead. When he was working on getting going, Sano was hitting the ball hard over 54% of the time, but now on pitches that too has jumped to a crazy 64.9% hard hit rate. He’s dialed in. Another point I touched on in the Twitter thread regarding his timing issues what the bat path and resulting launch angle. Through August 9th Sano had an average launch angle of 27.2 degrees. While it is true that success in baseball relies on elevation, there’s a threshold that a line drive or long fly ball turns into nothing more than a routine pop up, no matter how hard you hit it. Sano has surpassed that mark early on in the season. Since that point he’s generate a 17.2-degree average launch angle which falls right into the green zone of line drive or home run hitter. In short, the Twins slugger allowed opposing pitchers to win the battle so he could focus on winning the war. By taking an extra couple of weeks to get his version of Summer Camp in, he sacrificed some early season production in order to capitalize when it mattered most. He’s now timing pitches, and although a streak this hot may not last, it’s a foundation he can be happy with. We saw James Rowson break down Sano’s swing and completely rebuild him last year, all at the Major League level. This time, Sano did the process work on his own because it wasn’t a mechanical issue, and he’s reaping the benefits. A younger version of this man likely would’ve relied on his talent alone and fought through it for immediate gain. Now bought into work and sustained success, it’s the same reason why being fat was always a result and never the problem. Miguel Sano is invested in his own success and getting the most out of his career. Even in this shortened season, he saw the bigger picture, and now the opposition is seeing the big flies. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  2. When the Boston Red Sox fired Dave Dombrowski, there was some chatter that the organization could target the Twins' Derek Falvey, who grew up in Red Sox Nation and might find the challenge of running his childhood team appealing. The Red Sox announced they hired Chaim Bloom away from the Rays but it sounds like they had inquired about interviewing Falvey. According to the Star Tribune's Lavelle Neal, Falvey said nah. The Twins are experiencing some coaching harvesting -- first Pete Fatse to the Red Sox and then James Rowson to the Marlins -- and that's a good sign. Even better, Falvey remains on to backfill and target more of these high caliber, high quality coaches.
  3. According to ESPN's Jeff Passan, the Miami Marlins are set to hire Twins hitting coach James Rowson. According to the Passan tweet, Rowson will be named the Marlins bench coach and offensive coordinator.Twins hitting coach James Rowson has earned a lot of praise for his work as the Twins hitting coach over the past few seasons. In particular, he led the 2019 Twins offense which set the all-time single-season home run record. The assumption as the season went on is that the Twins organization, specifically Rocco's Baldelli's coaching staff, could lose several key members during the offseson, and Rowson's name was often mentioned. Early on Thursday evening, Jeff Passan tweeted the news: He followed with a tweet to attempt to explain the role of "Offense Coordinator." So while the title is different, it is a role that he is quite familiar with. It certainly is a promotion for Rowson, but he was hired by the Twins in large part due to his work as a hitting coordinator with the Yankees and Cubs organizations. It is certainly a big loss for the Twins organization. He will not be easy to replace, but this front office has found lesser known names (like Rowson when he was hired) for several jobs already. One option may be assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez who has been in the organization nearly two decades and has a great working rapport with many of the Spanish-speaking hitters in the organization . Earlier this week, it was announced that Twins minor league hitting coordinator Peter Fatse had been named the assistant hitting coach of the Boston Red Sox. Fatse joined the Twins organization last offseason. He had replaced Rick Eckstein who became the hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Not registered? Click here to create an account. To stay up to date, follow Twins Daily on Twitter and Facebook. Related Content: Will Minnesota Get Raided This Offseason? The Making of Max Power Let's Talk About Byron Buxton's Swing Click here to view the article
  4. Twins hitting coach James Rowson has earned a lot of praise for his work as the Twins hitting coach over the past few seasons. In particular, he led the 2019 Twins offense which set the all-time single-season home run record. The assumption as the season went on is that the Twins organization, specifically Rocco's Baldelli's coaching staff, could lose several key members during the offseson, and Rowson's name was often mentioned. Early on Thursday evening, Jeff Passan tweeted the news: He followed with a tweet to attempt to explain the role of "Offense Coordinator." https://twitter.com/JeffPassan/status/1187508170215841793 So while the title is different, it is a role that he is quite familiar with. It certainly is a promotion for Rowson, but he was hired by the Twins in large part due to his work as a hitting coordinator with the Yankees and Cubs organizations. It is certainly a big loss for the Twins organization. He will not be easy to replace, but this front office has found lesser known names (like Rowson when he was hired) for several jobs already. One option may be assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez who has been in the organization nearly two decades and has a great working rapport with many of the Spanish-speaking hitters in the organization . Earlier this week, it was announced that Twins minor league hitting coordinator Peter Fatse had been named the assistant hitting coach of the Boston Red Sox. Fatse joined the Twins organization last offseason. He had replaced Rick Eckstein who became the hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Not registered? Click here to create an account. To stay up to date, follow Twins Daily on Twitter and Facebook. Related Content: Will Minnesota Get Raided This Offseason? The Making of Max Power Let's Talk About Byron Buxton's Swing
  5. Aaron and John talk about the Twins losing hitting coach James Rowson, Royce Lewis winning MVP of the Arizona Fall League, the team's most valuable long-term building blocks, what happened 28 years ago, and the making of playoff legacies. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click this link. Click here to view the article
  6. Boston shocked a lot of the baseball world on Sunday as they fired General Manager Dave Dombrowski less than a calendar year after he delivered the team a title. The Red Sox are entering a tumultuous time in their organization and the ownership didn’t feel Dombrowski was the right man for the job. He was hired to do what he did, win the World Series, but it could be time for the franchise to rebuild and he might not fit that mold. Besides the Red Sox, there will be plenty of other organizations searching for upgrades in the front office and to their coaching staffs. Every team is looking to gain a step up on other organizations. Here are three names that could be with different organizations this offseason. Daniel Adler Current Role: Director, Baseball Operations Adler took a unique route to his current position with the Twins organization. His professional experience started as an intern in the MLB’s Labor Relations Department where he worked on the CBA including baseball’s compensation system. He spent a couple of years in the private sector before joining the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. With Jacksonville, he headed up a brand-new Football Research and Development Department. Baseball organizations are finding some of the best minds in unique ways. Plenty of the game’s operating leadership have degrees from Ivy League universities. Adler holds a Harvard law and business degree. He has spent time in multiple fields and has a way of changing an organization’s system. “Finding things yet to be identified is important,” said Adler, “but being able to utilize the things you already know is more important.” Jeremy Zoll Current Role: Director, Minor League Operations Zoll has been on the fast track throughout his professional career as he is the youngest person in his role among all 30 MLB teams. He is in his second year in the Twins organization after he came to the club from the Dodgers organization. With Los Angeles, he served as their Assistant Director of Player Development for multiple seasons. He worked to develop player plans and assisted the Research and Development department. "His reputation, even at a less experienced, younger age, of galvanizing staffs and creatively (instituting) development programs for players, really got our attention," said Thad Levine. "He's got the ability to communicate very clearly to the 16-year-old Venezuelan kid or the college senior.” "There's a presence about him that probably belies age. But I think the backbone of it really was he had such rave reviews from the senior staffers that he worked with in the past." James Rowson Current Role: Hitting Coach It’s hard to argue with what Rowson has done during his tenure in Minnesota. During his first year on the job, the Twins scored 815 runs and cracked 206 home runs. Both totals were in the franchise’s top four best season before the 2019 campaign and the introduction of the Bomba Squad. It would be hard to list out everything this offense has done this year and Rowson is a key cog in the Twins hitting machine. “I think the environment that we’ve created here as an organization allows everybody to feel comfortable in their own skin,” Rowson said. “Each guy is just worried about having the best at-bat they can and there’s nothing holding them down mentally. They’re clear-minded, and that creates good at-bats, and that gets contagious. Will all three of these names be back with the Twins next year? Who else do you think could be raided from the Twins this winter? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  7. It can’t be argued that Minnesota is having one of their best seasons in the Target Field era. Rocco Baldelli and his coaching staff have helped to get the most out of their core group of players and have this team on pace for close to 100 wins. For the front office, there could be some blame thrown around for not doing enough at the deadline, but they certainly added enough pieces last off-season to put this club on the winning track. Minnesota looks like a team on the rise and this could mean other teams come looking for coaches and front office personnel.Boston shocked a lot of the baseball world on Sunday as they fired General Manager Dave Dombrowski less than a calendar year after he delivered the team a title. The Red Sox are entering a tumultuous time in their organization and the ownership didn’t feel Dombrowski was the right man for the job. He was hired to do what he did, win the World Series, but it could be time for the franchise to rebuild and he might not fit that mold. Besides the Red Sox, there will be plenty of other organizations searching for upgrades in the front office and to their coaching staffs. Every team is looking to gain a step up on other organizations. Here are three names that could be with different organizations this offseason. Daniel Adler Current Role: Director, Baseball Operations Adler took a unique route to his current position with the Twins organization. His professional experience started as an intern in the MLB’s Labor Relations Department where he worked on the CBA including baseball’s compensation system. He spent a couple of years in the private sector before joining the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. With Jacksonville, he headed up a brand-new Football Research and Development Department. Baseball organizations are finding some of the best minds in unique ways. Plenty of the game’s operating leadership have degrees from Ivy League universities. Adler holds a Harvard law and business degree. He has spent time in multiple fields and has a way of changing an organization’s system. “Finding things yet to be identified is important,” said Adler, “but being able to utilize the things you already know is more important.” Jeremy Zoll Current Role: Director, Minor League Operations Zoll has been on the fast track throughout his professional career as he is the youngest person in his role among all 30 MLB teams. He is in his second year in the Twins organization after he came to the club from the Dodgers organization. With Los Angeles, he served as their Assistant Director of Player Development for multiple seasons. He worked to develop player plans and assisted the Research and Development department. "His reputation, even at a less experienced, younger age, of galvanizing staffs and creatively (instituting) development programs for players, really got our attention," said Thad Levine. "He's got the ability to communicate very clearly to the 16-year-old Venezuelan kid or the college senior.” "There's a presence about him that probably belies age. But I think the backbone of it really was he had such rave reviews from the senior staffers that he worked with in the past." James Rowson Current Role: Hitting Coach It’s hard to argue with what Rowson has done during his tenure in Minnesota. During his first year on the job, the Twins scored 815 runs and cracked 206 home runs. Both totals were in the franchise’s top four best season before the 2019 campaign and the introduction of the Bomba Squad. It would be hard to list out everything this offense has done this year and Rowson is a key cog in the Twins hitting machine. “I think the environment that we’ve created here as an organization allows everybody to feel comfortable in their own skin,” Rowson said. “Each guy is just worried about having the best at-bat they can and there’s nothing holding them down mentally. They’re clear-minded, and that creates good at-bats, and that gets contagious. Will all three of these names be back with the Twins next year? Who else do you think could be raided from the Twins this winter? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. Click here to view the article
  8. In late June, Miguel Sano’s 2019 season felt like it was on the brink of collapse. From his delayed start in May through the end of June, the Minnesota Twins’ third baseman led baseball with a grotesque 42 percent strikeout rate. He had been strikeout prone but now in nearly half of his trips to the plate, he headed back to the bench without putting a ball in play, often looking a fool in the process. While the game was trending toward more whiffs, the average hitter still managed to strike out in only 20 percent of his plate appearances. Pitchers had him eating out of their hands. The Twins staff finally intervened, retooled, and rewired his swing. The results have been no short of outstanding. Since the end of June, Sano’s 627 slugging percentage has been one of the best in the game. His average exit velocity of 95.6 miles per hour has been the third highest among qualified hitters and he has hit 60 percent of his balls in play over 95 miles per hour (third best in MLB). While all the rocket shots and batted ball data is intriguing, perhaps most importantly, Sano no longer leads all hitters in strikeouts. So what changed? Here’s how Miguel Sano became hotter than hard seltzer this summer.Sano’s low point involved a frustrating pitch selection and inexplicable inability to make contact with fastballs. He would swing through low 90s center-cut fastballs or flail at a breaking ball that bounced in the left-handed batter’s box. To repair, the Twins and Sano focused on his hand path, starting with eliminating the extra movement before getting to his launch point. As innocuous as it may seem, with the added bat tip forward Sano would put himself in the position of having to cheat to catch up to fastballs while getting burnt on breaking and offspeed pitches. Refraining from tipping the barrel toward the pitcher (as seen on the left) provided him with the ability to read pitches better. Since reducing the slack, Sano is swinging less, chasing pitches out of the zone less and swinging through fewer pitches. Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (10).GIF “The goal is to put his hands in a position to handle balls out over the plate to get to that ball up a little bit better and to be able to stay through the ball so that he can get on top of the ball consistently or to be able to drive through it more consistently,” Twins’ hitting coach James Rowson told The Athletic’s Dan Hayes. That ball up, as Rowson noted, was Sano’s kryptonite. Pitchers who threw even the softest of gas could tie him in knots when elevating in the upper third. Before the correction, Sano swung through 66% of fastballs up in the zone and had just one hit. After Rowson and Rudy Hernandez performed their magic — working on drills that reduced hand movement from his start to his launch point — Sano improved his swing-and-miss rate on fastballs up from 66% to 28% and has three home runs on fastballs in that area of the zone. Before the adjustment, Sano’s swing was powerful but one-dimensional. He mashed fastballs in one spot in the zone (outer-third, waist high) yet, because of his delayed swing process, his barrel would struggle to find anything middle-in. As long as opponents stayed away from that zone with their fastball, Sano’s power was muted. Again, speeding up his timing mechanism paid dividends. Over those first 30 games, Sano hit just .120/.267/.280 on fastballs middle-in but has since hit .395/.469/.907 with 7 home runs. Download attachment: Sano Average.png And that has been the key to Sano’s turnaround: hammering the heat. Former player and manager Matt Williams used to say that the best way to hit a curveball was to not miss the fastball. In Sano’s case he would miss the fastball and would be reduced to rubble on various breaking balls. Even with the new approach, Sano has not handled non-fastballs well when swinging. However, he has greatly reduced the number of hacks at them. Download attachment: Sano Approach.PNG Sano also points to another factor in his offensive uptick. He told Fox Sports North that Rowson had recommended adjusting his grip on the bat, aligning his middle knuckles rather than having his top hand bottom (proximal) knuckles aligning with his bottom hand bottom (proximal) knuckles. This is a similar effect to how Axe Bat-type handles naturally align knuckles, a feature that some hitters have raved about, which the Cubs’ Kris Bryant credited with turning his 2019 season around. It stands to reason that once he was able to decipher good from bad pitches, he would be able to drive them better with a new grip and more efficient hand path. His load adjustment provided him with the ability to separate pitch types earlier while his grip allows him to drive through the ball. Needless to say, Sano’s in-season turnaround is a testament to the Twins’ coaching process as well as his ability to implement changes on the fly. Click here to view the article
  9. Sano’s low point involved a frustrating pitch selection and inexplicable inability to make contact with fastballs. He would swing through low 90s center-cut fastballs or flail at a breaking ball that bounced in the left-handed batter’s box. To repair, the Twins and Sano focused on his hand path, starting with eliminating the extra movement before getting to his launch point. As innocuous as it may seem, with the added bat tip forward Sano would put himself in the position of having to cheat to catch up to fastballs while getting burnt on breaking and offspeed pitches. Refraining from tipping the barrel toward the pitcher (as seen on the left) provided him with the ability to read pitches better. Since reducing the slack, Sano is swinging less, chasing pitches out of the zone less and swinging through fewer pitches. “The goal is to put his hands in a position to handle balls out over the plate to get to that ball up a little bit better and to be able to stay through the ball so that he can get on top of the ball consistently or to be able to drive through it more consistently,” Twins’ hitting coach James Rowson told The Athletic’s Dan Hayes. That ball up, as Rowson noted, was Sano’s kryptonite. Pitchers who threw even the softest of gas could tie him in knots when elevating in the upper third. Before the correction, Sano swung through 66% of fastballs up in the zone and had just one hit. After Rowson and Rudy Hernandez performed their magic — working on drills that reduced hand movement from his start to his launch point — Sano improved his swing-and-miss rate on fastballs up from 66% to 28% and has three home runs on fastballs in that area of the zone. Before the adjustment, Sano’s swing was powerful but one-dimensional. He mashed fastballs in one spot in the zone (outer-third, waist high) yet, because of his delayed swing process, his barrel would struggle to find anything middle-in. As long as opponents stayed away from that zone with their fastball, Sano’s power was muted. Again, speeding up his timing mechanism paid dividends. Over those first 30 games, Sano hit just .120/.267/.280 on fastballs middle-in but has since hit .395/.469/.907 with 7 home runs. And that has been the key to Sano’s turnaround: hammering the heat. Former player and manager Matt Williams used to say that the best way to hit a curveball was to not miss the fastball. In Sano’s case he would miss the fastball and would be reduced to rubble on various breaking balls. Even with the new approach, Sano has not handled non-fastballs well when swinging. However, he has greatly reduced the number of hacks at them. Sano also points to another factor in his offensive uptick. He told Fox Sports North that Rowson had recommended adjusting his grip on the bat, aligning his middle knuckles rather than having his top hand bottom (proximal) knuckles aligning with his bottom hand bottom (proximal) knuckles. This is a similar effect to how Axe Bat-type handles naturally align knuckles, a feature that some hitters have raved about, which the Cubs’ Kris Bryant credited with turning his 2019 season around. It stands to reason that once he was able to decipher good from bad pitches, he would be able to drive them better with a new grip and more efficient hand path. His load adjustment provided him with the ability to separate pitch types earlier while his grip allows him to drive through the ball. Needless to say, Sano’s in-season turnaround is a testament to the Twins’ coaching process as well as his ability to implement changes on the fly.
  10. Over the weekend the Minnesota Twins were dealt a blow they’ve too often been a victim of this season. Byron Buxton, arguably the most important player on this club, hit the injured list with what essentially boils down to a shoulder dislocation. The play in question was hardly an aggressive jolt to his body, but what initially resulted in a lineup scratching for soreness has turned into a month-long question mark. For Byron this theme gets examined again, and for Jake Cave the time is now.Last season much was made of Buxton being injury-prone. He dealt with migraines during an unfortunate time with the team down in Puerto Rico, and then broke a toe during a potentially unnecessary rehab stint. Minnesota rushed him back to the lineup and ultimately, he played just 28 games before being shut down (reluctantly) in September. After a promising end to 2017, it was hardly the year anyone involved wanted. In 2019 he’s made a couple of different appearances on the IL, and while frustrating, no one in the room is more disappointed than Byron himself. Concussions have been a thing for Buxton over the course of his career, and the latest one suffered while simply diving forward for a fly ball had all the appearances of a fluke. With his head and neck surging forward and his face/chin driving into the ground, the jarring movement was enough to do damage. He missed roughly two weeks before being cleared (although that was complicated by the removal of his wisdom teeth). The current shoulder injury was caused when tracking down a ball in the gap. The collision with the wall was seemingly not significant, but enough force was there to cause harm. For me neither of the most recent maladies would fall into the category of reckless aggression. Minnesota has made strides in Buxton’s positioning, and through conversation with Byron, in hopes of sparing him from unnecessary hits. Taking matters into his own hands as well, Buxton told Dan Hayes of The Athletic that he bulked up this winter in hopes of a more durable stature. In short, I’m not sure there’s much to be done here than blame bad luck. One of the most spectacular catches Byron has ever made happened in May 2017 against the Cleveland Indians. Flying towards the right-center gap, he leapt and used the wall as the sole stop for his momentum. The catch was great, the fallout was not. It’s plays like this that while spectacular, Minnesota is undoubtedly trying to avoid. Byron has the ability to generate 5-star catches (per Statcast) and lead the big leagues in Outs Above Average while rarely sacrificing himself going back on the baseball. Discussion about avoiding the wall has taken place, and even with a well ingrained instinct to make all sacrifices, I believe the message of staying healthy and available to the team has been given. Whenever he returns, we’ll have to hope that the hot hitting follows suit (10-26, 7 XBH since his concussion return). The Twins will continue working with him to find ways to avoid preventable injury, and they’ll chalk up situations like this one as an unfortunate result and opportunity for strengthened health. Now it’s on Jake Cave to step up. There’s no denying that Minnesota is worse without Buxton. He patrols the outfield and allows the corners to remain strong, while giving utility players one less spot they need to key in on. Max Kepler is an above average centerfielder, but he’s not Byron, and the guys around him now must pick up the slack. So far, we haven’t seen Cave do that, but the evidence is there. Cave is not a good center fielder. He lacks the instincts to adequately cover so much ground at Target Field. He is a serviceable right fielder though and that’s what Minnesota needs from him for much of the next month. The defense shouldn’t be called into question as much down the line, but that bat must begin to play. Though sporadic, his 103 plate appearances have resulted in a paltry .198/.320/.302 slash line. He’s got just five extra-base hits and has only been a fraction of the .786 OPS player we saw a season ago. Still 26-years-old and having played less than 130 big league games, Cave is continuing through an acclimation process. 2018 showed us that the ability is there, and in 48 Triple-A games this season he owns a .352/.393/.592 slash line with 29 extra-base hits (seven homers). Jake has nearly doubled his big-league walk rate this year, and he’s trimmed a bit off his strikeout rate. Whiffing the same amount but chasing a bit less, his hard-hit rate is now over 41%. Download attachment: Webp.net-gifmaker.gif Arguably the most significant issue Cave is dealing with this season is his launch angle. Hitting the ball harder matters little when he dropped to a 16.1% line drive rate (from 25.7%) and a 17.9% fly ball rate (from 30.6%). A 10-degree launch angle a season ago has dropped to the tune of a 3.7 degree mark this season. Opportunity for success lies most within addressing this problem. It will be on James Rowson to work with Cave on getting back to what he was doing last season. Lifting the ball must be a part of his game and wasting significant quality barreled balls isn’t something a fringe batter can afford. Over the next month we’ll definitely miss Byron Buxton. We need to spend less time worrying about how to change or overhaul his style of play though. This is an unfortunate situation that the Twins face, but it isn’t one that’s been created by carelessness on Buxton’s part. To mitigate the impact of his presence, or lack thereof in the lineup, it will be on Jake Cave to improve his 2019 output and bring the numbers he’s posted in Rochester to Minnesota. This was pulled over from our blogs section originally appearing from Off The Baggy. You can start your own blog here. Click here to view the article
  11. Last season much was made of Buxton being injury-prone. He dealt with migraines during an unfortunate time with the team down in Puerto Rico, and then broke a toe during a potentially unnecessary rehab stint. Minnesota rushed him back to the lineup and ultimately, he played just 28 games before being shut down (reluctantly) in September. After a promising end to 2017, it was hardly the year anyone involved wanted. In 2019 he’s made a couple of different appearances on the IL, and while frustrating, no one in the room is more disappointed than Byron himself. Concussions have been a thing for Buxton over the course of his career, and the latest one suffered while simply diving forward for a fly ball had all the appearances of a fluke. With his head and neck surging forward and his face/chin driving into the ground, the jarring movement was enough to do damage. He missed roughly two weeks before being cleared (although that was complicated by the removal of his wisdom teeth). The current shoulder injury was caused when tracking down a ball in the gap. The collision with the wall was seemingly not significant, but enough force was there to cause harm. For me neither of the most recent maladies would fall into the category of reckless aggression. Minnesota has made strides in Buxton’s positioning, and through conversation with Byron, in hopes of sparing him from unnecessary hits. Taking matters into his own hands as well, Buxton told Dan Hayes of The Athletic that he bulked up this winter in hopes of a more durable stature. In short, I’m not sure there’s much to be done here than blame bad luck. One of the most spectacular catches Byron has ever made happened in May 2017 against the Cleveland Indians. Flying towards the right-center gap, he leapt and used the wall as the sole stop for his momentum. The catch was great, the fallout was not. It’s plays like this that while spectacular, Minnesota is undoubtedly trying to avoid. Byron has the ability to generate 5-star catches (per Statcast) and lead the big leagues in Outs Above Average while rarely sacrificing himself going back on the baseball. Discussion about avoiding the wall has taken place, and even with a well ingrained instinct to make all sacrifices, I believe the message of staying healthy and available to the team has been given. Whenever he returns, we’ll have to hope that the hot hitting follows suit (10-26, 7 XBH since his concussion return). The Twins will continue working with him to find ways to avoid preventable injury, and they’ll chalk up situations like this one as an unfortunate result and opportunity for strengthened health. Now it’s on Jake Cave to step up. There’s no denying that Minnesota is worse without Buxton. He patrols the outfield and allows the corners to remain strong, while giving utility players one less spot they need to key in on. Max Kepler is an above average centerfielder, but he’s not Byron, and the guys around him now must pick up the slack. So far, we haven’t seen Cave do that, but the evidence is there. Cave is not a good center fielder. He lacks the instincts to adequately cover so much ground at Target Field. He is a serviceable right fielder though and that’s what Minnesota needs from him for much of the next month. The defense shouldn’t be called into question as much down the line, but that bat must begin to play. Though sporadic, his 103 plate appearances have resulted in a paltry .198/.320/.302 slash line. He’s got just five extra-base hits and has only been a fraction of the .786 OPS player we saw a season ago. Still 26-years-old and having played less than 130 big league games, Cave is continuing through an acclimation process. 2018 showed us that the ability is there, and in 48 Triple-A games this season he owns a .352/.393/.592 slash line with 29 extra-base hits (seven homers). Jake has nearly doubled his big-league walk rate this year, and he’s trimmed a bit off his strikeout rate. Whiffing the same amount but chasing a bit less, his hard-hit rate is now over 41%. Arguably the most significant issue Cave is dealing with this season is his launch angle. Hitting the ball harder matters little when he dropped to a 16.1% line drive rate (from 25.7%) and a 17.9% fly ball rate (from 30.6%). A 10-degree launch angle a season ago has dropped to the tune of a 3.7 degree mark this season. Opportunity for success lies most within addressing this problem. It will be on James Rowson to work with Cave on getting back to what he was doing last season. Lifting the ball must be a part of his game and wasting significant quality barreled balls isn’t something a fringe batter can afford. Over the next month we’ll definitely miss Byron Buxton. We need to spend less time worrying about how to change or overhaul his style of play though. This is an unfortunate situation that the Twins face, but it isn’t one that’s been created by carelessness on Buxton’s part. To mitigate the impact of his presence, or lack thereof in the lineup, it will be on Jake Cave to improve his 2019 output and bring the numbers he’s posted in Rochester to Minnesota. This was pulled over from our blogs section originally appearing from Off The Baggy. You can start your own blog here.
  12. Over the weekend the Minnesota Twins were dealt a blow they’ve too often been a victim of this season. Byron Buxton, arguably the most important player on this club, hit the Injured List with what essentially boils down to a shoulder dislocation. The play in question was hardly an aggressive jolt to his body, but what initially resulted in a lineup scratching for soreness has turned into a month-long question mark. For Byron this theme gets examined again, and for Jake Cave the time is now. Last season much was made of Buxton being injury prone. He dealt with migraines during an unfortunate time with the team down in Puerto Rico, and then broke a toe during a potentially unnecessary rehab stint. Minnesota rushed him back to the lineup and ultimately, he played just 28 games before being shut down (begrudgingly) in September. After a promising end to 2017, it was hardly the year anyone involved wanted. In 2019 he’s made a couple of different appearances on the Injured List, and while frustrating, no one in the room is more disappointed than Byron himself. Concussions have been a thing for Buxton over the course of his career, and the latest one suffered while simply diving forward for a fly ball had all the parameters of a fluke. With his head and neck surging forward and his face/chin driving into the ground, the jarring movement was enough to do damage. He missed roughly two weeks before being cleared (although that was complicated by the removal of his wisdom teeth). The shoulder injury was caused when tracking down a ball in the gap. There wasn’t a significant collision with the wall, but enough pressure was forced to cause harm. Neither of the most recent maladies would fall into the category of reckless aggression for me. Minnesota has made strides in Buxton’s positioning, and through conversation with Byron, in hopes of sparing him from unnecessary hits. Taking matters into his own hands as well, Buxton told Dan Hayes of The Athletic that he bulked up this winter in hopes of a more durable stature. In short, I’m not sure there’s much to be done here than blame bad luck. One of the most spectacular catches Byron has ever made happened in May 2017 against the Cleveland Indians. Flying towards the right-center gap, he leapt and used the wall as a sole stopping power for his momentum. The catch was great, the fallout was not. It’s plays like this that while spectacular, Minnesota is undoubtedly trying to avoid. Byron has the ability to generate 5-star catches (per Statcast) and lead the big leagues in Outs Above Average while rarely sacrificing himself going back on the baseball. Discussion about avoiding the wall has taken place, and even with a well engrained instinct to make all sacrifices, I believe the message of availability is there. Whenever he returns, we’ll have to hope that the hot hitting follows suit (10-26 7 XBH since his concussion return). The Twins will continue working with him to find ways to avoid preventable injury, and they’ll chalk up situations like this one, as an unfortunate result and opportunity for strengthened health. Now it’s on Jake Cave to step up. There’s no denying that Minnesota is worth without Buxton. He patrols the outfield and allows the corners to remain strong, while giving utility players one less spot they need to key in on. Max Kepler is an above average centerfielder, but he’s not Byron, and the guys around him now must pick up the slack. So far, we haven’t seen Cave do that, but the evidence is there. Cave is not a good centerfielder. He lacks the instincts to adequately cover so much ground at Target Field. He is a serviceable right fielder though and that’s what Minnesota needs from him for much of the next month. The defense shouldn’t be called into question as much down the line, but that bat must begin to play. Though sporadic, his 103 plate appearances have results in a paltry .198/.320/.302 slash line. He’s got just five extra-base hits and hasn’t been a shred of the .786 OPS player we saw a season ago. Still 26-years-old and having played less than 130 big league games, Cave is continuing through an acclimation process. 2018 showed us that the ability is there, and in 48 Triple-A games this season he owns a .352/.393/.592 slash line with 29 extra-base hits (seven homers). Jake has nearly doubled his big-league walk rate this year, and he’s trimmed a bit off his strikeout rate. Whiffing the same amount but chasing a bit less, his hard-hit rate is now over 41%. Arguably the most egregious issue Cave has dealt with this season is his launch angle. Hitting the ball harder matters little when he dropped to a 16.1% line drive rate (from 25.7%) and a 17.9% fly ball rate (from 30.6%). A 10-degree launch angle a season ago has bottomed out to the tune of a 3.7 degree mark this season. Opportunity for success lies most within addressing this problem. It will be on James Rowson to work with Cave on getting back to what he was doing last season. Lifting the ball must be a part of his game and wasting significant quality barreled balls isn’t something a fringe batter can afford. Over the next month we’ll definitely miss Byron Buxton. We need to spend less time worrying about how to change or overhaul his play style though. This is an unfortunate situation that the Twins face, but it isn’t one that’s been created by carelessness on Buxton’s part. To mitigate the impact of his presence, or lack thereof in the lineup, it will be on Jake Cave to rectify his 2019 output and bring the numbers he’s posted in Rochester to Minnesota. For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  13. Max Kepler says his 2018 season was sidetracked when he got caught up in thinking about launch angle. “I’ll be honest,” the Twins outfielder confided this spring, “I bought into it a little bit -- the launch stuff -- and I wanted to see if it would work for me. I wouldn’t say that it didn’t [work] but it certainly opened my eyes to my strengths and what works for me.” The confession was strange considering Kepler had been an advocate of hitting down through the ball. As more hitters sang from the gospel of getting the ball in the air, heading into the 2017 season he went so far as saying he found the idea of elevating the ball to be “completely bogus” as he based his philosophy to advice from Barry Bonds, who told him to focus on hitting “hard ground balls” and “hit the ball through the pitcher’s forehead”. The growing trend was too strong for him to resist.By his own admission, Kepler’s ultimate goal was never to hit ground balls. He wanted a level swing. One, he said, that imparted backspin on the ball to help it carry. While batted balls can certainly travel with different variations of spin (back, top, side) more recent research has found that concepts like chopping or cutting a ball to create that spin is a fool’s errand. In fact, physics show that more spin can even suppress the distance, regardless of spin direction. The end goal, as Twins hitting coach James Rowson so eloquently put it in his instructional video, should be to hit the ball square. In 2018 Kepler would post the highest launch angle average of his career (15.2 degrees) but also learned the lesson that if you hit too many balls into the vast wasteland of the middle of the ballpark, many of those can be tracked down. Target Field was especially unforgiving for him when he wasn’t pulling the ball. “Last year I tried to work on my swing mechanically, and that’s the result I got, popping up a lot of balls,” Kepler said. “One of the lowest batting averages on balls in play, someone brought that up.” He hit .203 on fly balls well below the league’s .283 average on fly balls, so you can see how that can grind. You find the money part of the barrel only to watch another well-struck ball land in a welcoming center fielder’s glove. Kepler acknowledged it was frustrating but resigned himself to concentrate on the process, not the results. The thing the Minnesota Twins evaluators enjoyed about Kepler’s 2018 season was his ability to make consistent solid contact. He finished the year just behind Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano in terms of average exit velocity. They figured it wouldn’t take much to tweak that into improved production. The Twins worked with him on his bat path into the zone (trying not to be as steep into the swing zone), his posture including straightening up in his stance, and had him close his front side up a bit. Download attachment: Kepler Stance Difference.png All the moves have aided in his increased power production but one element has been more of a catalyst for the home run totals. Removing the wider front leg starting point helps keep from cutting himself off and frees him up to pull the ball more. Watch his front leg travel inward a longer distance in 2018: Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (6).GIF With momentum carrying toward home plate, this limited his ability to turn and open up on a pitch effectively. This is why he hit more of his hard hit balls to center instead of pulling them. You might also notice is occasional toe tap he implements in 2019 as well. With the shortened stance, this helps him stay back instead of aggressively attacking the pitch and pulling it foul. Even with a vow of returning to his previous methods and avoid getting caught in a launch angle-centric trap, Kepler entered 2019 hitting the ball in a very similar manner that he did the year before -- in the air. The difference was that rather than sending the balls with premium contact into the big part of the field, with adjusting his set-up, Kepler started to pull the ball: Download attachment: Max Kepler 95 Spray Chart.png After pulling all balls in play 48% of the time last year, he’s yanking 64% of balls in play this season. That shift in approach has led to more power and the added home runs has inflated in that average on fly balls to .342. Now, after hitting a career-best 28th home run of the season, Kepler has increased his home run percentage to 6.4 percent -- one of the top 15 home run rates in baseball. It must be far more satisfying watching those balls disappear over the fence instead of into an outfielder's glove. Click here to view the article
  14. By his own admission, Kepler’s ultimate goal was never to hit ground balls. He wanted a level swing. One, he said, that imparted backspin on the ball to help it carry. While batted balls can certainly travel with different variations of spin (back, top, side) more recent research has found that concepts like chopping or cutting a ball to create that spin is a fool’s errand. In fact, physics show that more spin can even suppress the distance, regardless of spin direction. The end goal, as Twins hitting coach James Rowson so eloquently put it in his instructional video, should be to hit the ball square. In 2018 Kepler would post the highest launch angle average of his career (15.2 degrees) but also learned the lesson that if you hit too many balls into the vast wasteland of the middle of the ballpark, many of those can be tracked down. Target Field was especially unforgiving for him when he wasn’t pulling the ball. “Last year I tried to work on my swing mechanically, and that’s the result I got, popping up a lot of balls,” Kepler said. “One of the lowest batting averages on balls in play, someone brought that up.” He hit .203 on fly balls well below the league’s .283 average on fly balls, so you can see how that can grind. You find the money part of the barrel only to watch another well-struck ball land in a welcoming center fielder’s glove. Kepler acknowledged it was frustrating but resigned himself to concentrate on the process, not the results. The thing the Minnesota Twins evaluators enjoyed about Kepler’s 2018 season was his ability to make consistent solid contact. He finished the year just behind Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano in terms of average exit velocity. They figured it wouldn’t take much to tweak that into improved production. The Twins worked with him on his bat path into the zone (trying not to be as steep into the swing zone), his posture including straightening up in his stance, and had him close his front side up a bit. All the moves have aided in his increased power production but one element has been more of a catalyst for the home run totals. Removing the wider front leg starting point helps keep from cutting himself off and frees him up to pull the ball more. Watch his front leg travel inward a longer distance in 2018: With momentum carrying toward home plate, this limited his ability to turn and open up on a pitch effectively. This is why he hit more of his hard hit balls to center instead of pulling them. You might also notice is occasional toe tap he implements in 2019 as well. With the shortened stance, this helps him stay back instead of aggressively attacking the pitch and pulling it foul. Even with a vow of returning to his previous methods and avoid getting caught in a launch angle-centric trap, Kepler entered 2019 hitting the ball in a very similar manner that he did the year before -- in the air. The difference was that rather than sending the balls with premium contact into the big part of the field, with adjusting his set-up, Kepler started to pull the ball: After pulling all balls in play 48% of the time last year, he’s yanking 64% of balls in play this season. That shift in approach has led to more power and the added home runs has inflated in that average on fly balls to .342. Now, after hitting a career-best 28th home run of the season, Kepler has increased his home run percentage to 6.4 percent -- one of the top 15 home run rates in baseball. It must be far more satisfying watching those balls disappear over the fence instead of into an outfielder's glove.
  15. It's clear that Minnesota's front office is placing an emphatic priority on optimizing this unit. "In my opinion, a staff is not just a manager and a bunch of guys," GM Thad Levine told The Athletic. "We hope to put together the best staff we possibly can." The Twins reportedly vetted up to two dozen candidates in their managerial search, so there's no question they'll turn over every stone in surrounding him with the right pieces. Let's get up to speed on what the coaching staff currently looks like, and who to keep an eye on for the open spots. MANAGER Last Thursday, the Minnesota Twins formally introduced Rocco Baldelli as the franchise's 14th manager. He brings with him many likable traits and attributes, but not a lick of experience. At 37, Baldelli is the youngest man in MLB to hold the job, and he has never managed at any pro level. (His titles with the Rays after retiring from playing: roving minor-league instructor/special assistant to baseball operations, first base coach, major league field coordinator.) As such, it makes sense to offset this deficiency, so we'll presumably see the Twins bring in seasoned perspective with at least some of their coming hires – especially at bench coach, where the front office is envisioning a highly collaborative, almost symbiotic relationship. BENCH COACH Incumbent Derek Shelton was a finalist for the manager nod before falling short of Baldelli, who must have blown away Falvey and Levine because the two top execs raved about Shelton's performance while interviewing. Shelton now appears to be one of the top choices for Texas' managerial opening, but if he misses out, Falvey and Levine are clearly hoping he'll return to his previous gig. And while the 48-year-old may not be jazzed about returning to bench coach duties after coming so close to the top job. twice, the Twins are trying to make it as appealing to him as they can. Said Levine: "The analogy we presented to (Shelton) that we truly believe in is, (Falvey) and I are tackling the role of general manager together. We are hopeful that he would be open-minded about tackling the leadership in our clubhouse with Rocco Baldelli.” Baldelli's bench coach will be instrumental in helping the rookie skipper acclimate to a new organization and a new world of responsibility. Shelton, who managed for three seasons in the minors before coaching in various capacities for three major-league teams, is ideally suited for the task, especially because of his existing relationships in the locker room (not to mention with Baldelli, from their days in Tampa). I think the odds are strongly in favor of Shelton remaining as bench coach. But if the Rangers pluck him away, the Twins will need to pivot elsewhere. HITTING COACH Both James Rowson and assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez were kept on, as perhaps the only ones to survive this exodus (pending Shelton). Rowson interviewed for the manager job so evidently the front office views him highly. Hernandez has strong rapport with the Spanish-speaking players on the team. In terms of on-field results, the instructional duo doesn't have a ton to show; Minnesota took significant steps backward in key offensive categories this year. But in so many cases – Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Jason Castro, Brian Dozier, etc. – there were deeper issues at play. And we did see some successes, most notably rookies Jake Cave and Mitch Garver. So, I'm good with these two being kept on. They'll have plenty of new colleagues. PITCHING COACH Garvin Alston's tenure with the Twins lasted just one season. The team is quickly changing gears after bringing in the former A's bullpen coach one year ago, even though the pitching staff was altogether solid in 2018. It sounds like the new manager will have significant influence over this decision. Per Dan Hayes of The Athletic, a "source suggested that Baldelli might want to bring in his own guy at pitching coach, a position he will likely rely upon heavily in his first season as the club’s manager." One name that's been brought up (again, by Hayes, who's been very tuned in and is a must-follow on Twitter) is Charles Nagy. He brings the experience, both as a pitcher (he spent 14 seasons in the majors) and as an MLB pitching coach (three years with the D-backs, three years with the Angels). He has recent ties to Falvey, having spent the 2015 season as Special Assistant to Player Development for Cleveland. Nagy spent the last three seasons in Anaheim before being ousted along with manager Mike Scioscia in a purge of the Angels coaching staff. But he has a solid reputation around the game. He's credited with helping left-hander Patrick Corbin (a potential Twins offseason target) develop during his time in Arizona. Considered a laid-back type and an excellent communicator, Nagy seems stylistically similar to Rowson, and his breadth of experience would surely be invaluable to Baldelli. This match would make a lot of sense. But if it doesn't happen, another name to keep in mind is Carl Willis, who has twice interviewed for Twins pitching coach vacancies (losing out to Alston and Neil Allen). The Cleveland connection is present there as well, obviously. In terms of people with connections to Baldelli, Stan Boroski is the Rays bullpen coach and has been for seven years. BULLPEN COACH After four years in the position, Eddie Guardado is out. It's anyone's guess where the Twins might go now. As the nature of major-league bullpens evolves before our eyes, presumably Minnesota will opt for a new-school mind, capable of preparing his staff for experimental usage patterns and non-traditional roles. Stu Cliburn seems most likely among internal candidates. Currently the pitching coach at Triple-A Rochester, Cliburn is a well-known commodity in the organization with nearly three decades of tenure. But despite his entrenchment, the 62-year-old is not closed-minded. In his feature for the Offseason Handbook, Parker Hageman described how Cliburn helped sell Rochester's pitchers on the merits of the "Opener" strategy. This quotes from the piece feels relevant: “Routine adjustment is going to be big,” Cliburn said regarding what the biggest challenge is for his players. “Sometimes routines can get disrupted for different reasons, rain and whatnot, but you just have to learn to adjust your program.” He'd be a solid anchor of familiarity on a staff that figures to be crowded with newcomers. Pete Maki, the former Duke pitching coach who took over for Erik Rasmussen as minor-league pitching coordinator a year ago and led the charge with implementation of the opener method, is another possibility from within. A potential sleeper to watch: Matt Belisle, who was essentially serving as pseudo-bullpen coach for much of this season. 1B/3B COACHES The Twins are moving on from both first base coach Jeff Smith and third base coach Gene Glynn. If you're looking within, Tommy Watkins stands out as a great option. He managed the Double-A team this year and is currently managing the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League. "I am humbled that the Twins trust me with this role," Watkins told our Seth Stohs last month. While the Twins have severed ties with holdovers at almost all levels, Watkins just continues to rise. He is extremely well liked within the organization. One thing to consider is that first and third base coaches tend to have specializations in terms of player instruction. Smith often worked with the catchers, and – given the rawness of Garver – it's only logical the Twins will seek out an individual who can teach at that position. I've got a feeling about clubhouse favorite Chris Gimenez. Another consideration in this search: Baldelli stated during his introductory presser that he's "looking for a very diverse staff." "One of my best friends, who was just named manager of the Blue Jays [Charlie Montoyo], I’ve seen him relate to players in ways that I can’t. Although I would try very hard in some ways, I see him just step up and do things." The Twins will have at least one Spanish-speaker on the staff in Hernandez. But it wouldn't be surprising to see them add another in one of these important roles. Jose Molina, currently the minor-league catching coordinator for the Angels, would check both of the last two boxes mentioned. If the front office is aiming for experience and elder statesmanship, they could look toward Edwin Rodriguez. The 58-year-old started his post-playing career as a scout with the Twins back in 1989. He's managed all over in the minors and is currently doing so at San Diego's Class-A affiliate. Rodriguez was interim skipper in Miami for a spell back in 2010. Oh, and he was also manager of the Appalachian League's Princeton Devil Rays in 2000, when a teenager by the name of Rocco Baldelli was breaking into pro baseball for the first time. QUALITY CONTROL COACH This is a relatively new position around the league, and it doesn't technically exist on the Twins' staff, but seems to be the rough equivalent of what Jeff Pickler was doing under the bland title of "Major League Coach." Pickler won't be back in that capacity, though there are rumblings he'll land in Minnesota's front office. It's not clear the Twins will fill this position, but I'm guessing they will. The choice could very well end up being someone most of us have never heard before. One name to keep an eye on is Mark Kotsay, currently the quality control coach for an Oakland team that blew everyone away with its quality this year. Kotsay and Baldelli were teammates in Boston back in '09. (Big shout-outs to Seth Stohs, Tom Froemming and John Bonnes for helping chip in ideas and names to mention in this rundown.)
  16. When the Twins dismissed manager Paul Molitor at the end of the season, it set into motion a major overhaul of the coaching staff that's still underway. Read on for a comprehensive breakdown of who's still in, who was sent out, and which names are worth monitoring for the newly vacant roles.It's clear that Minnesota's front office is placing an emphatic priority on optimizing this unit. "In my opinion, a staff is not just a manager and a bunch of guys," GM Thad Levine told The Athletic. "We hope to put together the best staff we possibly can." The Twins reportedly vetted up to two dozen candidates in their managerial search, so there's no question they'll turn over every stone in surrounding him with the right pieces. Let's get up to speed on what the coaching staff currently looks like, and who to keep an eye on for the open spots. MANAGER Last Thursday, the Minnesota Twins formally introduced Rocco Baldelli as the franchise's 14th manager. He brings with him many likable traits and attributes, but not a lick of experience. At 37, Baldelli is the youngest man in MLB to hold the job, and he has never managed at any pro level. (His titles with the Rays after retiring from playing: roving minor-league instructor/special assistant to baseball operations, first base coach, major league field coordinator.) As such, it makes sense to offset this deficiency, so we'll presumably see the Twins bring in seasoned perspective with at least some of their coming hires – especially at bench coach, where the front office is envisioning a highly collaborative, almost symbiotic relationship. BENCH COACH Incumbent Derek Shelton was a finalist for the manager nod before falling short of Baldelli, who must have blown away Falvey and Levine because the two top execs raved about Shelton's performance while interviewing. Shelton now appears to be one of the top choices for Texas' managerial opening, but if he misses out, Falvey and Levine are clearly hoping he'll return to his previous gig. And while the 48-year-old may not be jazzed about returning to bench coach duties after coming so close to the top job. twice, the Twins are trying to make it as appealing to him as they can. Said Levine: "The analogy we presented to (Shelton) that we truly believe in is, (Falvey) and I are tackling the role of general manager together. We are hopeful that he would be open-minded about tackling the leadership in our clubhouse with Rocco Baldelli.” Baldelli's bench coach will be instrumental in helping the rookie skipper acclimate to a new organization and a new world of responsibility. Shelton, who managed for three seasons in the minors before coaching in various capacities for three major-league teams, is ideally suited for the task, especially because of his existing relationships in the locker room (not to mention with Baldelli, from their days in Tampa). I think the odds are strongly in favor of Shelton remaining as bench coach. But if the Rangers pluck him away, the Twins will need to pivot elsewhere. HITTING COACH Both James Rowson and assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez were kept on, as perhaps the only ones to survive this exodus (pending Shelton). Rowson interviewed for the manager job so evidently the front office views him highly. Hernandez has strong rapport with the Spanish-speaking players on the team. In terms of on-field results, the instructional duo doesn't have a ton to show; Minnesota took significant steps backward in key offensive categories this year. But in so many cases – Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Jason Castro, Brian Dozier, etc. – there were deeper issues at play. And we did see some successes, most notably rookies Jake Cave and Mitch Garver. So, I'm good with these two being kept on. They'll have plenty of new colleagues. PITCHING COACH Garvin Alston's tenure with the Twins lasted just one season. The team is quickly changing gears after bringing in the former A's bullpen coach one year ago, even though the pitching staff was altogether solid in 2018. It sounds like the new manager will have significant influence over this decision. Per Dan Hayes of The Athletic, a "source suggested that Baldelli might want to bring in his own guy at pitching coach, a position he will likely rely upon heavily in his first season as the club’s manager." One name that's been brought up (again, by Hayes, who's been very tuned in and is a must-follow on Twitter) is Charles Nagy. He brings the experience, both as a pitcher (he spent 14 seasons in the majors) and as an MLB pitching coach (three years with the D-backs, three years with the Angels). He has recent ties to Falvey, having spent the 2015 season as Special Assistant to Player Development for Cleveland. Nagy spent the last three seasons in Anaheim before being ousted along with manager Mike Scioscia in a purge of the Angels coaching staff. But he has a solid reputation around the game. He's credited with helping left-hander Patrick Corbin (a potential Twins offseason target) develop during his time in Arizona. Considered a laid-back type and an excellent communicator, Nagy seems stylistically similar to Rowson, and his breadth of experience would surely be invaluable to Baldelli. This match would make a lot of sense. But if it doesn't happen, another name to keep in mind is Carl Willis, who has twice interviewed for Twins pitching coach vacancies (losing out to Alston and Neil Allen). The Cleveland connection is present there as well, obviously. In terms of people with connections to Baldelli, Stan Boroski is the Rays bullpen coach and has been for seven years. BULLPEN COACH After four years in the position, Eddie Guardado is out. It's anyone's guess where the Twins might go now. As the nature of major-league bullpens evolves before our eyes, presumably Minnesota will opt for a new-school mind, capable of preparing his staff for experimental usage patterns and non-traditional roles. Stu Cliburn seems most likely among internal candidates. Currently the pitching coach at Triple-A Rochester, Cliburn is a well-known commodity in the organization with nearly three decades of tenure. But despite his entrenchment, the 62-year-old is not closed-minded. In his feature for the Offseason Handbook, Parker Hageman described how Cliburn helped sell Rochester's pitchers on the merits of the "Opener" strategy. This quotes from the piece feels relevant: “Routine adjustment is going to be big,” Cliburn said regarding what the biggest challenge is for his players. “Sometimes routines can get disrupted for different reasons, rain and whatnot, but you just have to learn to adjust your program.” He'd be a solid anchor of familiarity on a staff that figures to be crowded with newcomers. Pete Maki, the former Duke pitching coach who took over for Erik Rasmussen as minor-league pitching coordinator a year ago and led the charge with implementation of the opener method, is another possibility from within. A potential sleeper to watch: Matt Belisle, who was essentially serving as pseudo-bullpen coach for much of this season. 1B/3B COACHES The Twins are moving on from both first base coach Jeff Smith and third base coach Gene Glynn. If you're looking within, Tommy Watkins stands out as a great option. He managed the Double-A team this year and is currently managing the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League. "I am humbled that the Twins trust me with this role," Watkins told our Seth Stohs last month. While the Twins have severed ties with holdovers at almost all levels, Watkins just continues to rise. He is extremely well liked within the organization. One thing to consider is that first and third base coaches tend to have specializations in terms of player instruction. Smith often worked with the catchers, and – given the rawness of Garver – it's only logical the Twins will seek out an individual who can teach at that position. I've got a feeling about clubhouse favorite Chris Gimenez. Another consideration in this search: Baldelli stated during his introductory presser that he's "looking for a very diverse staff." "One of my best friends, who was just named manager of the Blue Jays [Charlie Montoyo], I’ve seen him relate to players in ways that I can’t. Although I would try very hard in some ways, I see him just step up and do things." The Twins will have at least one Spanish-speaker on the staff in Hernandez. But it wouldn't be surprising to see them add another in one of these important roles. Jose Molina, currently the minor-league catching coordinator for the Angels, would check both of the last two boxes mentioned. If the front office is aiming for experience and elder statesmanship, they could look toward Edwin Rodriguez. The 58-year-old started his post-playing career as a scout with the Twins back in 1989. He's managed all over in the minors and is currently doing so at San Diego's Class-A affiliate. Rodriguez was interim skipper in Miami for a spell back in 2010. Oh, and he was also manager of the Appalachian League's Princeton Devil Rays in 2000, when a teenager by the name of Rocco Baldelli was breaking into pro baseball for the first time. QUALITY CONTROL COACH This is a relatively new position around the league, and it doesn't technically exist on the Twins' staff, but seems to be the rough equivalent of what Jeff Pickler was doing under the bland title of "Major League Coach." Pickler won't be back in that capacity, though there are rumblings he'll land in Minnesota's front office. It's not clear the Twins will fill this position, but I'm guessing they will. The choice could very well end up being someone most of us have never heard before. One name to keep an eye on is Mark Kotsay, currently the quality control coach for an Oakland team that blew everyone away with its quality this year. Kotsay and Baldelli were teammates in Boston back in '09. (Big shout-outs to Seth Stohs, Tom Froemming and John Bonnes for helping chip in ideas and names to mention in this rundown.) Click here to view the article
  17. Derek Shelton Current Role: Twins Bench Coach Qualifications: He spent seven seasons as hitting coach under Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay. Also, he spent five seasons as hitting coach in Cleveland. He managed in the Yankees minor league system for multiple years. The 2018 season was his 14th season as a coach at the big-league level. Jeff Pickler Current Role: Twins Major League coach Qualifications: This past season was his second season as a professional coach. His roles this season included instructing the outfielders, advising coaches and players on game preparation, and communicating with the player development side of the baseball operations department. He served as a scout with the Diamonbacks and Padres organization. He also served in a front office role with the Dodgers. James Rowson Current Role: Twins hitting coach Qualifications: He has coached professionally for 17 seasons. Had multiple tenures with the Yankees organization as their minor league hitting coordinator. He spent a couple seasons in the Cubs organization as their minor league hitting coordinator and big-league hitting coach. Minnesota has already interviewed him for the job. Joel Skinner Current Role: Twins Triple-A manager Qualifications: He spent six seasons managing in the Indians minor league system. He moved up to Cleveland’s big-league staff in 2000 and even served as the interim manager in 2002. At the time, he was the youngest manager in baseball. He remained on the coaching staff until 2009 and then moved on to become Oakland’s bench coach. This past season was his first in the Twins system. How do you view the internal candidates? Do any of them have a leg-up on the job? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  18. A season ago, the Minnesota Twins brought in James Rowson as their hitting coach. Following the dismissal of Tom Brunansky, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine handpicked a candidate of a lesser known name. WIth what he had done with some of the hitter in the Yankees organization however, there was excitement regarding potential results. Fast forward a year, and the growth with some young Twins hitters was incredible. In 2018, Minnesota will be looking for more of the same from their new pitching coach, Garvin Alston. The Twins are coming off a 2017 that saw records in starting pitchers used (16), and arms as a whole (36). Knowing this club is coming into 2018 with high expectations and again focused on the Postseason, getting more consistent results on the mound is a must. In that regard, there's no coach more integral to Minnesota taking the next step forward than Alston. A pitcher for the Colorado Rockies during his brief MLB career, Alston has spent almost the entirety of his coaching life with the Oakland Athletics. He was twice a minor league pitching coach, while serving as a pitching coordinator in 2015. During the 2016 season, worked as the bullpen coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and then he headed back to the Bay Area to serve in the same capacity for the A's a season ago. Much like Rowson was able to help players like Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco foster success down the stretch a season ago, Alston will be tasked with growth in 2018. Kyle Gibson may be the area for greatest success, but there should be no shortage of impressionable arms looking to reach the next level. Among all Twins starters, no one is looking to replicate their second half as much as Gibson is. The 3.57 ERA across his final 12 starts (and 2.92 ERA across the final 8) would position him as a treue middle-of-the-rotation arm. After scuffling hard out of the gate, and looking like a non-tender candidate halfway through 2017, Gibby officially turned it around. With the offseason in his rear view mirror, and a solid spring training under his belt, Gibson will need to replicate his late season efforts in hopes of bolstering the Twins chances. It's not just veteran arms Alston will be tasked with maximizing though, in fact the vast majority aren't veteran arms. Jose Berrios looked the part of a good starter last year, but there's real star potential there and he'll be trying to harness that on an every start basis. Eventually pitchers like Felix Jorge, Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves, and Zack Littell will find their way onto the Target Field mound. Keeping command in focus and not allowing the moment to be too big, Alston will be forced to challenge the young arms while also keeping them in check. For Minnesota, a retooling of the starting rotation was needed, and pitchers like Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi fall more under the notion of tweaks rather than full-scale hand holding. The bullpen also was bolstered with reinforcements, and guys like Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney should be cut from a similar cloth as their veteran starting counterparts. In relief though, Garvin Alston will oversee a guy in Trevor Hildenberger who had a breakout 2017 and became one of Minnesota's best relievers. Through spring training thus far, Hildenberger has seen results anything but reflective of his 2017 exploits. A reminder that the slate is wiped clean and a 9.4 K/9 along with a 1.3 BB/9 came out of that arm a year ago will go a long ways to determine how the Twins handle late innings. Taylor Rogers will be expected to take a step forward, and eventually Jake Reed, Tyler Kinley, and any number of other arms could be called upon to get meaningful outs. While there's a good argument to be made that most managers misuse or at least under-utilize their bullpens, it will be on Alston and Molitor to find a blueprint that gets the most out of their club. The 46 year old pitching coach will need to dance between relating to players not much his junior, and a manager significantly his senior. Evaluation of a pitching coach is relatively difficult, and even more so in a small sample size situation. We may not know what Alston is capable of or has become for the Twins after 2018, but you can bet than a significant positive impact would go a long ways towards success. Seen as a pitching guru, Falvey tabbed Alston his guy, and giving him a staff that has a little bit of everything should provide plenty of opportunity to grow. Minnesota needs pitching to become a strength, and Alston pioneering that movement would be massive. For more from Off The Baggy click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  19. I encourage you to check out the full interviews for yourself, there are hours of audio available online. All of the Friday content is available on the Sports to the Max page, Saturday’s interviews are on Steve Thompson and Eric Nelson’s page and the Sunday talks are on Sports Huddle with Sid and Dave. Naturally, there were a lot of common themes that came up, one of which was getting to the playoffs and the team’s goals for next season. Let’s start off with my favorite quote from the entire weekend … Zack Granite on playing the Yankees in the Wild Card game: “It was a really cool moment for me, I had a lot of family there, but I’m tired of them now. I want to kick their ass next year.” Jose Berrios on goals for 2018: “When you taste a game like that – playoffs – you want to be there for the rest of your career. So now, we go to Spring Training with that expectation. We’re going to prepare our bodies and our minds for October.” It was also really interesting to hear some of the pitchers touch on their past struggles, lessons they’ve learned and ways they approach the game Kyle Gibson on his second-half surge: “I really found my fastball. I found some trust in my fastball. I always had trust in the sinker, but I don’t know that I knew exactly what that meant. But then I found some trust in my four seamer as well. I think what that allowed me to do is use four seamers early, just throw the tar out of it all the time, and get ahead of guys with that. Everything played off of that a lot better.” Ryan Pressley on routines: “A lot of big league players will tell you it’s all about setting a routine. I didn’t even know how to set a routine until two years ago and I’ve been up here for a while. It’s finally starting to click and I was finally able to get stuff done. Last year when (Matt) Belisle came in, watching him go about his day was impressive. It was really fun to watch, and that’s why he’s got 12 years in the big leagues. He goes about his business and does it the right way. That’s what I want to learn from these guys (the new free agents) coming in here.” Trevor Hildenberger on adjusting to the majors: “You hear so much about the strike zone and how small it is and how small it can be for rookies. But ( Jason) Castro really made a huge impact stealing strikes for me, framing pitches. He was getting me calls that I thought I had no business getting. So the ability to frame pitches I didn’t realize was such a huge factor until I got to the big leagues.” Trevor May on Tommy John surgery: “(Ryan) Vogelsong, he gave me a really, really detailed rundown of the first couple months … He was like here’s some things you really need to focus on, things that worked for me and are the reason why I’m still going strong.” And May on rejoining the Twins: “If you’re doing your job. and where you need to be, it all shakes out in the end. It doesn't matter how quickly for me it happens, I just want to make sure when I’m here it’s go time and it’s not like ‘you’re rehabbing from Tommy John,’ it’s ’you’re part of the team Tommy John’s behind you.’” J.T. Chargois on his health: “I’m feeling good right now. I think that through spring training last year I developed a little mechanical glitch in my follow through and through a lot of video analysis I’ve broken that done and figured it out. So my arm’s doing well and I’m ready for spring.” Zach Duke on his strengths: “My strength is randomness. I throw from a couple different arm angles, I’ve got about eight different pitches and when I’m on I feel like I can throw any of them at any time” It was also interesting to hear some of the hitters talk about adjustments and their approach at the plate. Byron Buxton on adjustments: “Not really being able to fail back in high school and in little league, it was very tough for me once I got up here. All the negative thoughts start coming, and that was a first for me. That’s what it took for me to realize I’ve got to make adjustments in this game and you’ve got to make some changes. Finally I got strong enough mentally to realize I can handle this and change my swing.” Max Kepler on the mental side of the game: “The mind is powerful, and it can get in the way of baseball, for sure.” Brent Rooker on Brian Dozier: “The whole thing about hitting to me is just trying to make your body work as efficiently as you can to get everything out of your ability and everything out of your strengths. So you look at a guy like Brian who’s maybe not the biggest guy, but who hit 40 something home runs a few years ago, who continually hits 25-plus home runs, he’s got to be doing something right. He’s learned how to use his body and use his swing and his mechanics to get the most out of his athleticism, most out of his strength, most out of his talents, which is something I really respect.” Alex Kirilloff on the type of hitter he is: “I try to be as well-rounded as I can. I’m not a real big mechanical guy. I focus a lot on timing and vision. That’s taken me a long way, I’ve worked on that from a very young age and that’s brought me a lot of success so far.” And, of course, there was some great stuff from the coaching staff. Manager Paul Molitor on dealing with personalities: “We try to make these guys better, but whatever you want to call it — new generations, millennials — you have to try to find what clicks for them and what gets them going. I’ve done more millennial studying than you’d want to know about, to be honest with you, but you try to get in there and certainly the relationships are as important part of today’s game.” Hitting coach James Rowson on the young hitters: “They just need more at bats. The more experience they get, the better they get. So I think last year was a chance to give them a chance to fail, give them a chance to go out there and be themselves and not worry about what they do wrong but try to stay positive with them and let them do what they do right.” And Rowson specifically talking about Buxton: “It was never really about the leg kick in our discussions ... I always say ‘you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe’… If you’re not strong in your lower half, you’re not going to be able to execute that swing consistently. So what we talked about with him was just getting to a point where he was stronger on his legs. He could feel his legs and he could feel like he was grounded when he was going to take a swing. He started to feel that by eliminating the leg kick a little bit at first. It gave him the feeling that he needed … once he got that feeling, I told him ‘go out there and be an athlete and do the best you can. Don’t think about it, just go out there and react.’” Outfield instructor Jeff Pickler on helping players improve: “The neat thing about our outfield group is that it’s not so much what I’m telling them, it’s things they’re coming to us saying they want to do better.” Pitching coach Garvin Alston on how he got into the business: “I wasn’t sure if this was the direction I wanted to go in, or if I wanted to go back into teaching and doing things of that nature. So what ended up happening was a player, Andrew Bailey ... at that time (2008) was struggling through some things and we worked. And we worked hard. And in doing so, I saw him turn a corner and get better. And I said ‘you know what? This is fun, being able to help.’” Third base coach Gene Glynn on Alson: “He’s an up-beat, real positive high-energy guy. Really smart, very intelligent and organized.” Glynn also pointed out that he was Alston's very first professional manager. He as at the helm of the Bend Rockies back in 1992, which also happened to be where Alston made his debut after being drafted in the 10th round earlier that year. There was also some interesting talk of payroll and potential transactions, as you’d expect for this time of year. Brian Dozier, responding to a question from Sid Hartman regarding a potential extension: “I knew you were going to ask me that. I do want to stay here. That stuff takes care of itself. I’m sure we’ll talk in spring training just to see where both sides are at.” Owner Jim Pohlad on the budget: “We set an overall budget, we don’t sit down and just spend all the time just on player payroll … There’s just a number put in there and it’s not like ‘ok this is the number you guys have to spend, go spend it or not.’ We build in I would think a not conservative number for sure, a more aggressive number.” Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press wrote in length about Pohlad and CEO Dave St. Peter's comments regarding Yu Darvish over the weekend. If you went to TwinsFest, please share anything interesting you overheard, or your experiences from the event in the comments.
  20. TwinsFest is a great destination for fans to gather, meet the players and maybe score a few autographs, but it’s also the source of a lot of great information. WCCO did an amazing job providing coverage from the event, and made tons of interviews available online. Here’s some of the quotes I found to be most interesting ...I encourage you to check out the full interviews for yourself, there are hours of audio available online. All of the Friday content is available on the Sports to the Max page, Saturday’s interviews are on Steve Thompson and Eric Nelson’s page and the Sunday talks are on Sports Huddle with Sid and Dave. Naturally, there were a lot of common themes that came up, one of which was getting to the playoffs and the team’s goals for next season. Let’s start off with my favorite quote from the entire weekend … Zack Granite on playing the Yankees in the Wild Card game: “It was a really cool moment for me, I had a lot of family there, but I’m tired of them now. I want to kick their ass next year.” Jose Berrios on goals for 2018: “When you taste a game like that – playoffs – you want to be there for the rest of your career. So now, we go to Spring Training with that expectation. We’re going to prepare our bodies and our minds for October.” It was also really interesting to hear some of the pitchers touch on their past struggles, lessons they’ve learned and ways they approach the game Kyle Gibson on his second-half surge: “I really found my fastball. I found some trust in my fastball. I always had trust in the sinker, but I don’t know that I knew exactly what that meant. But then I found some trust in my four seamer as well. I think what that allowed me to do is use four seamers early, just throw the tar out of it all the time, and get ahead of guys with that. Everything played off of that a lot better.” Ryan Pressley on routines: “A lot of big league players will tell you it’s all about setting a routine. I didn’t even know how to set a routine until two years ago and I’ve been up here for a while. It’s finally starting to click and I was finally able to get stuff done. Last year when (Matt) Belisle came in, watching him go about his day was impressive. It was really fun to watch, and that’s why he’s got 12 years in the big leagues. He goes about his business and does it the right way. That’s what I want to learn from these guys (the new free agents) coming in here.” Trevor Hildenberger on adjusting to the majors: “You hear so much about the strike zone and how small it is and how small it can be for rookies. But ( Jason) Castro really made a huge impact stealing strikes for me, framing pitches. He was getting me calls that I thought I had no business getting. So the ability to frame pitches I didn’t realize was such a huge factor until I got to the big leagues.” Trevor May on Tommy John surgery: “(Ryan) Vogelsong, he gave me a really, really detailed rundown of the first couple months … He was like here’s some things you really need to focus on, things that worked for me and are the reason why I’m still going strong.” And May on rejoining the Twins: “If you’re doing your job. and where you need to be, it all shakes out in the end. It doesn't matter how quickly for me it happens, I just want to make sure when I’m here it’s go time and it’s not like ‘you’re rehabbing from Tommy John,’ it’s ’you’re part of the team Tommy John’s behind you.’” J.T. Chargois on his health: “I’m feeling good right now. I think that through spring training last year I developed a little mechanical glitch in my follow through and through a lot of video analysis I’ve broken that done and figured it out. So my arm’s doing well and I’m ready for spring.” Zach Duke on his strengths: “My strength is randomness. I throw from a couple different arm angles, I’ve got about eight different pitches and when I’m on I feel like I can throw any of them at any time” It was also interesting to hear some of the hitters talk about adjustments and their approach at the plate. Byron Buxton on adjustments: “Not really being able to fail back in high school and in little league, it was very tough for me once I got up here. All the negative thoughts start coming, and that was a first for me. That’s what it took for me to realize I’ve got to make adjustments in this game and you’ve got to make some changes. Finally I got strong enough mentally to realize I can handle this and change my swing.” Max Kepler on the mental side of the game: “The mind is powerful, and it can get in the way of baseball, for sure.” Brent Rooker on Brian Dozier: “The whole thing about hitting to me is just trying to make your body work as efficiently as you can to get everything out of your ability and everything out of your strengths. So you look at a guy like Brian who’s maybe not the biggest guy, but who hit 40 something home runs a few years ago, who continually hits 25-plus home runs, he’s got to be doing something right. He’s learned how to use his body and use his swing and his mechanics to get the most out of his athleticism, most out of his strength, most out of his talents, which is something I really respect.” Alex Kirilloff on the type of hitter he is: “I try to be as well-rounded as I can. I’m not a real big mechanical guy. I focus a lot on timing and vision. That’s taken me a long way, I’ve worked on that from a very young age and that’s brought me a lot of success so far.” And, of course, there was some great stuff from the coaching staff. Manager Paul Molitor on dealing with personalities: “We try to make these guys better, but whatever you want to call it — new generations, millennials — you have to try to find what clicks for them and what gets them going. I’ve done more millennial studying than you’d want to know about, to be honest with you, but you try to get in there and certainly the relationships are as important part of today’s game.” Hitting coach James Rowson on the young hitters: “They just need more at bats. The more experience they get, the better they get. So I think last year was a chance to give them a chance to fail, give them a chance to go out there and be themselves and not worry about what they do wrong but try to stay positive with them and let them do what they do right.” And Rowson specifically talking about Buxton: “It was never really about the leg kick in our discussions ... I always say ‘you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe’… If you’re not strong in your lower half, you’re not going to be able to execute that swing consistently. So what we talked about with him was just getting to a point where he was stronger on his legs. He could feel his legs and he could feel like he was grounded when he was going to take a swing. He started to feel that by eliminating the leg kick a little bit at first. It gave him the feeling that he needed … once he got that feeling, I told him ‘go out there and be an athlete and do the best you can. Don’t think about it, just go out there and react.’” Outfield instructor Jeff Pickler on helping players improve: “The neat thing about our outfield group is that it’s not so much what I’m telling them, it’s things they’re coming to us saying they want to do better.” Pitching coach Garvin Alston on how he got into the business: “I wasn’t sure if this was the direction I wanted to go in, or if I wanted to go back into teaching and doing things of that nature. So what ended up happening was a player, Andrew Bailey ... at that time (2008) was struggling through some things and we worked. And we worked hard. And in doing so, I saw him turn a corner and get better. And I said ‘you know what? This is fun, being able to help.’” Third base coach Gene Glynn on Alson: “He’s an up-beat, real positive high-energy guy. Really smart, very intelligent and organized.” Glynn also pointed out that he was Alston's very first professional manager. He as at the helm of the Bend Rockies back in 1992, which also happened to be where Alston made his debut after being drafted in the 10th round earlier that year. There was also some interesting talk of payroll and potential transactions, as you’d expect for this time of year. Brian Dozier, responding to a question from Sid Hartman regarding a potential extension: “I knew you were going to ask me that. I do want to stay here. That stuff takes care of itself. I’m sure we’ll talk in spring training just to see where both sides are at.” Owner Jim Pohlad on the budget: “We set an overall budget, we don’t sit down and just spend all the time just on player payroll … There’s just a number put in there and it’s not like ‘ok this is the number you guys have to spend, go spend it or not.’ We build in I would think a not conservative number for sure, a more aggressive number.” Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press wrote in length about Pohlad and CEO Dave St. Peter's comments regarding Yu Darvish over the weekend. If you went to TwinsFest, please share anything interesting you overheard, or your experiences from the event in the comments. Click here to view the article
  21. Eddie Rosario has always been a polarizing player for me. In his first extended stint with the Twins in 2015, he showed flashes of a really exciting all round game. He was a good base runner (4.7 runs above average), a solid defender (2.2 runs above average), and clobbered 13 home runs in his age 23 season. Rosario had excelled throughout 5 minor league destinations, and was noted for having an exceptionally quick bat and hands. There were a few major problems. Rosario struck out a lot (25% in 2015, compared to a league average 21%) and he rarely walked. Like, ever. In 2015 Rosario walked just 15 times in 474 plate appearances, good for a BB% of just 3.2%, well below the league average of 8.1%. Taken together, Rosario’s strikeouts and inability to take a walk amounted to cripplingly poor plate discipline. In 2016 some of the aspects of Rosario’s game which made him exciting disappeared. His base running regressed marginally in 2016, and majorly in 2017. His defense went from good in 2015, to acceptable in 2016, to pretty bad in 2017 (-6.2 runs above average), a dip not often discussed in the Twins heralded ‘nothing falls but raindrops’ outfield, which should be renamed to reflect the fact that anyone not named Byron Buxton is actually a poor to average defensive outfielder. Rosario’s regression and streaky hitting were so infuriating that it led to discussion about whether he would be the odd man out in the Twins up and coming outfield moving forwards, with Buxton spectacular, Kepler solid, and Zack Granite pushing for playing time with an impressive season at Rochester. Throughout his first two seasons, Rosario had shown little progress in his plate discipline, leading folks to voice the possibility that he had hit his ceiling. Enter James Rowson. If Pat Shurmur is the MVP of the Vikings this season, Rowson deserves the same plaudits for his work with Buxton, Polanco, and Rosario in 2017. In researching Rowson, two things seem to stand out about his approach with the young core of Twins hitters; firstly, he wants players to have a high comfort level in taking ownership of their own swings, secondly, he’s keenly aware of the strengths and weaknesses of hit hitters and publicly pushes those buttons. After a game against the White Sox, Rowson named Rosario the player of the game, despite going 0-4, crediting him for helping teammates see more pitches from Jose Quintana which eventually allowed them to force him from the game. Rosario’s numbers from 2017 are a testament to Rowson’s work. He increased his BB% to just under 6%, taking 23 more walks than he did in 2016. Rosario’s OBP jumped almost 30 points, despite a 26 point decrease in his BaBIP from 2016 to 2017. The main cause for this increased ability to get on base? Rosario was significantly more selective with his swings in 2017. He dropped his O-Swing % (the percentage of time he swings at pitches outside the strike zone) from 42% to 37%. This decreased his overall SwStr% around 5% and led to a significantly increased Contact% (percentage of the time a hitter makes contact when swinging at all pitches). Overall, Rosario wasn’t swinging at significantly less pitches, he’s swinging at significantly more hittable ones, leading to a spike in home runs, walks, and isolated power. Entering his final pre-arbitration year in 2018 Rosario will need to keep his improved offensive output going to offset other diminishing skill sets. If Rosario can continue to build upon his improved plate discipline in 2018, he could finish the season as one of the more offensively productive outfielders in the American league.
  22. From afar, the narrative surrounding Buxton is that he jettisoned his leg kick and suddenly emerged as this elite hitter in the late throes of the season. The story sold was in the clickbait mold of BUXTON MADE THIS ONE SIMPLE CHANGE and, boom, he’s all fixed. While that is the most visually obvious change, Buxton’s journey to success is so much more complicated than that. Making a radical change to your swing in a major league season is rather difficult. Yes, hitters continually tinker with their mechanics throughout the year but rarely is it seen that a player makes a fundamental switch in approach and thrives during the same season. Most times, organizations will send a player to the minors so he can rebuild out of the spotlight. It takes a special individual and a special support staff to make the improvements Buxton did in-season. After splitting last season between toe tapping and leg kicking, Buxton proclaimed that he would be one hundred percent a leg kicker in 2017. This spring, with a newfound sense of clubhouse swagger, Buxton declared that the “leg kick is me now” and he is going to “stick with what I do.” In fact, one of his biggest influences, Torii Hunter, spent the offseason sending him encouraging text messages to stick with the leg kick. There was plenty of reason for Buxton to be riding high. He absolutely tore through pitching in the final month of 2016. In September, equipped with the full throttle leg kick, he hit 9 of his 10 home runs and posted a 287/357/653 line in 113 plate appearances. He still struck out a ton, to be sure, but the hard contact was eye-opening and a tasty sample of his unfilled prospect promise. But when the new season started, Buxton sputtered out of the chute. In April, he struck out in a whopping 37.2 percent of his plate appearances (only Colorado’s Trevor Story whiffed in more). Putting the bat on the ball proved to be a difficult task as 36.7 percent of his swings failed to even make contact. Sliders were another kind of evil. He couldn’t stop himself from contorting his body at pitches breaking over the left-handed batter’s box. He swung and missed on 28.6 percent of sliders seen. There was no denying something was wrong with his approach, fundamentally. The Twins coaching staff, including Paul Molitor, were convinced the previous season the leg kick had to go. Bert Blyleven told broadcast viewers that former hitting coach Tom Brunansky had worked diligently in 2016 to entice Buxton of the same. In the spring, Molitor observed that he was spinning off so many pitches and believed he needed to get his legs in a better position in order to drive the ball. At one point at the end of April, Fox Sports North rolled tape of Buxton being joined by Hunter, Molitor and Rowson in the batting cage. The trio surrounded him and his batting tee and watched as he took a few swings with his leg kick. Hunter moved behind Buxton and repositioned his back leg, hoping to get him to remain on his backside more. Buxton was at low point and needed to make some changes. In a homestand at the end of May, it started with ditching the leg kick. ***To read the rest of this article, be sure to download the 2018 Offseason Handbook at whatever price you would like***
  23. The Minnesota Twins’ 2017 season success can be credited, in some part, to the offensive emergence of the team’s young hitters. Players like Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, and Jorge Polanco all took significant strides forward and made vital contributions to the team’s postseason aspirations. Behind the players, of course, is the newly minted hitting coach James Rowson. At the onset, Rowson’s methods and philosophies were somewhat mysterious. In spring training, players said he rarely did any tinkering or instructing, instead choosing to monitor hitters closely and learned their personalities; asking them questions about their approach rather than telling them what to do. By the end of the season, Rowson received high praise from his students. While all the young hitters deserves some accolades, perhaps no one is as deserving for the turnaround as Byron Buxton is for his in-season adjustments.From afar, the narrative surrounding Buxton is that he jettisoned his leg kick and suddenly emerged as this elite hitter in the late throes of the season. The story sold was in the clickbait mold of BUXTON MADE THIS ONE SIMPLE CHANGE and, boom, he’s all fixed. While that is the most visually obvious change, Buxton’s journey to success is so much more complicated than that. Download attachment: Buxton Success.jpg Making a radical change to your swing in a major league season is rather difficult. Yes, hitters continually tinker with their mechanics throughout the year but rarely is it seen that a player makes a fundamental switch in approach and thrives during the same season. Most times, organizations will send a player to the minors so he can rebuild out of the spotlight. It takes a special individual and a special support staff to make the improvements Buxton did in-season. After splitting last season between toe tapping and leg kicking, Buxton proclaimed that he would be one hundred percent a leg kicker in 2017. This spring, with a newfound sense of clubhouse swagger, Buxton declared that the “leg kick is me now” and he is going to “stick with what I do.” In fact, one of his biggest influences, Torii Hunter, spent the offseason sending him encouraging text messages to stick with the leg kick. There was plenty of reason for Buxton to be riding high. He absolutely tore through pitching in the final month of 2016. In September, equipped with the full throttle leg kick, he hit 9 of his 10 home runs and posted a 287/357/653 line in 113 plate appearances. He still struck out a ton, to be sure, but the hard contact was eye-opening and a tasty sample of his unfilled prospect promise. But when the new season started, Buxton sputtered out of the chute. In April, he struck out in a whopping 37.2 percent of his plate appearances (only Colorado’s Trevor Story whiffed in more). Putting the bat on the ball proved to be a difficult task as 36.7 percent of his swings failed to even make contact. Sliders were another kind of evil. He couldn’t stop himself from contorting his body at pitches breaking over the left-handed batter’s box. He swung and missed on 28.6 percent of sliders seen. There was no denying something was wrong with his approach, fundamentally. The Twins coaching staff, including Paul Molitor, were convinced the previous season the leg kick had to go. Bert Blyleven told broadcast viewers that former hitting coach Tom Brunansky had worked diligently in 2016 to entice Buxton of the same. In the spring, Molitor observed that he was spinning off so many pitches and believed he needed to get his legs in a better position in order to drive the ball. At one point at the end of April, Fox Sports North rolled tape of Buxton being joined by Hunter, Molitor and Rowson in the batting cage. The trio surrounded him and his batting tee and watched as he took a few swings with his leg kick. Hunter moved behind Buxton and repositioned his back leg, hoping to get him to remain on his backside more. Buxton was at low point and needed to make some changes. In a homestand at the end of May, it started with ditching the leg kick. ***To read the rest of this article, be sure to download the 2018 Offseason Handbook at whatever price you would like*** Click here to view the article
  24. Broken It's no secret how bad Buxton looked at the plate during the early part of this year. Through the season's first 15 games, he hit .082/.135/.122 with 24 strikeouts. Things started to get a little better in May as he was hitting .171 through May 21 while getting on base over 26% of the time. He was averaging more than a strikeout per game and he could hardly use his speed on the bases because he wasn't getting on base frequently enough. Buxton had dug himself quite the hole. Even as the calendar was flipping to July, his offensive numbers were struggling to recover. He had a .552 OPS, 0.88 ISO, 47 wRC+, and a 31.8 percent strikeout rate. Something needed to click and Twins hitting coach James Rowson may have been the man with the cure. Booming Rowson explained Buxton's revamped approach at the plate in simple terms. "Plate discipline comes from being aggressive, not from being passive at the plate," he said. "We're looking to hit, not take. If I don't think that's a pitch I can drive, I want to take it. I think that he's starting to come into his own to distinguish the difference between those two pitches." Buxton needed to stop worrying about his overall numbers and start focusing on each at-bat. He's now starting to use his lower body to generate more power and the results have been clear. Buxton has a 1.003 OPS since July 1 with nine home runs, two triples and four doubles. His speed has become a factor as he's swiped 11 bases in that time without being caught. Golden Future Athleticism will always be a key part of Buxton's game. As I wrote last week, he could be well on his way to his first Gold Glove. His 23 defensive runs saved ranks second among AL outfielders. According to Statcast's Catch Probability, he's made more four star catches (26-50% chance of being caught) than anyone in baseball and he's caught the highest percentage of those opportunities as well. Buxton might not be the Paul Bunyan-like slugger that fans saw in Toronto this weekend but he seems to have found something special in the season's second half. The Twins are in the hunt of the playoffs and a 23-year old Buxton is living up to some lofty expectations. Do you think Buxton has turned the corner for good? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
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