Search This Blog

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!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Central Showdown - Second Base

Second base is a position in which the AL Central is sorely lacking. There is an evident absence of both quality and depth and this season will see the chance for several prospects across different organizations to emerge and secure big league starting jobs.

Jason Kipnis – Indians

Despite seeing just 126 Major League ABs in 2011, Kipnis is perhaps the class of the division. Kipnis had a solid start after being promoted to the Indians increasingly powerful infield, hitting .272/.333/.507 with 7 HR, 19 RBI and swiping 5 bags in the process. Kipnis also excelled in other metrics with an ISO of .235 but did benefit from a large slice of lady luck in his major league debut, as throughout his 3 minor league seasons he only belted only 19 HR. His HR/FB (home run to fly ball %) was one of the highest in baseball (16th best in players with at least 150 PAs. All of these assessments will need to be put on hold with Kipnis as he has provided us much too small a sample of MLB ABs to draw solid conclusions from. In his limited big league career he has proven to be a below average 2B with an Rfield of -2. Kipnis will need to improve his plate discipline if he is to continue to replicate his excellent .378 OBP over his 3 minor league seasons with the Indians organization.

Gordon Beckham – White Sox

It’s hard to believe that Beckham is just 25. He seems to have been around and was bandied about as the next big 2B prospect for a few seasons. Beckham has not lived up to the hype in his big league career so far but age is still on his side. Beckham had an excellent rookie season in 2009 in which he hit .270/.347/.460 with 14 HR. His initial success seems to have come from a propensity to walk and not strike out, with a 9.5% BB% and a SO% of 15.1 – rates which he has not been able to replicate since (posting figures of 6.3% for BB and 19.1% for SO in 2011). Beckham significantly improved his defense last season with an Rfield of 5 last year after averaging -10.5 in his previous 2 seasons, as well as increasing his fielding % by almost 40 points and showing a significant increase in range. Beckham still has the potential and the time to take his game to the next level but the previous 2 seasons since his promising rookie campaign would suggest he may not fulfill his over-inflated promise.

Johnny Giavotella – Royals

Giavotella debuted for the Royals in the stretch run of 2011 after being one of their 2nd round draft choices out of the University of New Orleans in 2008. Giavotella had a below average major league debut, producing a .247/.273/.376 line in 46 games last year. Giavotella was poor in the field but had some speed on the base paths, stealing 5 bases in his brief major league introduction. Although a small sample size, Giavotella’s initial struggles derive from an Alfonso Soriano-esque 3.2% BB% (the league average is 8.1%)! Despite these struggles, Giavotella does have an excellent minor league track record, putting up a .305/.375/.437 line through just under 450 minor league games. These numbers would suggest that Giavotella will improve his plate discipline somewhat this season, and with a depth chart in which his closest challenger is Chris Getz, Giavotella should be given a long leash by the Royals at 2B this season. Look for him to give them a solid on-base slap-hitting presence.

Ryan Raburn/Ramon Santiago – Tigers

Raburn had a poor season in 2011 with his average plummeting almost 30 points and his OBP falling almost 50 points after solid contributory seasons at 2B and in the Tigers OF in 2009 and 2010. Raburn has benefited from a career .321 BAbip, which may eventually right itself and cause a further decline in his slash line. Raburn’s biggest battle is with plate discipline, striking out a whopping 27.3% of his ABs in 2011 (league average 17.5%) and only walking 5% of his ABs (league average of 8.5%). Raburn is a solid power contributor but with a SO/BB ratio of 5.43 (yes, you read correctly), he will only ever be a platoon option plugging holes for a Tigers lineup that is loaded with power bats. In Santiago the Tigers have a solid and versatile middle infielder who is a valuable alternative to Raburn because of his superior glove (career Rfield of 12), and the fact that he plays on a team spoiled for big bats.

Alexi Casilla – Twins

The Twins have been nothing if not patient with Casilla after acquiring him from the Angels in 2005. Casilla has put his talent together in fits and spurts, including his best season in 2008 in which his .281/.333/.374 line is more in keeping with what the Twins want from their 2B. Casilla has steadily decreased his SO% and increased his BB% in his 6 years with the Twins, improvements he needs to capitalize on in order to build upon his increasing ability on the base paths, swiping a career high 15 bags in 2011. Casilla also drastically improved his performance in the field last season, having a turnaround in Rfield from -5 in 2010 to 4 in 2011. IF, and it’s a big if, Casilla can put these improvements together over an injury free season his dominant winter in the Dominican leagues is evidence that he may have his best season with the Twins to date.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Central Showdown - First Base

First base is another position in which the AL Central has an embarrassment of riches, not least with the Tigers addition of Prince Fielder to a 9 year $180 million deal this off-season. Question marks surround Paul Konerko’s continuing production as he reaches senior citizen status, super-stud Eric Hosmer’s first full season in the Bigs and Twins cornerstone Justin Morneau’s return from two injury ridden seasons.

1. Prince Fielder – Tigers

The Tigers certainly made the biggest splash in the AL Central this off-season. No sooner had the division been thrown open by the season-ending injury to Victor Martinez then the Tigers locked up Fielder to a 9 year deal (big gulp of anxiety for the 2013 season). Fielder’s abilities are well documented; here is what we all have to fear over the next decade. Through 7 seasons Fielder’s slash line is .282/.390/.540. He averages 37 HR, 106 RBI and despite not being a particularly good defensive 1B, the production he brings renders this fact unimportant. In my blind optimism I contended to my friend Joe that ‘Fielder might see a power decline in a pitchers ballpark like Comerica', Joe’s simple humbling reply, ‘it doesn’t really matter when you hit the ball 475 feet every time’, obviously an exaggeration, but point well made. Fielder is the cream of the central crop and should feast on a division that has a lot of sub-par pitching.

2. Paul Konerko – White Sox

This was the toughest call to make in this category, Konerko, or Hosmer. Ultimately, despite Hosmer’s huge upside, I went with experience and consistency. Despite turning 36 in March, Konerko has been the cornerstone of the White Sox franchise for years, putting up outstanding numbers year after year. Konerko is an annual lock to put up 30 HR and 100 RBI, with an average around .280 to boot. Konerko also walks more than average, strikes out less than average and is a solid defensive 1B, with the type of leadership qualities a franchise like the White Sox, with weakness throughout their organization really needs. Expect Konerko to put up at least one more Konerko-like season to cap off an outstanding big-league career.

3. Eric Hosmer – Royals

Hosmer was subject to a ton of hype before his May call-up for the Royals and did not disappoint. The 3rd overall pick of the 2008 draft is going to be challenging Fielder for positional supremacy for years to come. The only reason he isn’t ranked above Konerko is that 2012 will be his first full big-league season; an excellent first full big league season will push him over the top. Hosmer put up consistently outstanding numbers in his prolonged MLB coming out party, averaging a HR every 27.5 ABs (league average every 36.4), while contributing a .293/.334/.465 line with 19 HR and even swiping 14 bags. If Hosmer can walk a little more and maintain his excellent SO%, he should improve across the board in an increasingly potent Royals hitting lineup. Simply put, if Hosmer continues to develop at the same rate, the Royals will have an all-star caliber 1B who contributes in all 5 offensive categories for the foreseeable future.

4. Justin Morneau – Twins

Looking at Morneau’s career since his innocuous injury prior to the 2010 all-star break (a season in which he was putting up all-star caliber numbers) is a travesty. Since then Morneau managed just 69 big league games and has put up numbers not reflective of his huge talent. One more concussion related setback might call it a career for Morneau, who recently admitted ‘I don’t think there will be a career if this (concussion) is something I’m dealing with (for the long-term)’. That would be a real travesty.

There is no way to predict what Morneau will contribute to the Twins this season. In an ideal situation the Twins would get 120-130 games rotating Morneau between 1B and DH. If he ever manages a return to his typical career form his slash line, glove, excellent BB% and SO% make him one of the elite 1B in baseball. This spring is it for Morneau as question marks hang over not only his season, but his career in the game.

5. Casey Kotchman – Indians

The Indians brought in veteran journeyman Casey Kotchman this off-season coming off a one year stint with the Tampa Bay Rays to add depth at a position which belonged to Matt LaPorta in 2011. LaPorta and Kotchman will likely platoon at 1B this season with Santana also seeing some time to rest his body from catching. Kotchman had a good season with the Rays hitting .306 and getting on base at an excellent .378 clip over 148 games in Tampa Bay. Kotchman improved his SO rate and drew more walks in 2011, but above all else is the premier defensive 1B in the division, with an Rfield of 25 over 10 big league seasons. Indians fans can pick their poison at 1B – LaPorta with a little more pop, or Kotchman, defensively sound and a high OBP, either option is decidedly mediocre compared to the rest of the division.