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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Twins Hold Firm at Deadline

The trade deadline came and passed at 4pm EST yesterday, with the Twins making no major moves despite being in the midst of a poor season for the second straight year. While other struggling teams such as the Phillies, Astros and Cubs cleaned house, the Twins chose to stand pat and while this has drawn the ire of many Twins fans, it points to the quality of GM Terry Ryan and his rebuilding plan.

The Francisco Liriano trade has already drawn a considerable amount of criticism from Twins fans; ultimately the Twins had very little choice. In what turned out to be Liriano’s last start in a Twins uniform, he was shellacked by the White Sox for 7 ER in 2.2 IP. Oh yeah, and 25 major league scouts were there watching. Twins fans disappointed by the return gained for their mercurial ace were buying into a perceived value for Liriano which never really existed. Despite his excellence in his previous 10 starts Liriano reminded the league at a crucial time how heart-breaking he can be. Perhaps the rest of the league had also bought into this perceived value too but purely by the numbers in his MLB career to date Liriano has pitched 789.1 innings to an ERA of 4.32 and a WHIP if 1.34 and despite an excellent 9.1 SO/9 was simply promise unfulfilled for the Twins. White Sox GM Kenny Williams deserves credit for acquiring a pitcher who has the potential to help his club down the stretch and giving up very little in return from a farm system which, while much maligned has produced Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, two key South-Side difference makers this season.

In the build up to the trade deadline Ryan had discussions with teams regarding Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham, Glen Perkins and Jared Burton, yet not a deal was done. The difficulty the Twins found themselves in was that all of these players are under team control through at least next season and all (with the exception of Morneau) are inexpensive relative to their production. Span is having an excellent year hitting .297/.361/.402 through Tuesday and making a little over $12 million guaranteed over the next two seasons. Willingham is signed on for an uber bargain at 3 years and $21 million. Perkins signed a 3 year $10.5 million extension this offseason and Burton is having an excellent year, making a mere $750,000 and is arbitration eligible at the end of the current season. Despite these players excellent seasons (again with the exception of Morneau – who has shown signs of life hitting .333 with 2 HR and 7 RBI in his last 10 games) none of them could bring in the kind of high ceiling pitching talent the Twins are looking for simply because other clubs are not interested in moving it. Remember that the Dodgers ultimately baulked on Ryan Dempster because they were not willing to give up their top pitching prospect, Allen Webster, in return. The only club to give up such a high caliber pitching prospect before the deadline was Detroit, who potentially over dealt, sending Jacob Turner to the Marlins for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez.

Terry Ryan was wise not to trade any Twins players with solid production and team friendly contracts for an uncertain return.
While the argument could certainly be made that Ryan might have targeted high ceiling guys from the lower levels of the minor leagues the Twins GM has begun to try and address the organizations need for pitching in this years draft. Let us remind ourselves with some of the Twins early draft choices this year and how they are progressing thus far. Number 32 pick out of Puerto Rico Jose Berrios has been lighting it up in rookie ball with a 0.64 ERA through 14 IP, striking out 21 in the process and holding opponents to a 0.85 average. Second round RP out of Rice JT Chargois has given up merely a hit in 7IP with Elizabethtown to date, striking out 6. While number 42 pick Luke Bard struggled initially with his control for the GCL Twins, he pitched his first scoreless inning for Elizabethtown last night (Tuesday). Finally 2009 1st round pick Kyle Gibson pitched 3 innings of no hit ball for the GCL Twins on Tuesday, walking 1 and striking out 7 in the process, in his bid to return from Tommy John surgery. While these players are clearly a long way away from major league ready my point is simply that the Twins draft focus shifted sharply this year to focus on high caliber arms, a trend that will likely continue with good draft position in 2013.

With the Twins out of the AL Central race the probability of both Matt Capps and Carl Pavano being traded in August if they clear waivers and can return to health is high. Without Capps, Pavano and Liriano next year the Twins will have a little financial wiggle room to go out and seek free agent pitching to aid a rotation seriously in need of some veteran leadership. Indeed, names like Morneau and Span may well surface again in the off-season, at which point Terry Ryan may receive an offer he can’t refuse. In the mean time Ryan haters stand down, the Twins wily GM is building from the ground up and the old adage will always ring true, ‘no trade is better than a bad trade’.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Trade Deadline Updates

With the July 31st trade deadline mere days away, Twins fans have their eyes and ears glued to a swirling rumor mill to see what might become of some of their players. The team is in disarray and inevitably in selling mode, after moving to a season worst 18 games under .500 after another shellacking by the White Sox on Tuesday.

Twins fans should temper their expectations however as the organization is not in a good position to get outstanding prospects for most of its moveable and desirable pieces. Here is the latest on the Twins rumor mill.

Twins GM Terry Ryan has been playing his cards close to his chest as the deadline approaches, asking for high prices for all his moveable assets in the form of high ceiling, close to major league ready power arms. The Twins are eager to move Justin Morneau but inconsistent form, injury worries, horrifying lefty/righty splits and the Twins unwillingness to eat any of his $14 million salary mean he will likely stay in a Twins uniform for the time being.

Ryan has indicated that every player on the Twins roster is available for a price, specifically referring to Josh Willingham. Willingham is in the midst of a career year, having clubbed 25 HR, 72 RBI and produced a .274/.385/.568 slash line through Tuesday putting him on pace for 41 HR, whilst cutting down on SO and increasing his BB%. The price on Willingham is said to be ‘laughable’ according to Jason Stark and why shouldn’t it be? Trading the Hammer would be an ill conceived move unless they could return at least one blue chip prospect. Willingham is signed to what now appears a bargain 3 year $21 million salary and has indicated a desire to finish his playing career in Minnesota.

The likelihood that Francisco Liriano gets traded remains extremely high but his decimation by the White Sox on Monday night means teams are still wary of his inconsistency. Look for him to be traded after his final scheduled start before the trade deadline on Sunday, particularly if he pitches well at home against the Indians. Despite Liriano’s value being inhibited by a poor start it was given a boost by the Phillies signing Cole Hamels to a 6 year, $144 million extension, leaving Liriano as the best, if erratic, left handed starter available at the deadline. Again don’t expect much of a return on Liriano; he is essentially a 3 month loaner, as he will become a free agent at the end of the season.

The most intriguing trade chip remains Denard Span. The Reds are said to be high on Span, looking for a consistent leadoff hitter. Span’s numbers are up on his last two seasons, he currently owns a .282/.345/.385 line with 29 XBH and 9 SB. Span is signed to a team friendly deal that his him earning $11.25 million over the next two seasons, with a club option for 2015. The Reds are said to be considering a package surrounding young lefty power arm Tony Cingrani who is a combined 10-3 with a 1.62 ERA and 130 SO in 111 innings pitched between High A Bakersfield and AA Pensacola. At 22, Cingrani would seem to indeed be a worthy prize, but due to the nature of Span’s contract it seems the Ryan is not willing to part with him merely for Cingrani. In a market where Juan Pierre and Shane Victorino are also available on a short term loan basis, the Twins seem to be pricing themselves out of the trade market for Span.

Ultimately it seems as if Liriano might be the only significant piece moved at the deadline. I would personally urge the Twins to trade Span if they can get a high caliber power lefty pitcher. With the emergence of Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks finally fulfilling some of his promise at AA New Britain (.274/.372/.434 with 9 HR 43 RBI and 22 SB) the Twins should reap the rewards Span can bring. The Twins have never had difficulty producing outstanding outfielders and with Hicks, Joe Benson (despite a very poor year) and Oswaldo Arcia waiting in the wings should cash in if they can take advantage of the Reds need for a leadoff hitter. If the Twins kept Span, would they be a competing team in ’13 with the constant sludge they trot out to the bump every day? I think not. Terry Ryan, It’s time to make some difficult, but it the long term rewarding decisions for this ball club, go get some arms.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Twins Dealt Poor Hand as Trade Deadline Approaches

With the July 31st trade deadline fast approaching, trade talk is heating up and will continue to do so in the wake of the All-Star break in Kansas City. Given the Twins current position as AL Central cellar dwellers and 11 games back of the currently leading White Sox they look to be sellers in a market with more than its fair share of trade talk and speculation as a result of more teams in playoff contention given the additional wild card position available in each league beginning this season. So what position are the Twins in to make deals that will have significant impact on an organization which has many needs but is particularly bereft of high quality major league ready pitching?

Many blogs have been expecting a large scale house cleaning effort by the Twins in the coming weeks with the likes of Texas, Toronto, Atlanta and Cleveland all being touted as potential trade partners for the Twins, to name but a few. The Twins however find themselves with few quality names to trade and will certainly not be able to acquire any blue chip prospects, due to a variety of extenuating circumstances.

Carl Pavano was initially a name being mentioned after the Twins awful start but with injury derailing his season, will not be dealt in the buildup to the deadline. Another name that has been strongly linked to trade discussion has been that of Denard Span. The consistent on base machine has been paying well throughout this season and the Nationals have shown interest in Span over a few consecutive seasons. The emergence of Bryce Harper has certainly diminished this possibility as his .282/.354/.472 slash line through 63 games outshine Span’s own line (.270/.334/.375), indeed Harper also has more HR, SB and RBI than Span, in 15 less games played.

Justin Morneau is another Twin who has been linked with a number of teams, most notably the Toronto Blue Jays. Morneau’s first half numbers simply don’t do enough to entice teams to part with significant prospects. The 2006 MVP was held to a .246 average through the first half of the season, with 11 HR and 38 RBI and despite playing in 65 games (just 4 shy of last years total), his history with chronic post-concussion syndrome, middling form, inability to hit the ball to the opposite field this season and bloated contract (in which he is due $14 million next season) make him less likely to be dealt. Matt Capps remains a likely trade chip as the Twins have a $6 million option on him in 2013 which they are unlikely to pick up. Despite the fact that Capps has pitched well this season his DL stint prior to the all star break derailed his momentum in which he had given up just 3 ER in his 8.1 innings pitched.

Finally there is Francisco Liriano. On Monday FOX sports Ken Rosenthal reported that teams were ‘wary’ of trading for Liriano, despite an ERA of 2.74 in 8 starts since his return from the bullpen including 52 strike outs in just 49.1 innings. Rosenthal went on to report that it would be unlikely that teams would part for significant prospects for Liriano, who many teams see as a ‘bullpen option’. With Liriano becoming a free agent at the end of the year, the Twins do not have much leverage or a significant history of consistency from their mercurial ace to barter with, despite several reports that the Braves have scouted Liriano’s last several starts.

The Twins could be in a far stronger position approaching the trade deadline but impending free agency, injury history and a lack of form has made it probable that the return they receive on any trades made will be moderate at best, stay tuned for further updates.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Rise of Super Plouffe

The last Twins game I attended was at Comerica Park against the Tigers on June 16th. The game ended in an 11-7 victory with the Tigers committing a cycle of infield errors within the first 3 innings. The beginning of the game was of especially low quality and at that time, myself and a friend of mine who was at the game, a Tigers fan, began a complain-a-thon about the guys on our respective teams who make their fans suffer the most. For him, that was Ryan Raburn (some things never change), for me it was Trevor Plouffe, who was at that time hitting .138. ‘.138,’ I kept complaining, ‘if this guy had minor league options left there is no way he would be playing in this game’. Later that night Plouffe shut me up by hitting a 2 run HR and has not stopped shutting me up ever since (Raburn, incidentally, is hitting .178, a mere 21 points higher than he was on May 16th.

Plouffe’s rise over the month of June has been truly remarkable. A first round pick by the Twins in 2004, Plouffe has always had pop in his bat, but consistently struggled to get on base at the major league level and struggled mightily to field any position the Twins put him in, achieving a pedestrian .305 OBP in 2011 and managing a fielding % of just .944 at his primary position of SS, where he started 45 games last season. Plouffe entered June with a slash line of .176/.270/.382, which he has since raised to .249/.326/.521. Over that same span Plouffe blasted 11 HR, batted in 21 and gained 72 total bases. So what is the difference between super Plouffe and the Plouffe of old?

Super-Plouffe, along with Josh Willingham, has been helping Twins fans re-think the notion of Target Field as a pitcher's paradise.
At first I thought Plouffe might be benefiting from a favorable Babip but his during the 2012 season stands at just .237 (what might his line look like if this figure was even at .280)! In one regard, Plouffe has not changed, he still strikes out a lot. Since his major league debut in 2010 however, Plouffe has managed to consistently reduce his SO%. In 2010 in a very limited sample size it was 31.8%, in 2011 over 320 PA it was 22.2% and in 2012 through 230 PAs it has fallen slightly to 21.3%, higher than the MLB average of 18.3 %. Plouffe has significantly increased his discipline at the plate however, taking walks at a rate of 10%, up from 7.8% last season and well above the MLB average of 8.3%. It is Plouffe’s HR/FB ratio that has taken the most noticeable spike. 23.1% of Plouffe’s fly balls become home runs, almost 1 in 4, that compared to a MLB average of just 7.5 %, a remarkable increase. While Plouffe still struggles in the field, particularly with his throwing, his power surge that has put him in line for a 28 HR 70 RBI season, albeit with a .235 average, which will be enough to keep the arrogant and under-performing Danny Valencia in Rochester, where he has struggled with consistency to a mere .250 average.

So what might Plouffe’s future be with the Minnesota Twins? Despite showing much improved form of late the Twins still figure to be sellers at this years’ trade deadline. Denard Span, Francisco Liriano and perhaps Justin Morneau (if he can find some consistent form) may all become targets for contending teams, of which there are an increased number with the new wild card format coming into play. With Plouffe out of minor league options and the Twins bereft of right handed power besides that bat of Josh Willingham, Plouffe will likely be on a very long leash with the Twins brass to show he can become an everyday player for the foreseeable future. IF Plouffe can continue to lower his strikeouts, improve his BB% and park fastballs into Target Field’s left field seats (which he is making appear nearer and nearer home plate) the Twins may have found an excellent power bat around whom they can begin to rebuild a team who can challenge for a weaker than though AL Central title sooner than later. With Plouffe under contract until 2018 and making just $485,000 this season, you might call him the best value player in the AL right now.   

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Examining the Draft

A few days after the June 6th 1st year player draft is a good time to reflect on what was perhaps the Twins most critical draft ever, attempting to replenish a minor league talent pool that shows promise at the lower levels, but lacks major league ready talent. Despite their now seemingly yearly June surge (having won 9 of their last 11 games), the Twins are still in a deep hole in the AL Central cellar and the next few weeks will be critical in determining the Twins action with the forthcoming July trade deadline. In particular, critics of the Twins farm system (including myself) have bemoaned their lack of high caliber arms and a team ERA of 5.01, good for 31st in the majors would seem to underline this weakness.

The Twins certainly took a stab at correcting this imbalance, selecting 24 pitchers out of their 43 draft choices. The Twins should be commended in choosing toolsy outfielder Byron Buxton with the second overall pick. Widely considered the top talent in the draft, the Twins had the opportunity to pick top college pitching option Mark Appel after the Astros surprisingly chose Puerto Rican SS Carlos Correia with the number one overall pick. The Twins went with the best available talent and in Buxton have secured a talented player who has drawn comparisons to Justin Upton.

The Twins used their two compensatory 1st round picks to start stacking up on arms, including their own Puerto Rican prospect – Jose Berrios at number 32 and younger brother of Boston’s Daniel Bard Luke Bard at number 42. Berrios is a compact right hander who throws consistently in the mid 90s and has a plus fastball and power curve, as well as a serviceable changeup. Bard, who served as a closer at Georgia Tech, has similar stuff, with a slightly larger frame at 6’3. Most scouts projected Bard to be a relief option at the next level, but the Twins are adamant about making a starter out of him.

With their next two choices the Twins drafted two power throwing college closers, in left handed Mason Melotakis out of Northwestern St at number 63 and intriguing 1B closer combo J.T Chargois out of Rice at number 72. Scouts suggest that both are capable of becoming setup men at the big league level, if not closers.

It seems as if the Twins stuck o their projections on draft day and are determined to not be pigeonholed into being labeled as a ‘pitch to contact’ team any longer. The additions of Buxton, as well as two hard throwing starters and a pair of hard throwing late inning relievers would be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Twins a few years down the line at the big league level. Due to the new pay structure from the new CBA signed this season it seems there will never be another team with as many high picks as the Twins had this season, with 5 of the first 72. Everything points towards them having taken full advantage of their draft position. Only time will tell.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Twins June Decisions

It has been a good week for the Twins, despite a blowout loss to the White Sox Friday night they finished up a successful 5-3 road trip which featured improved play all over the field and some outstanding individual performances, most notably P.J Walters complete game win in Chicago and Justin Morneau swinging a hot stick.

Despite this good run, the Twins are running into significant injury problems, with Carl Pavano missing his start Saturday and Nick Blackburn on the DL. Coupled with the loss of Jason Marquis (demoted due to ineffectiveness) times are desperate for the Twins pitching staff. The current rotation features Scott Diamond, Walters, Anthony Swarzak, and U of M graduate Cole De Vries, who despite possessing only limited stuff danced around a serious shellacking at the hands of the White Sox on Friday night.

Moving forward into June the Twins roster may undergo even more alterations as the trade deadline approaches and the Twins begin to set their roster and minor league systems up for 2013 and beyond. Most of the conjecture I have read has surrounded trading Denard Span, which is certainly still a possibility for teams looking for outfield help. Span has been consistent this year and provides a steadily high OBP at the top of any order as well as a solid base-running threat. For the development of their big league roster now and in the future however, the Twins would do well to try and avoid trading Span. The Twins have Span signed through 2014 with a $9 million option for the 2015 season and looking at that deal as a whole (5 years - $16.5 million) Span is signed to a team friendly contract which provides the Twins with plenty of financial flexibility, especially given the large proportion of the Twins payroll committed to Mauer and Morneau. Coupled with the fact that Span is still only 28, he is a player the Twins should continue to build around.

Looking at the Twins payroll for 2013 they will be working with approximately $ 90-100 million (so far this season, attendance is down around 5,000 per game) accounting for the potential drop of around $10 million from this years payroll. The Twins have two significant contract options to consider for 2013, Scott Baker and Matt Capps. Scott Baker has a $9.25MM option for 2013. Despite Terry Ryan’s comments after Baker’s season ending injury was announced in which he affirmed an expectation of seeing Baker in a Twins uniform in 2013 the club would do well to decline this option. Despite Baker’s outstanding numbers in 2011 before he was shelved late in the season, he is far too fragile to commit that amount of money to on a team that will likely be far from competing next season. Capps will be an interesting decision; he has a $6MM option for 2013 with a 250K buyout. Capps has performed well this season, especially in save situations and with the sheer amount of major injuries to significant closers this season (see Rivera, Madson, Soria) Capps may become trade bait for a fringe playoff team seeking mid-season relief help.

Will Capps remain a Twin throughout the 2012 season?
Carl Pavano will be one of the Twins significant free agents at the end of 2012. If nothing else, Pavano has provided stability, if not excellence for the Twins rotation over the last few seasons. Despite a low strikeout rate and average ERA and WHIP, if Pavano can stay healthy and keep his ERA in the low 4s through June, the Twins could seek to trade him to a team needing pitching help at the bottom of their rotation. The X-factor in the Twins free agent pool for 2013 is Francisco Liriano, who has shown limited improvement since his demotion to the Twins bullpen. If Liriano can re-remerge successfully into the Twins rotation he may also be moved before the trade deadline. That would perhaps be the best-case scenario for the Twins as since his excellent 2010 season Liriano has not shown he is capable of maintaining his status as an elite major league pitcher.

The Twins position in the upcoming draft will undoubtedly be one of the keys to rebuilding an ailing franchise. In the meantime the front office needs to start making some bold decisions to weed out the occasional bad contract, free up some payroll, bring in prospects where possible and begin catalyzing the transition from a struggling franchise to one that has the young arms capable of making them a contender again in the next five years.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Comerica Adventures

I went to see the Twins at Comerica Park yesterday 5/16/12. It says something about the poorness of this team that through yesterday’s game, I had attended 5.5% of their games this season (just 2) and seen close to 20% of their victories (also 2)! Wednesday night’s game was one of the strangest and most compelling games I have ever been to, so I felt compelled to report.

First off, if you haven’t been to Comerica Park, it is a pretty great stadium, nice layout, good views all round. Never let anyone hear you say Tigers owner Mike Illitch is not a savvy businessman. The Tigers fans are slowly paying off Price Fielder’s fat $190 million contract, one extra dollar on all concessions this season at a time.

The Tigers defense was absolutely awful, their entire infield committing errors in the first 3 innings of the game. Combined with some timely hitting, this spotted the Twins to a 2-1 lead after one. In the top of the second Brian Dozier crushed a Rick Porcello pitch into the left field seats for a three run HR. At that point I couldn’t help myself, 35 games of 2012 season misery briefly washed away for me in a split second; I stood up and applauded loudly. My celebration was greeted with the kind of reaction you might expect and it totally deserved, I was quickly back in my seat, but I couldn’t help feeling good. The Twins (and Tigers ineptitude) had spotted Blackburn to a 5-1 lead. Surely with the pressure off, even against a powerful lineup, he could make this a quality start. Wrong. I mean dead wrong.

Not only did Blackburn surrender his lead, he gave it up, in the very next half inning as Detroit plated 5 runs on a walk, five straight singles and a sac fly. I was mortified. Blackburn has always been someone I have struggled to like. It seemed that he always went through brief periods of competence followed by long stretched of ineptitude. His 8.37 ERA and 1.77 WHIP this season says it all. Blackburn’s post-game thoughts were the final nail in his coffin for me. ‘They weren’t crushing balls, I was still making fairly quality pitches, they were just able to do whatever they had to do, that’s a good lineup over there’. That sounds like a long expiring list of excuses to me. Firstly, I don’t agree with the notion of a fairly quality pitch. Even if it boils down to good hitting, a pitch that doesn’t result in an out isn’t a quality enough pitch. I wish Blackburn would take some responsibility for his performance; his ‘they have a good lineup’ line just doesn’t cut it in the big leagues. There are (in my estimation) currently 10 good AL hitting lineups. For want of a better expression, ‘give it a rest Blackburn’! In 5 of his last 7 starts he has given up 5 ER or more, in his last 7 starts he has gone 6 innings or more just 3 times, currently he is simply not good enough for a major league roster. To compound his abject performance, Jeff Gray relieved him in the 3rd and got through 2 scoreless innings in 12 pitches, before giving up 1 ER to the heart of the Tigers lineup and inducing 4 ground balls among his 7 outs, exactly Blackburn’s MO.

I did have a Trevor Plouffe hitting .100 watch planned for my blog but the last two games he has made me eat my words, long may his mini-hot streak continue. Jokes aside, is was great to see the Twins play good fundamental baseball and get consistent excellence from their bullpen for a good win, even against a poor performance from the Tigers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Revisiting the Johan Santana Trade

We all remember the (much happier) Twins team built around names such as Joe Nathan, Tori Hunter and two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana. Although difficult to accept, the then small market Twins would inevitably trade Santana in order to regain some value for him rather than assuredly losing him to a free-agent market lining up to sign the premier starter on the market in 2008

Speculation was rife leading up to Santana’s trade, would the Twins be able to secure a then top prospect pitching ace in the making such as Jon Lester from the Red Sox or Phil Hughes from the Yankees. Knowing that Santana would eventually hit the free agent market, neither of the AL East powerhouse franchises bit on letting go of their then top prospects. The Twins turned to Queens and traded Santana to the Mets for a package that included Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, Phil Humber and Deolis Guerra.

What an ugly trade it turned out to be. Carlos Gomez played out a few uneventful seasons as the Twins on again off again center fielder, punctuated by highlight reel plays in the outfield and a memorable playoff sealing run in game 163 of the 2009 season against the Tigers. Mulvey, a former 2nd round pick of the Mets, last pitched in the majors for the Diamondbacks in 2010 and currently holds a 4.91 ERA at the Mets AA affiliate at Binghamton. Phil Humber, himself a number 3 overall pick in 2004 was quickly let go of by the Twins after consistently struggling and picked up by the Royals and eventually the White Sox. He had a descent 2011 season but despite throwing a perfect game against the Mariners in the early going in 2012, has largely struggled his way to a 6.83 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 27.2 IP. Wow, this is like the anti Pierzynski to San Francisco trade! But what about Guerra?

In 2007 Guerra was a super raw lanky 18 year old the Mets originally signed as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela. Indeed, Guerra’s raw ability was so promising Baseball Prospectus rated him the #35 prospect in MLB prior to the 2008 season. Fast forward five year and Guerra has filled out. Now 6’5 and 245 lbs, his dominance is beginning to match his imposing physicality. After struggling mightily in 2010 and 2011 with AAA Rochester and AA New Britain respectively, Guerra is putting it together so far this season. Starting the season at New Britain, Guerra was quickly promoted after giving up just 1 ER in 12.2 IP, having a WHIP of 0.474 and overpowering hitters to the tune of a 10.7 SO/9. 

Guerra has shown no sign of slowing down in the early going at AAA Rochester. In 9 IP, Guerra has yet to give up a run, surrendering just 6 hits, good for a WHIP of 0.778 and maintaining an excellent 10 SO/9. Guerra’s has held opposing hitters to a paltry .119 BA at AA New Britain and a still dominant .188 at AAA Rochester.

Looking at some of Guerra’s advanced metrics and his stuff yields just as impressive results. He has maintained a FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 1.66 at AA and 1.98 at AAA Rochester. Guerra’s velocity has receded slightly since he was a talented raw 17 year old, but his fastball still hits in the low 90s and can reach back for mid-90s heat. Guerra also has a plus slider and an excellent biting curve and has been working on developing his change up. If his early performance this year is any indication, expect to see Guerra in a Twins uniform if any member of the bullpen starts to consistently struggle. Given the Twins rough start to the season, it’s great to see at least one young arm that has the potential to succeed at the big league level.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dire Straits

Things have gone from bad to worse for the Twins in the last week or so. Being no-hit by Jered Weaver and one-hit by King Felix and the Mariners bullpen, while frustrating are simply two more losses in a season that is quickly spiraling out of control for the Twins. The team currently sits at 7-19, a full four games behind the next worse team in the AL and there is no reason to believe things will get better in the coming weeks.

Justin Morneau has hit the DL due to the reemergence of a wrist issue that required surgery in the off-season. To compensate the Twins will call-up Rochester prospect Brian Dozier. There was talk of Dozier making to big-league club out of spring training after impressing with both bat and glove. His hot start carried over into the beginning the season at Rochester but has since slowed down and is hitting just .250 in his last ten AAA games.

The Twins also announced that they will recall Scott Diamond in an effort to improve their consistently struggling pitching. In six starts this season Diamond has pitched himself to a 4-1 record with a 2.60 ERA and 26 strikeouts through 34.2 innings pitched. Despite this hot start there is little reason to believe Diamond will be able to carry this over into the big leagues and I don’t think he will represent much of an improvement over the current Twins starting rotation. Diamond was given some experience at the big league level. In 39 innings pitched in 2011 Diamond was 1-5 with a 5.08 ERA and a WHIP of 1.74. Diamond managed just 4.4 SO/9 at the big league level – hardly the overpowering stuff the Twins rotation so sorely lacks.

With the Twins 7.5 games back after a month of the season, May will be a critical month for the 2012 club. After Sunday’s rubber game against the Mariners, the Twins will play 15 of their next 23 games at Target field, against slightly less tough opposition than their brutal opening month schedule. If the Twins continue to struggle expect the house cleaning to begin. By the all-start break the Twins roster could look significantly different with certain players becoming trade bait for teams in need. Denard Span is a name who has been mentioned and after his strong start may well find himself in a different uniform by the trade deadline. The Twins have to be careful if they pursue this route as Span is signed to a team friendly 4 year deal, the Twins need to acquire good value in areas of need for the organization, something that was sorely lacking in trades carried out in the Bill Smith era. Between potential forthcoming trades and excellent draft position this year, the Twins have a great opportunity to begin strengthening a mediocre farm system and build for the future.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Twins Brave Faces not Fooling Anyone

Since the beginning of a young 2012 season the rhetoric from the Twins Clubhouse has been the same: ‘This is not the same club that lost 99 games in 2011’. This is a thought that has been echoed constantly by both Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan as well as by several veteran players, so often in fact, that it has me wondering if the Twins organization truly believes this.

The Twins are currently sitting at 5-11, fourth in the AL Central, ahead only of the surprisingly bad Kansas City Royals. In some ways the message of the Twins leadership couldn’t be truer. After a hapless opening series sweep in Baltimore the Twins have started to play better baseball and have picked up offensively. The Twins are currently 9th on the Major Leagues in team batting average at .257, 14th in OBP at .317 and 6th in hits with 140 through the first sixteen games of the season. Despite this the Twins are only 21st in runs scored, 18th in home runs and 19th in RBI.

It was inevitable that the Twins would break out of their opening funk as they have some powerful bats in their lineup. Josh Willingham has proven more than an adequate replacement for Michael Cuddyer taking a .328/.425/.655 with 5 HR and 12 RBI into the last days of April and is doing exactly hat he was brought in to do. Despite this improved offensive effort, the Twins might find themselves losing over 90 games again this season, for one reason only, their starting rotation.

The Twins are indeed a different team from last year; they have not nearly had the number of injury concerns in the early going. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have been healthy and performing well and aside from Nick Blackburn missing a start primarily as a precautionary measure with forearm soreness the only real injury blow the Twins have been dealt was that of Scott Baker; and what a blow it was.

I have said this before and I will say it again. The Twins rotation is simply not good enough to compete at a big league level. Let’s take a look at how they have fared in the early going. Through 16 starts, the Twins rotation (including Swarzak) has an ERA of 6.39, a combined WHIP of 1.60 and opposing hitters are hitting a combined .305 against Twins starters. Granted there are some things to consider. Jason Marquis has only made one start, Francisco Liriano has looked truly horrible and the rotation has been a little uneven without Blackburn over the last week or so. There are certainly positives too. Liam Hendriks has looked excellent in his first two starts and looks as though he could mature into a solid middle of the rotation starter. Carl Pavano has pitched solidly in his last two starts but been undone by one bad pitch on each occasion. What the Twins have on their books currently is 4 guys who are realistically back end number 4 or 5 starters and Francisco Liriano; who looks in line for a demotion to AAA unless he gets back on track quickly.

Bullpen bound? Or even Rochester Bound?
I take a great deal of frustration reading blogs and articles as well as the messaging from the Twins Clubhouse that paints an unrealistic picture of the Twins rotation. Yes the Twins have always had a focus on ‘pitching to contact’, of letting their sound fundamental defense do the work, but this philosophy is now so ingrained in the minds of Twins fans that we have come to expect pitching mediocrity from our starters. I can’t remember the last Twins game I watched where I saw a starting pitcher go 8 IP+ and give up 2 or less runs (I believe it as the last game of the 2011 season, when Pavano tossed a 5 hit shut out against the Royals). My point is simply this. The Twins pitching philosophy has weakened our rotation and bullpen to the point that it is not capable of mounting a challenge in a competitive AL Central division. The Twins minor league system, while housing some solid prospects, has very few MLB worthy arms (the exception would be Kyle Gibson, but his status is uncertain while returning from Tommy John surgery). The Twins are ideally placed in this years draft to begin reversing this trend. If this franchise is to consistently get back to winning ways, we need to start by getting a bunch of young, high ceiling, winning arms. Any thoughts?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Baker Dilemma

The Twins, already facing stiff competition in challenging for the AL Central this year, suffered a huge blow when it was announced that their best pitcher from 2011, Scott Baker, would miss the entire 2012 season due to impending elbow surgery.

At the end of this season Terry Ryan will have some interesting roster decisions to make, particularly regarding the starting pitching in 2013. At the press conference in which the Twins announced Baker’s surgery Ryan spoke of ‘hoping to have him ready for 2013’, in a nonchalant manner. Hold on, not so fast, the Twins have an option on Baker for 2013, for $9 million. I’m not sure if that is a price tag that I would be willing to pay for someone as brittle as Scott Baker. Would you have paid $9 million for Francisco Liriano’s 2008 comeback season? (in which he pitched 76 innings with a WHIP of 1.39), I would not. Baker, admittedly, is facing entirely different circumstances, he will not be undergoing Tommy John surgery, however his surgery does require 6 months of rehab.

Losing Baker is a big blow to the Twins 2012 hopes
Carl Pavano and Jason Marquis will be free agents at the end of the season and with Pavano turning 37 next January and unlikely to replicate the outstanding numbers he put up in his 2010 campaign; it seems unlikely the Twins will resign him. Jason Marquis was signed to a 1 year contract with the Twins, who were looking for a veteran presence to put up some innings in an inexperienced pitching staff, may also be looking elsewhere for work in 2013. Finally the mercurial Francisco Liriano is a free agent at the end of the 2012 season and may not make it that far if the Twins fall out of contention early and decide to use him as trade bait.

Baker’s injury will undoubtedly present Liam Hendriks and Anthony Swarzak with increased opportunities to start. Hendriks had an outstanding spring which followed a moderately successful September call-up for the 2011 club. Indeed he deserves his opportunity, despite being fast-tracked through the Twins minor league system and not having much experience even at the AAA level. Swarzak has had success for the Twins both as a spot starter and a reliever, so it will be interesting to see in what capacity the Twins use him, much will depend on Hendriks early success. The potential departures at the end of the season also potentially open the door for consensus top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson, who is slated for a return to the mound from Tommy John surgery in August to put himself back on the fast track to the big league club in 2013.

Whether the front office wants to admit it or not the Twins are in a prime spot to restock their mediocre minor league system this year and perhaps next. The Twins hold 6 of the first 100 draft selection in 2012, including the 2nd, 32nd, 42nd and 63rd and while this years draft class doesn’t have a Strasburg or Harper type cornerstone superstar, it is thought to be a deep class. Should the Twins live up to most expert forecasts they may well have excellent draft position again in 2013, giving them an ideal opportunity to address areas of need within the organization (particularly starting pitching).

While Baker’s injury is a devastating blow to the Twins, it might just give them the push they need to fully commit to building for the future.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Down on the Farm 04.10.12

Here’s a look at how the Twins various minor league affiliates are faring in their opening weeks of the season. Let me know what prospects you are interested in following and I will add them to the weekly update.

Low A – Beloit Snappers

Two of the Twins top prospects are beginning their seasons at Beloit. Consensus top prospect 3B Miguel Sano has a made a splash with his power bat already blasting 3 HR and 9 RBI in just 9 AB and slugging his way to a 1.335 OBP. Fellow 2B prospect and reigning Appalachian League MVP Eddie Rosario is also off to a hot start hitting .385/.589/.692 with 4 stolen bases in just 13 at bats.

Steven Gruver was the most impressive of the Snappers starting pitchers, tossing 6 innings of shut out ball while striking out 5. Eden Prairie native Madison Boer has struggled early, giving up 5 runs (3 earned) in 4 innings pitched in his first start at low A.

High A – Fort Myers Miracle

The Twins No.1 draft choice from a year ago Levi Michael has made a nice start with the Miracle, hitting .308 through the opening week of the season, but showing excellent plate discipline, taking four walks in his first 13 at bats, contributing to an excellent .471 OBP. Left handed slugger Oswaldo Arcia has made a slow start, going just 2 for his first 12, but also showing patience at the plate, walking 5 times already for the Miracle.

Pat Dean, who excelled at Beloit before struggling in a late season call up to Fort Myers, pitched well in his first start, surrendering 2 ER through 6 IP in his first start. Adrian Salcedo also fared well, giving up just 1 ER through 4 IP, striking out 3, although he did issue 3 free passes.

AA – New Britain Rock Cats

After going 1 for his first 12, Aaron Hicks had an excellent game for the Rock Cats Monday, going 2-4 with a 3R HR and an RBI single. Evan Bigley and Pedro Florimon have also been raking early.

Jason Marquis had a solid rehab start at New Britain, giving up just 1 ER in 6 innings pitched. He is scheduled to pitch one more rehab start this Thursday before being recalled to the big league club. Deolis Guerra and Alex Wimmers, giving up 2 ER combined over 8+ innings in their respective opening starts.

AAA – Rochester Red Wings

Brian Dozier has been the story early for Rochester this season and is already knocking on the door of the big league club, going 9 for his first 19, including 3 doubles and a HR. Scott Diamond had an excellent first start for the Red Wings, going 6.1 innings of shut out baseball. Carlos Gutierrez has also had a solid start, striking out 5 in just 3.1 innings of work.

Home Openening Reflections

The Twins continued their offensive struggles yesterday in a disappointing home opener against this summers’ big spending Angels. After struggling to make his sinker, well, sink in the first inning, giving up two early runs, Nick Blackburn settled down in a big way, at one point retiring fourteen straight and inducing twelve ground ball outs in six innings of work. Once again the Twins defense let their pitching down, committing two errors behind Blackburn and despite the fact that these did not lead to runs, it was another defensive miscue that allowed the Angels to open up their lead in the 7th inning.

With the now pedestrian Bobby Abreu on 1st, Alberto Callaspo hit ground ball up the middle which SS Jamey Carroll over-dived for and what should have been a routine double play was deflected allowing both runners to advance. Blackburn was made to pay as he left a meat-ball over the plate for Chris Iannetta to drive to the left center field wall for a two run double. This passage of play again was indicative of the carry over the Twins have seemed to experience from last season, poor fundamental defense and no hitting.

Josh Willingham was perhaps the only Twin ho looked like a real threat at the plate, hitting the ball hard all four times against C.J Wilson including a solo home run in the 4th and narrowly pulling another potential long ball foul his next at bat. Wilson himself induced 14 ground balls, another indication of how much Twins hitters have struggled so far to drive the ball, yesterday’s struggles putting the Twins at six runs through their first four games.

Interestingly Ron Gardenhire went with his 4th different line-up in as many games and while it was understandable getting as many right handed hitters in the line-up against a dominant southpaw like C.J Wilson, to me this speaks to the fact that outside of his core players, Ron Gardenhire really isn’t sure of what his best lineup maybe. So far the most noticeable and yet least talked about offensive struggle had been getting the Twins speedy table setters on base, Span, Casilla and Jamey Carroll combining for an OBP of just .146 through four games. The next two starters the Twins face are Jared Weaver and Dan Haren and with Scott Baker’s return anything but immediate, the Twins face a real test of character over the next few days.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Slow Out of the Gate

Well after all the excitement, conjecture and apprehension the Minnesota Twins 2012 season is finally underway; and in the blink of an eye, the Twins are 0-3. 0-3, oh no, time to panic! Not so fast. Despite the Twins lackluster efforts in their opening series against the Orioles (more on this in a minute) let us not jump on the complaining and whining bandwagon. The Red Sox are 0-3; the Yankees are also 0-3. The last time the Yankees were 0-3 was 1998, guess who won the World Series that year? This is not to say that the Twins are currently of the same caliber as those teams, nor is it to say that opening weekend wasn’t incredibly frustrating, but it is just three games.

Perhaps the most irritating aspect of the last three days is that the Orioles never really looked in danger in any three of those games. Unfortunately the Twins came out of the gate the way they crossed the finish line in 2011, with so-so pitching, and incredibly poor hitting.

True to 2011 form the Twins are already struggling with some injuries, with Scott Baker being on the DL with shoulder tendinitis (nothing new here) and spring stud Liam Hendriks missing his well earned first start of 2012 with a nasty bout of food poisoning.

Let’s look at the pitching performances from the Baltimore series. Carl Pavano settled down after a rough opening in which he shoed uncharacteristic lack of control and falling behind in several counts. Pavano finished having given up 4 ER over 7 IP. Let’s get one thing straight Twins fans; this is pretty much a standard Pavano performance. Despite the status afforded him by being the opening day starter, this effort is only 1 ER away from being a quality start. Other than Josh Willingham’s two run blast, the Twins gave him nothing in return, going 0-4 with RISP.

Liriano’s start on Saturday was more puzzling to me. I watched this game and I could not get one overriding feeling out of my head while I was, Liriano looked pretty good. Don’t get me wrong, you are only as good as your pitching line and Liriano gave up 5 ER in only 4 IP, but there is a little more to read between the lines here. Liriano struck out the side on the first and looked dominant in doing so. The solo HR that Adam Jones hit in the second inning was a sharp pitch, down in the zone and nothing more than a great piece of hitting. Liriano’s defense gave him little help, committing two errors behind him and Baltimore’s Babip in this game was .538 – which is simply unreasonable. In short, Baltimore found every hold they could find, the Twins defense as poor and Liriano made a few mistakes. I’m looking for a big improvement in his second start.

Finally, props to Anthony Swarzak, no matter what he is asked to do by the Twins, he does it well. 5 IP, 1 ER, Swarzak certainly gave the Twins a chance to be competitive in this game, sadly the pitiful two hits that they mustered off Jason Hammel did not. 

Justin Morneau has driven the ball well early on
Hitting has been the struggle out of the gate for the Twins, they have managed just 5 runs on 15 hits through 3 games, the only highlight, which cannot be understated is Justin Morneau being 4-10 with 2 doubles through this trying opening series. It is the Twins hitting that really needs to wake up as they head back to Minnesota for the home opener against C.J Wilson and the Angels on Wednesday. With the next 16 games coming against the Angels, Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox and Rays the Twins will need to find form across the board in order to not find them selves in a big hole by the end of April.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Roster Taking Shape

With only a few days left of spring the Twins only have a few final roster decisions to make before heading to Maryland to face Baltimore in their opening series beginning April 6th. The Twins announced via Twitter on Friday that Drew Butera was being optioned to AAA Rochester opening the door for former Astros prospect J.R Towles to travel with the team as their third catcher. Aside from the celebratory fist pumps at reading this news and all jokes aside, this does leave the Twins brass with some interesting decision still to make and potentially a more fluid roster than expected.

It would seem that there are two positional roster spots up for grabs and the Twins are choosing between Chris Parmelee, Sean, Burroughs, Brian Dozier and Brian Dinkleman for those final two spots. My contention would be that Dinkleman is out and Ron Gardenhire as much as admitted Parmelee made this roster in comments to the press on Saturday. Parmelee certainly deserves his shot following up his excellent September call up with a .288 spring average, while launching 4 HR, collecting 11 RBI and getting on base at a tidy .382. Parmelee will likely serve as relief for Morneau at 1B but also creates an interesting dynamic in the outfield. It seems the Ben Revere’s spot in right field is no sure thing and Parmelee will be amassing some ABs there, with Denard Span and Josh Willingham filling out the rest of the outfield.

The battle between Dozier and Burroughs for the last roster spot is a fascinating one. Ron Gardenhire suggested in comments lat week that if Dozier was to make the lineup is would be as the clubs’ starting SS, whereas Burroughs would likely fill more of a platoon and utility roll, given his infield versatility. Both have had solid spring, with Burroughs currently possessing a .444 spring OBP. Dozier, while a little less consistent at the plate, has also been solid, sporting a .277 average to go along with 3 spring HR and 9 RBI. Personally I would like to see Dozier start the year at AAA and build on his momentum from last year, where he had an outstanding minor league season. Burroughs offers versatility, a little more experience and a solid pinch hitting option off the bench for Ron Gardenhire. If nothing else Twins fans should be excited about their team’s prospects in the infield, where names such as Parmelee, Dozier, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Levi Michael suggest that the Twins may be two or three years away from turning around an area of their team that has always been a significant weakness, into a dependable strength.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring Training Highs - Hitting

After some consideration I decided to put the kibosh on finishing the central showdown piece. It is getting dangerously close to opening day and there is so much to discuss, lesson learned for next season.
Camp has gone well for the Twins with no significant injury concerns or crises (so far). Despite the fact that spring form isn’t something to be bought into (who remembers Chris Shelton of the Tigers a few seasons ago), as baseball fans waiting for the opening day of a team that lost 99 games n 2011, what else do we have? Here are some of the Twins highs and lows so far this spring.
After some initial injury concerns Luke Hughes has made a strong bid to make the big league club, raking all spring to the tune of .385/.429/.795 with 4 HR and 13 RBI through 39 spring ABs. It would be very surprising at this point if Hughes did not leave Fort Myers with the big league club.
Alexi Casilla and Ben Revere have had solid springs so far, Casilla contributing a line of .355/.429/.387 with 3 stolen bases while Revere has managed .325/.357/.375 and showed an improved arm in the outfield, an issue he has worked hard to address this offseason. Gardenhire recently admitted that Willingham will start opening day in LF, while Span will be the team’s center fielder. That leaves a three horse race between Revere, Trevor Plouffe and Chris Parmelee for the RF spot. Revere’s solid play in his rookie season combined with his hot spring should be enough to win him the starting job.
Finally, how could we get through the post without the big three? Monumentally, Span, Mauer and Morneau have managed to get through spring unscathed. No Twins could honestly say their heart strings didn’t flutter a little when Morneau broke his miserable spring slump to crush 2 HR on March 24th against Tampa Bay. While Morneau was quick to downplay this performance and wisely so, he has improved and gone 4 for his last 9 at the plate and most importantly of all, is reporting no symptoms of his career threatening post-concussion syndrome.
Mauer has quietly put together a good spring, going .333/.381/.385, while playing time at 1B and C and reporting having never felt stronger at this stage of spring. Span has also played well despite an early scare in which he crashed into the center field wall, hitting .300/.378/.350. Ron Gardenhire deserves credit for managing all three meticulously this spring, typically using them on alternate days and avoiding taking them on several of the Twins longer road trips. While spring shouldn’t be read into, this is no ordinary year for the Twins and the one thing I find myself struggling not to read into is this; Minnesota should go into opening day with a healthy Span, Mauer and Morneau – what a relief.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Central Showdown - Third Base

Miguel Cabrera – Tigers

Third base in the central was irrevocably changed by the Tigers signing Prince Fielder to a nine year, $209 million deal. Miguel Cabrera, though some years and about 50 lbs ago has plenty of experience playing 3rd base with the Marlins and was the logical choice for the Tigers to move back there, instantly making him the class of the division.

Simply put, Cabrera is a machine. In 2011 he posted career highs in average .344 and OBP .448 and has averaged 33 HR and 118 RBI in a nine season span. Cabrera’s other power metrics are equally frightening, he has a career ISO of .239, with a career HR/FB % of nearly double the league average and has a SO/BB ration of just 1.57. Despite having a poor glove throughout his career and having some extra weight to carry around at the hot corner – Cabrera is one of the top 3 players in the game. Oh and one more thing, since his first full season in 2004 he has averaged just shy of 157 games played per season! Who is Detroit’s only player that can better that you ask? Price Fielder at just shy of 160, wow!

Mike Moustakas – Royals

The drop off after Cabrera is dramatic but in Moustakas the Royals may have something special. Moose’s big league debut was consistently overshadowed by an underwhelming initial call-up to the big league roster and Eric Hosmer’s consistent excellence. In September however, Moustakas gave everyone a taste of his capabilities with a .352 average to go along with four second half home runs and 26 RBI. Overall Moose put up a 2011 line of .263/.309/.367 along with some solid contact and plate discipline metrics. Moustakas was a higher rated prospect than Hosmer moving through the Royals system (which including an unbelievable season at 2 minor league levels in which he hit .322 with 36 HR and 124 RBI). Moose has star power but at the tender age of 23, it is unclear whether he is ready to translate that talent into major league numbers as early as 2012.

Danny Valencia – Twins

After impressing as a middle-season call-up in 2010 to the tune of .311/.351/.448 line in 85 games, Valencia game down to earth in his sophomore campaign after his BAbip fell 70 points between the 2 seasons. Valencia did show some pop in his second season, launching 15 HR and driving in 72 runs. Valencia also showed signs of improvement in his plate discipline; despite striking out more in 2011, he increased his walk rate and pitches per plate appearance but continuing to improve upon these marks will be crucial if Valencia is to overturn a mediocre 2011. Ron Gardenhire publicly criticized Valencia throughout the season for defensive lapses in concentration and lamented Valencia for trying to do too much with the ball instead of relying on his natural strength and pull power stroke. Valencia is off to a hot start this spring, so it will be interesting to see if he can bounce back in 2012.

Lonnie Chisenhall – Indians

Chisenhall was a mid-year promotion by the Indians who contributed solidly to their push for the AL Central before the Tigers ran away with it late in the year. The Indians hope Chisenhall can develop into a solid offensive and defensive contributor who can man their hot corner for the next 10 years. In 66 games he was good for a .255/.284/.415 line with 7 HR and 22 RBI while providing a solid glove at third. Chisenhall’s main Achilles heal in his debut was a putrid 3.6% BB/9 (MLB average 8.1%). This combined with an above average SO% led to Chisenhall’s miserable OBP. If he can improve his plate discipline (and his .344 OBP in four minor league seasons suggests he can) the Indians third base job will be his to lose for the foreseeable future.

Brent Morel – White Sox

Morel was taken by the White Sox in the 3rd round of the 2008 amateur draft and before the 2011 season Baseball America rated him as the #85 prospect in all of baseball. In his first two seasons however, he has failed to live up to his billing as a top prospect. Despite showing growth from his 2010 debut Morel managed a batting slash line of just .245/.287/.366 in 2011. Morel’s OBP was still atrocious last season despite improving his LD% and cutting his SO% in half. In two big league seasons Morel has had a BAbip of .262 so he may be in for a significant rise in OBP and batting average if he can find a few more holes this season. Still for my money, Morel is the weakest in a pretty weak field at 3B in the AL Central.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Central Showdown - Shortstop

Asdrubal Cabrera – Indians

Cabrera had always been a solid shortstop going into the 2011 season. Through his 4 previous big league seasons, he had only once posted an average below .275 and an OBP below .340. Cabrera’s sudden power stroke was inexplicable given that in four previous MLB seasons he had managed just 18 home runs. Out of nowhere in 2011 he blasted 25 to go along with a .273/.332/.460 slash line, with 92 RBI and 17 SB to boot, making him an explosive 5 category contributor and arguably, one of the top five offensive shortstops in the game: All this with his lowest BAbip since entering the big leagues in 2007. Through his major league career, Cabrera has never walked a significant amount and strikes out right on par with the rest of the league at 17.8%, so how did he do it? The % of Cabrera’s fly balls that became home runs jumped from a miserly 2.2% in 2010 to 10.5% in 2011, well above the league average of 7.5%. Even with some regression Cabrera is still the class of the division.

Alexei Ramirez – White Sox

Cuban defector Ramirez has been a remarkable model of consistency since joining the White Sox in 2008. ‘A little bit of everything not a lot of any one thing’ would be an accurate description of Ramirez four big league seasons thus far. In that span he has delivered a 162 game average of .279/.323/.421 with 19 HR 77 RBI and 13 SB. All this while providing an outstanding glove at SS in 2010 and 2011 makes Ramirez one of the better American league shortstops out there. While Ramirez has been a little more strike out prone in the last 2 seasons, his SO% is still well below the league average. Ramirez is a lock to put up his excellently consistent numbers again in 2012. In the AL Central, he is as close to a sure thing as you can get. 

Cabrera is the class of the division at shortstop

Jhonny Peralta – Tigers

At the still friendly age of 29, it’s hard to believe Peralta is entering his 10th full big league season. Peralta has always had good pop in his bat, averaging 19 HR and 83 RBI as a 162 game average over his big league career. What really elevated Peralta in 2011 was his career best .299/.345/.478 slash line which earned him his first all-star nod. Peralta did benefit from a 62 point rise in BAbip between 2010 and 2011 so we should perhaps expect some level of regression from his outstanding average last year. Similarly to Ramirez, Peralta has in recent seasons exhibited an excellent glove, with an average Rfield of 7.3 over the last 3 seasons. To show he is on the level of Ramirez, Peralta must repeat his 2011 numbers (particularly his elevated OBP) in the middle of a fearsome Tigers lineup that gives him every chance of doing so.

Jamey Carroll – Twins

Put together a decent batting average of .278, a below average SO% - 13.9 %, an above average BB% - 10% and a solid LD% - 22 %, what do you have? A none too shabby OBP of .356 and a solid major league career. These are all statistics that belong to Carroll who has turned a below average (in major league terms) skill set into an above average major league career which has spanned 10 years, 5 teams and both leagues. Such is the confidence the Twins brass has in Carroll as a table setter that they signed him to a 2 year pact worth $6.5 million. Carroll could not have joined the teams at a better time; they sported one of the worst defenses in the league. While Carroll certainly has range that is diminishing with age, he still has a solid glove at three infield positions and should sure up an inexperienced infield which sprang consistent leaks throughout the 2011 season. Offensively Carroll may look unspectacular but if he can do what he has successfully throughout his career Carroll will meet the Twins needs and should score plenty of runs with a guaranteed everyday role.

Alcides Escobar – Royals

Now having had 2 full MLB seasons  under his belt 2011 saw Escobar’s skill set grow very little. Given the green light by the Royals to show off his wheels he swiped 26 bags but was caught on 9 occasions in the process. While Escobar raised his batting average by almost 20 points, his OBP remained the same largely thanks to a truly miserable BB % of 4.2 % and a not so coincidental 20 point spike in BAbip. Escobar also saw a 7% fall in LD % in 2011 and despite a significant improvement with the glove in 2011 has failed to impress in his short major league career – so far!