Still think that Trevor Plouffe and JJ Hardy might be the same guy

Who is Neal Cotts, and What does he do for the Twins?

The Minnesota Twins announced that they have acquired 35 year old. lefty reliever Neal Cotts from the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named later.    They also optioned AJ Archer to Rochester to make space of their 25-man roster.  Cotts is on the tail end of an one year, $3 million contract, of which the Twins will be responsible for about $725,000.

Cotts has played for the Chicago White Sox, Cubs, Rangers and Milwaukee.  All but his September call up with the White Sox, he has been exclusively a reliever.   Cotts has been out of baseball from 2009 till 2012 battling elbow and hip issues:  Underwent Tommy John surgery in July of 2009, had the first of four hip surgeries while signed by the Pirates in June of 2010, failed his physical after he signed with the Yankees for the 2011 season.  He signed a minor league contract for the Rangers and played for Round Rock the second half of the 2012 season.  This is a great read for his health troubles.

One can look at his career numbers, but a player like him, really has two parts of his career and looking at the part before the injuries will not help predict what he might do for the Twins in 2015.   The "new" Neal Cotts, while with the Rangers, abandoned his curve, change and slider, and has primarily become a two seamer (89-90 mph) and a cutter (83-86 mph) pitcher, with his cutter (which he throws about half the time) his most effective and only above average pitch.   This season lefties are hitting .185/.230/.346 (but with a ridiculous .204 BABIP) and righties .282/.373/.466.   For comparison purposes, Ryan O'Rourke's splits are: .156/.250/.250 against LHB (with .267 BABIP) and .167/.375/.167 against RHB.  Add a .333/.395/.385 line against the American League, which includes a .182/.250/.182 line against the Twins, and it seems pretty clear that Cotts should be at the end of the line as LHP options go for the Twins.  On the other hand, as indicated above, Cotts has had success with the Twins this season and last (the Twins were 1 for 14 against him in 2014 while with the Rangers,) and the Twins' Front Office likes players who perform well against the Twins.

But the Twins do not play the Twins. They are playing (Slash line of each team's batters against Cotts in 2014 and/or 2015 in parenthesis) : Baltimore (2014: .429/.500/.643), Tampa (2014: .286/.444/.429) , Houston (2014: .394/.447/.667), Kansas City (2014: 0 for 6 & 2015: .385/.429/.462), White Sox (no appearances in 2014 and 2015), Detroit (2014: .385/.467/.538), Angels (2014: .185/.290/.296), and Cleveland (2014: .222/.222/.333 & 2015: .375/.500/.500).  In other words, every other team the Minnesota Twins are playing the rest of the season, other than the Angels and the White Sox (against whom he did not appear), hit Cotts better than Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays ever hit regular pitching.

Not sure what this trade was about, other maybe for Terry Ryan to be able to say that he did something.  The Twins clearly have better internal options, including the departed AJ Achter who has held opposing RHBs to a .176/.176/.353   line.   Depending on who the player to be named later is, this trade can be rated from "Blah" to a "Disaster", and really does nothing for the Twins in their pursuit of a wild card spot.


The Minnesota Twins sign another pitcher.

The Twins announced that they have signed 25 year old RHP Nick Anderson, formerly of the Frontier Greys, a travel team with no home, who has only Independent League professional experience and has been assigned to Cedar Rapids to face kids 6 years his junior. If you have not guessed it by now, he is from Minnesota. Brainard. He was the closer for the Grays and fairly successful, but I would have felt that this move was more baseball and less PR, if he was assigned to AA where 25 year olds usually play. Still nothing to help the big team that fell 3 games behind the second wild-card spot.


The Twins add a pitcher and an outfielder, switch minor leaguers, but should target one more player

Currently the Twins are trying to avoid further damage by the current 1-9 avalanche.   To that effect, Terry Ryan replaced Tyler Duffy and Chris Fryer (who was DFA'd)  with AJ Achter and Chris Herrmann.

In addition he went outside the organization and signed two free agents: 30 year old RHP Loek Van Mil, who was traded as a prospect to the Angels for Brian Fuentes last decade, and his claim to fame is that at 7'1" he is the tallest player in the minors.  He also signed 21 year old undrafted free agent Christian Cavaness, who is lefty outfielder and playing at the GCL.

No matter Price or Tulowiski.  Ryan has the right idea.  Van Mil, plus another former Twin can save this team.  Who?

You guess it:


Terry Ryan said that the Twins will do nothing in the deadline. Why are you upset?

After the trading deadline passed and with the Twins' having the league's worst record in the last couple of months and their lead for the first and then the second wild-card position was getting smaller and smaller, there was hope that Terry Ryan will do something to improve the team in the 3 biggest positions of need, shortstop, catcher and the bullpen.

But he did nothing, other than trading the teams' 18th and 25th prospects (and that is from this off-season) for a 30 year old middle reliever with another year of arbitration in the middle of a 4.22 FIP and 1.333 WHIP season (and aided by a .254 BABIP.)

The Twins' fans feel that have every reason to be upset  because of Ryan's inactivity.  On the other hand, they should not be, because Ryan himself said exactly what he was going to do.

“I have every intention of trying to improve this club and find a piece here and a piece there,”   7/31 

The "a piece here and a piece there" should had clinched that Ryan will be up to  his usual dumpster diving

There’s nobody that’s more sensitive about that than me. They’ve done a hell of a job getting to this point, and we’re in a good position, and now it’s my responsibility to help the cause,”  7/31

It was his responsibility, but if nobody holds him accountable for not doing things he is responsible, might well be anyone's responsibility...

I’m aware that one correct move by me could help that cause immensely because it’s going to change that attitude in the clubhouse. I don’t want them thinking a white knight is coming around the corner, because it might not be. But it also is a possibility that you don’t have to tinker with this too much to get us going back in the right direction.  7/31

Here you have it.  Clearly; "might not be".  And you don't have to tinker too much, just get a mediocre reliever who is slightly better that the awful ones that are with the club.  "a piece here"; not a white knight; not an All-Star reliever.  That would be too much tinkering.

And here is the kicker:

“We’re not going to mess around much with this major league team,”    7/31

And he didn't.   True to his word.  And you don't have to read between lines.

It was all there.  Why hope that Ryan will not be Terry Ryan in 2015, since he had been Terry Ryan since 1994 (with the small break of "retiring" to let someone else deal with the Santana and Mauer contract and the Ballpark situation, before returning.)

This is Terry Ryan.  

And unless he goes away, the Twins' fans will not see another parade downtown Minneapolis.   And if the Twins' owner cares about the Country Club more than winning, he should tell the team to one who cares about winning. 


The Twins add an arm and a bat before the deadline

While teams like the Royals have added the 2015 NL Cy Young runner up, Johnny Cueto and super utility man Ben Zobrist (the latter an aspiring Twins' target, along with new Met Tyler Clippard,) and while Toronto, Houston, the Angels all have been strengthening their teams, the Minnesota Twins did not stay pat:

They have signed 28 year old minor league free agent RHP, Michael Bowden, and 25 year old minor league free agent OF, Xavier Avery,  both with some MLB experience a while ago.  Unlike the Royals who are trying to propel themselves in the AL standings with their transactions, the Twins are trying to solidify the Rochester pen and outfield, while further blocking prospects like Max Kepler, Adam Brett Walker, and Brandon Peterson

I am certain that Twins' General Manager, Terry Ryan, does have a plan for the Twins this summer.   Time will only tell, what kind of plan it is...


Three trades the Minnesota Twins need to make right now: Part III

In the first part of this series, I suggested that the Twins trade Danny Santana, Mike Tonkin and Jake Reed to the Oakland Athletics for Ben Zorbrist and Tyler Clippard; and to promote Jorge Polanco as their starting shortstop.  In the second part of this series, I suggested that the Twins trade Tommy Milone and Jason Wheeler to the Phillies for C Carlos Ruiz and LHP Jake Diekman and move Trevor May back to their rotation.   With these 2 trades, they would address their deficiencies at Catcher and Shortstop positions and would add a RH and a LH set up pitcher.   They would also add post-season experience and one of the most versatile players in the game in Ben Zorbrist.  This third trade would be the cherry on the top, not only allowing them to improve both the pen and the rotation and add considerable bench help, but building for the future as well, and it is a blockbuster.   and addressing another elephant in the living room:  Lack of LH power.

Trade number 3:

The Twins send Oswaldo Arcia, Ervin Santana, Casey Fien and Blair Boyer to the San Diego Padres of SP Tyson Ross, RHP Joaquin Benoit and OF Melvin (don't call me BJ) Upton.

 I thought hard about that one, and it can help, but there is a catch:  Other than Oswaldo Arcia (and switch hitting Kennys Vargas)  The Twins do not have much left handed power, so:

The Twins trade OF Eddie Rosario to the Miami Marlins for RHP Carter Capps and Minor League LHP Raudel Lazo

Why would the Twins do it?

24 year old RHP Carter Capps (no relation to you know who) has the third fastest fastball in the majors averaging 98.1 mph, routinely reaching triple digits, leads the majors with 49.5% K%, has a miniscule 1.37 ERA (and even smaller 1.16 FIP and 1.07 xFIP,)  spots a 0.750 WHIP (with an  average .293 BABIP) and has probably the most devastating knuckle-slider in baseball.  Why would the Marlins give him away?  Well... they do not like him.  It might be the delivery.  It might be something else, but they do not like him.  And they do have AJ Ramos and Sam Dyson ahead of him; and maybe for a good reason.  But he is hot.  The hottest pitcher around.  The Twins should take advantage of that.  Raudel Lazo might be a relatively unknown, as he is a 26 year old who just got promoted to AA, but is a Cuban defector who just started to find himself, and on the mount could be Aroldis Chapman's little brother.  Giving up Eddie Rosario might hurt, but with Aaron Hicks finding himself, needing Arcia's left hand power badly, Byron Buxton up and coming and Max Kepler and Adam Brett Walker in the wings, Rosario is expandable.  And you have to give quality to get quality.  Lazo would likely play for Chattanooga in this scenario and would compete for a spot next season.  Oswaldo Arcia would get called up to take Rosario's spot.

Why would the Marlins do it?

They have a huge need of outfielders, with no OF prospects in the pipeline.  Rosario is versatile, will hit, can play all OF positions well and can run well and all they have to give are two players they do not count on for the long run.  Plus Eddie gets to play an hour away from home by plane.


Here is what the Twins' roster would look after these trades (newly acquired or promoted in italics) :

C - Ruiz
1B - Mauer
2B - Dozier
3B - Plouffe
SS - Polanco
LF - Arcia
CF - Hicks
RF - Hunter
DH - Sano

Bench - Suzuki
Bench - Zobrist (rotating to OF and SS and playing 80% of games)
Bench - Robinson (Buxton waiting)
Bench - Escobar
Bench - Nunez (*)

SP - Hughes
SP - Gibson
SP - Santana
SP - Pelfrey
SP - May

CL - Perkins (L)
RP - Diekman (L)
RP - Clippard
RP - Capps
RP - Duensing (L)
RP - Graham

(*) Alternatively another pitcher (eg. Pressly) might occupy that spot.


Three trades the Minnesota Twins need to make right now: Part II

Yesterday, in the first part of this series, I suggested that the Twins trade Danny Santana, Mike Tonkin and Jake Reed to the Oakland Athletics for Ben Zorbrist and Tyler Clippard; and to promote Jorge Polanco as their starting shortstop.   This will address the shortstop and right hand set up positions.  They Twins would need to address their Catcher deficiency and they need another lefty in the pen to complement Brian Duensing, who has been unhitable this month, and his season numbers been victimized by a .448 Target Field BABIP.   I do not believe that 27 year old Ryan O'Rourke with 18 innings pitched above AA, including his current stint with the Twins, is the answer to this position for a contender.   The Twins will solve that problem and the catcher problem in this trade.

Trade Number 2:

Tommy Milone and Jason Wheeler to the Phillies for C Carlos Ruiz and LHP Jake Diekman 

Why would the Twins do it?

Carlos Ruiz on paper is a aging catcher who is overpaid (singed until 2016 with about $12.5 million left in his contract) and under producing (.227/.316/.303 with a 74 OPS+).  However, one needs to look closely at his production:  In High Leverage situations, he is  8/27 with a .296 Batting Average, 5 BB and 3 K.  He is hitting LHPs at a  .276/.392/.448 pace.  He is someone who thrives in competitive situations and someone who makes a team better.  Pitchers love to throw to him.  Defensively he is average, which is not something that can be said for the current Twins' starting catcher.  Jake Diekman, whom I am certain is an unknown to most Twins' fans, will be in his first year of arbitration next season and had some inconsistency and butted heads with the previous Phillies manager, enough to be demoted to the minors.  He will be arbitration eligible in 2016 for the first time.  He is 28.  So what is there to like?   His 96-98 mph fastball, coupled with one of the most devastating lefty change ups in the business.   The Phillies could see beyond his 5.19 ERA and the fact that he allowed 31% of the runners he inherited to score.  His 3.40 FIP, 27.4 K% and .394 BABIP indicate that he is a prime candidate for a change of scenery.  He does have closer stuff.   Giving away Tommy Milone, in addition to being an addition by subtraction, bringing the Twins' FIP leader, Trevor May, back to the rotation, is a cash balancing move.   He is making close to $3 million this season and he will be in the second season of arbitration next season.   Jason Wheeler is a 24 year old LHSP with a career 36-26, 3.60 ERA (3.56 FIP), 1.362 WHIP, 6.2 K/9 record in 96 minor league games, who occupies a 40 man roster spot for the Twins, and does not have much future in the organization, other that a long reliever or bottom of the rotation starter.

Why would the Phillies do it?

The Phillies are rebuilding and they are in full fledged SALE mode, with the upcoming change in Front Office leadership.  They will be saving enough money and getting a couple of young arms who they can potentially plug in their rotation right away and rely on them.  Milone's staff might work better in the National League.  Wheeler is a fastball, slider, changeup pitcher, with fastball being his best pitch and runs in the low 90s but with a lot of controllable movement.   If one of his secondary pitches improves, he can actually be a serviceable starter or a bullpen piece, for a system that is really depleted of prospects.


Three trades the Minnesota Twins need to make right now: Part I

A couple days after the All Star game, the Twins find themselves nine games above .500, and in the midst of a competing season.   The fact that the Twins are competing, might be a surprise to some, but from what I have seen in Spring Training, this team had all the making of a competing team, and I even compared it to the 1987 team.   Like the 1987 team, which would not have won if not addressing them, the 2015 Twins have some glaring weaknesses that they would need to fix.  These weakness are at their Bullpen, Catcher, Shortstop and the Power department.   I will be proposing three trades that the Twins would need to make right now to not only ensure the continuation of competitiveness, but to propel themselves to the next level.

Trade number 1:

Danny Santana, Mike Tonkin and Jake Reed to the Oakland Athletics for Ben Zorbrist and Tyler Clippard.

Why would the Twins do it:

Tyler Clippard, even though he is not a top closer any more, will be a great improvement over the likes of Casey Fien and Blair Boyer in solidifying the RH setup spot in the pen.  Zorbrist brings a glove that plays in every position in the diamond and will solidify the utility role shared by the Eduardos (Escobar and Nunez.)   The Twins should call up their number 2 prospect (after they called up number 1 and number 3,) Jorge Polanco, who is the future and the present of the team as the starter at Shortstop.  The 21 year old has been hitting .300/.340/.399 between Chattanooga and Rochester and his glove is at least as good as Santana's at this point.   Zorbrists and Clippard are 30-something, but are free agents after this season, so the financial commitment is not going to impede any future teams.  Clippard can potentially be extended, if his performance dictates it.  They are not loosing that much in Santana, Tonkin and Reed.  Santana, despite his comet-like 2014, still profiles as a utility player and needs work on both sides on the plate,  Tonkin had plenty of opportunities to prove himself in the bigs, many more that relievers with better minor league record like Anthony Slama, and has failed.   Still has a 95 mph fastball than an organization will find usefull.  Jake Reed has a very good pro career so far, but an abysmal 2015 and the Twins' draft has at least 4 RHRP in the Twins' minors ( Burdi, Chargois, Peterson, Achter - in no order) ahead of him, thus making him expandable.   It will also allow Jorge Polanco to join Sano and Buxton, making the future the present. Yes, the Twins are losing some talent, but a. they need to give value to get value and b. have better talent in those positions.

Why would the Athletics do it:

Other than the prorated $16 million reasons between the two players (about $7.5 M in salary relief), for a team that is not going anywhere, they are getter 3 young players who do have potential.  Santana's 2014 season might have not been as much a mirage as I think it was, and two young arms with high 90s heat and record of success, are more than something to consider.

This is probably the definition of a win-win trade.


Tim Stauffer is not the worst newly acquired relief pitcher for the Twins the last decade, but...

He has Juan Morillo to thank for that (and it is close).   Here is a list of the relief pitchers newly acquired by the Twins who had an xFIP higher than 5, in their first year with the club, during the last 10 years.  The list includes traded players, major league and minor league free agents.

Stauffer has some good company.  (List by decreasing xFIP)

Juan Morillo 2009: ERA 22.50, FIP 13.10, xFIP 9.88, WHIP 3.00
Tim Stauffer 2015: ERA 8.38, FIP 8.61, xFIP 6.48, WHIP 2.28
Esmerling Vasquez 2012: ERA 5.68, FIP 4.93, xFIP 6.47, WHIP 1.61
Luis Perdomo 2012: ERA 3.18, FIP 4.62, xFIP 5.83, WHIP 1.59
Carmen Cali 2007: ERA 4.71, FIP 5.72, xFIP 5.67, WHIP 1.81
Randy Flores 2010: ERA 5.29, FIP 4.74, xFIP 5.62, WHIP 3.27
Eric Hacker 2011: ERA 0.00, FIP 4.53, xFIP 5.47, WHIP 1.50
Jeff Gray 2012: ERA 5.17, FIP 5.84, xFIP 5.42, WHIP 1.54
Sean Henn 2009: ERA 7.15, FIP 6.19, xFIP 5.40, WHIP 1.50
Josh Roenicke 2013: ERA 4.35, FIP 4.64, xFIP 5.30, WHIP 1.60
Phil Dumatrait 2011: ERA 3.92, FIP 5.71, xFIP 5.27, WHIP 1.69
Jim Hoey 2011: ERA 5.47, FIP 5.58, xFIP 5.25, WHIP 1.91
Matt Guerrier 2014: ERA 3.86, FIP 3.92, xFIP 5.22, WHIP 1.43
Dusty Hughes 2011: ERA 9.95, FIP 7.53, xFIP 5.01, WHIP 2.13


Ervin Santana suspended 80 days for use of synthetic testosterone and the Twins react

MLB announce that Ervin Santana, who was the Twins priced free-agent acquisition costing them $55 million for four years and their second round 2015 draft pick was suspended for 80 days for testing positive for PEDs.  He tested positive for Stanozolol, a form of synthetic testosterone, commonly known as Winstrol and used by bodybuilders to increase lean mass.   Interestingly, Stanozolol is available in the US only as a Veterinary drug there days.  It is a schedule III drug, like codeine and synthetic LSD, so the chances of it being in an OTC prep that someone can take without his knowledge are zero.

The Minnesota Twins, in an equally disappointing reaction, recalled Aaron Thompson for the last bullpen role and moved Mike Pelfrey to the rotation. 

This in not a good way to star an expensive four year contract, and I hope that the next CBA empowers teams to void such contract in these circumstances...

Meanwhile, Santana has issued the following statement:

    "Ever since I was a child I always had to work harder than everyone. Not too many people believed I could become a major leaguer. I worked hard to achieve everything I accomplished and I take pride in proving that through hard work dreams can come true.

    I would never put baseball, my family, or my country in a position where its integrity is jeopardized. I preach hard work, and don't believe in short cuts. I am very disappointed that I tested positive for a performance enhancing drug. I am frustrated that I can't pinpoint how the substance in question entered my body. I would never knowingly take anything illegal to enhance my performance. What I can guarantee is I never knowingly took anything illegal to enhance my performance. That's just not me, never has been and never will.

    Moving forward, I need to be more careful on what I consume in my home country, I will be more vigilant of medications I take so that I don't commit another mistake. Having said that, I believe it is best to move forward and accept the punishment that has been negotiated by MLB and MLBPA for my positive PED test. This is unexpected news for me and my family. I am issuing this statement so the public knows where I stand. My deepest apologies to my family, fans, colleagues, teammates and my current employer the Minnesota Twins. All I can do now is continue to work hard, and when the suspension is up, come back to doing what I love."


The Twins 2015 Opening Day Roster is Practically Set; No surprises but 40-man work.

The Minnesota Twins, have announced several cuts, trimming down their Spring Training roster to 31.  They announced that Jordan Schafer won the starting Centerfielder job, with Shane Robertson, backing him up and platooning against LHPs.  They also announced that Mike Pelfrey will be in the bullpen and the 5th starter will be Tommy Milone.   Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario, Trevor May and Mark Hamburger were cut as a result.  Also, it was announced that Danny Santana will be the starting Shortstop.  Yesterday Lester Oliveros was outrighti

It might seem as a surprise to some, but from what I have seen during Spring Training it was pretty much anticipated.  This is my guess of the Twins' 25 men Opening Day roster 5 days ago from Fort Myers:

My only surprise was Milone over May,  but by then May did not have his last (pretty unfortunate) outing.  I had argued early and often that Pelfrey was better suited for the pen and that is where he should end up and really that decision was pretty much obvious around last weekend.   Also, I was convinced that Robinson had a  chance for the fourth outfield job (remember, he was a fourth outfielder in a World Series team?)   Robinson and Schafer pretty much outhit both Hicks and Rosario and it was obvious with their play on the field that they were ahead of the competition. 

Still a few battles are left, mainly for the back up catcher and 2 bullpen jobs, but as I indicated then, I strongly believe that Chris Herrmann will win the back up catcher position (and not only because Josmil Pinto suffered a concussion) and Blaine Boyer (not Doyle as in the tweet) and JR Graham will win the last 2 bullpen jobs over the lefties Aaron Thompson and Caleb Thielbar, both of whom have options.

The opening day roster is set, but there is only 1 open spot on the 40-man roster, and Boyer,  and Robinson will need 2.  Pending any trades, I think that Michael Tonkin's, and Stephen Pryor's spots (and even Logan Darnell's, but he is a starter so likely more valuable) are the ones closer to jeopardy, since there are several pitchers ahead of them.

In additon to the major league moves, in minor league moves involving former top 40 prospects, the Twins announced the retirement of C Tyler Grimes (number 38 prospect before the 2014 season) and that they released C Matt Koch (number 22 prospect before the 2014 season), RHP Tyler Jones (number 39 prospect before the 2014 season), IF  Will Hurt and  LHP Josue Montanez


Spring Training Redux: How will the Twins do in 2015? Here is my prediction.

After my visit to Fort Myers was said and done about a year ago, I gave my prediction about how the Twins will do in 2014 and the main reasoning behind it.  You can find that here (and, yes, I did predict that they will finish 70-92, but that's not something to be happy about.)   During this Spring Training, I took a risk: I suggested that the Twins can actually compete, if they do three things: Fix their bullpen, fix their outfield, and fix their attitude.   Here is reiterrating that reasoning from the first part of that series of posts:

First: In order to make significant, measurable and effective change, you cannot focus on changing 20 things.  Too many balls in the air, some will drop.  Focusing of few things that you can change and make an effort to do so, is much more effective.  Second: I do believe that with the changes this off-season, the Twins removed a huge barrier to their success: Breaking ties with Gardernhire, Anderson, Ulger and Steinbach (even though they did not go far enough in my opinion, but this is all another matter,) is the equivalent of starting the seasons with (at least) plus five wins
So that next number in that loss progression looks more between 83 and 87.   So those three things that need to be done, if done correctly and effectively, will be enough to give the Twins an extra 5-7 wins, putting that total loss range to 76-82 and that is not a losing record.  The top number of that range (86-76) is close to a wild-card number and likely, if the Twins get there, they will compete for the title in a weakened and more balanced Division.

So there are the parameters.  And in each of the above linked posts, I explained in detail what I was looking to see when I was down there at Fort Myers, and, here is what I saw, and will try to put into win-loss numbers:

First of all, I am standing by that underlined statement up there.   So, if all things are the same, the baseline record of the 2015 Twins is 77-85.  Take it to Vegas.   Of course that is pending major injuries to 3/5ths of the rotation and 3/9ths of the position players (but that is, yet, another story.)

How much higher than that can get?  Let's take those three things one at a time and see:

The bullpen Here are my thoughts before my trip to Fort Myers, and here is what I think now:  It still is incomplete.  Happy to see that Blaine Boyer and JR Graham will likely make the team.  They will be an improvement.   It looks like Mike Pelfrey will make the pen, but not sure in what kind of role.  Caleb Thielbar might be optioned.  That's on the positive side.  On the negative side Tim Stauffer might be a disappointment, or at least a mop-up vs. a set-up reliever I thought that he would be.  Also, Casey Fien looks like a lock again, based on small sample size.  Glen Perkins' velocity topped at 93 mph, which is a concern, even though command and control was there.  One wonders whether he will be ready to be a lights out closer in the beginning of the Twins' season at Detroit...   Tough to quantify, but I would say, taking Perkins' health risk into account, plus 1 might be right here.  So the new baseline is 78-84.  Next:

The Outfield Defense: Here are my before thoughts, and this is what I saw: Nah. Not yet.  Let me start with a (bonus) prediction:  The Twins will have the following 4 outfielders in their roster (L/R) : Oswaldo Arcia, Jordan Schafer, Torii HunterShane Robinson will be the fourth outfielder, platooning with Schafer at CF against LHP and Eduardo Nunez will play LF as well.  So 4.5 outfielders with Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario optioned to AAA.  What I saw at Fort Myers was somewhat disturbing:  a. the positioning of the outfield was way too shallow (not sure who is the Twins' OF coach these days or who is responsible for that), b. Hunter is a teenager at heart but not in body, which means he wants to do above and beyond, but he comes short in a bad way, over-running balls and over-throwing cut-off men. c. Hicks will not make the team and he is a better defender than Schafer.  Have to give this a zero right now.  Baseline still 78-84.  Next.

The Attitude: Here is what I said about that.  And I will be brief.  Is this a team for which I got a gut feeling that it expects to win each game?  No. But, is this a team that is paying more attention to detail, seems happier as a bunch, and actually talks to each other on the field about what they should do more than last season?  Heck, yeah.  Hard to quantify, but I think plus 2.  So the new baseline is 80-82.

Conclusion: This will not be another 90 loss team, unless something weird happens.  80-82 is the baseline.  Another factor:  I did get some 1987-like excitement there, like this might be a magic year (like that one.)  But I think that they are one year away.  So my prediction for 2015 is that the Twins will have the same record as their Pythagorean in 1987: 79-83.  But, yes, this year feels a lot like 1987, and you never know what is going to happen...


Twins Spring Training Report from Fort Myers: 3/23/15: The Day the Skies Opened

Today the Twins were playing against the Philadelphia Phillies at Clearwater, so it was a back field day at Fort Myers, to have a better look at the Twins' prospects.   Blustery and overcast day, which rained up in Clearwater enough to delay the Twins-Phillies start time and later in Fort Myers to wash everything out in the back fields at around the 8th inning.

But there was some great action:  At field three, the AAA players were playing against the Orioles AAA team and at field four, the AA players against another Oriole team.  Later at field two the Twins high A and A teams had a scrimmage.  Because of the weather situation at Clearwater, Ervin Santana stayed at Fort Myers, to join the AAA team, and it was the focus of attention.  I am certain that there will be reports about his pitching, LEN3 was there, among others, and was watching carefully, but my attention was at field four at the Chattanooga team.  I did see Santana throw 4 sliders in a row, which left a wide-eyed Orioles played unable to do anything but strike out looking (one was in the ground for a ball) and I had enough. 

For the Lookouts, the starter was DJ Baxendale, a pitcher who pitched the single most dominating game I have ever seen two years minus a day ago, and made it all the way to number 15 in my 2014 off-season Twins prospects list, but struggled mightly once he reached New Britain, so I was eager to see how he was pitching.  He pitched with mixed results.  His fastball was from 88-92 with excellent movement and excellent command in the first 3 innings.  He threw (not enough times) a low 70s curve that did make knees buckle and he commanded it pretty well.  However his high 70s slider was lacking command and his low 80s changeup was inconsistent.   I am not sure whether that slider is a new introduction to his repertoire (did not have it back then) but it does not seem like it is working.  Some of the changeups were great, with a lot of tailing movement away from LHBs, but others were on the ground.  Most of the mistakes were on hanging sliders, and one happened with 2 outs, after Niko Goodrum dropped an easy double play ball while trying to take it out of his glove.   I think that Baxendale has shown flashes, but was not the same commanding pitcher I saw previously.   

Staying with the pitching side for the lookouts, he was replaced by Madison Boer who was once a borderline Twins' top ten prospect, but looked really tentative.  His fastball was at 89-92 with not much movement, but did induce a couple of fly outs, and was supplemented by a violent mid-80s slider that has a lot of bite and the makings of a really filthy offering, but at this point it is not a well commanded pitch.  This season is a make or break season for Boer, I believe.  With a couple more miles on his fastballs and command of his slider, I do see him as a potential reliever, but the problem is that the Twins have at least half a dozen more ready righty pen arms at this point.  Tim Shibuya relieved Boer and did not change my mind from what I wrote about him a couple days ago here.

This Chattanooga team is a powerful one.  There were 5 home runs hit at that game.  Two, one from Michael Gonzalez and Adam Walker (the Twins' number 31 prospect, who had a second one to the right field) hit the middle of the batter's eye at dead center, beyond the 405 feet fence, with Walker's being a screeching line drive, while Gonzalez' a monster fly.  DJ Hicks added another one to the right center, which landed at the next field and Jason Kanzler, who is doing all he can to impress while keeping Buxton's Centerfield position warm, until the major league CF job is done and the AA outfielders get demoted, hit a fifth over the left field fence.   Even though the home runs were impressive, I think that the best plate appearance was by the most powerful member of the Lookouts' team and it was not a home run:  with Terry Doyle, a familiar face, on the mound for the Orioles,  Miguel Sano went 0-2 on a questionable inside looking strike one and a swinging strike two.  He took the next four pitches (all balls and some close) and walked right before the DJ Hicks' home run.  This shows that Sano is maturing as a hitter and recognizing the strike zone, which is a great thing to see from the Twins' top prospect who has been criticized about "striking out too much" by some.


A few interesting sightings at Field Two:

Felix Jorge was back on the mound throwing his pitches with good velocity and excellent command after a fairly disastrous season split between Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids.

Also at hand was the Twins' number six prospect, Amaurys Minier who played left field.  He made an excellent fielding play at left on a ball that was caught by the (by then really heavy) wind and moved towards the infield and his swing can generate a lot of power.  He has a very powerful build, but still a lot of athleticism.  In a way similar to Sano at that age, he appeared like a man among boys in that field:

A couple of parting thoughts from Field Four about the Twins' number 2 and 3 prospects:   Jorge Polanco made a couple of difficult plays at shortstop look routine.  I am not sure how the rumors about him not being a good shortstop fielder are spread and why, but every time I see him, I am looking at an above average shortstop play.   Byron Buxton has a hard time with off-speed pitches.  His last plate appearance went like this:  FB- Looking Strike, CH - Swinging Strike, CH (dirt in front plate) - Ball, FB (high) - Ball, FB (inside) - Ball, CH - Swinging Strike - K.  Interesting situation in the outfield involving Mike Kvasnicka who played left and Buxton:  There was a play at left close to center and both were going for the ball, with Kvasnicka, very loudly yelling "I got it" and Buxton letting him get it.   Good to see that the lesson from the last time those guys went after the same ball was fully learned. 

You can find all the 2015 Spring Training coverage from Fort Myers and beyond, here.


Twins Spring Training Report from Fort Myers: 3/21/15: A Tale of Two Starters

The Twins has a couple split squad games today, against the Rays at Port Charlotte and at the Hammond Stadium against the Orioles.  Here are my notes from the home game:

After Alex Meyers' demotion yesterday, there are only 3 pitchers left in the battle for the 5th rotation spot:  Mike Pelfrey, Tommy Milone and Trevor May.  The last 2 started the respective games today, with Milone taking the node for the home game.  While May ended up pitching a no-hit 4 innings at Port Charlotte, Milone had an adventurous start in Fort Myers.   He is a pitcher who really needs to be spot on and if he is not, it is like a batting practice, and the Orioles showed that in the second inning, when they timed perfectly his 83-87 mph Fastballs, hitting them all over the park, and one (by former Twin Steve Pearce) off the staircase that leads to the RF berm, for a HR.  He complemented his fastball with a 79-81 mph change and a 73-75 mph curve that were hit and miss.  Totally unimpressed with Milone, maybe because I do not think much about LH junk ball pitchers, but I think that after today Milone took a step back from Pelfrey and May in that competition.

To be noted: in the Orioles 4-run second inning, Josmil Pinto was hit three times!  by Adam Jones' back swing on the head and left the game after the inning was over.  Mildly surprised that the Twins' pitchers did not retaliate for their catcher, but the next pitcher who faced Adam Jones, was Glen Perkins...   Perkins had a decent outing, other than hanging an 82 mph slider to Delmon Young for a HR in the 5th.  9 pitches, 6 FBs (90-92,) 3 SLs (81-82) all but one strikes, but a strike was a long one too.   He was pounding the zone, but he is at least 4-5 mph with both of his pitches from where he needs to be.

Brian Duensing pitched 2 scoreless innings and he seems in mid-season form with all 4 of his pitches working:  His Fastball was 89-91, threw 2 curves at 73, one for a looking strike,  got a ground out and a couple of  looking strikes with a mid 80s change and his slider was fairly lively at the low 80s, inducing a couple of jammed pop ups.   Watching JR Graham pitch was a treat and I think that the Twins have found a good one.  Will be very surprised if he does not make the team.  He pitched 2 scoreless innings, and here is the sequence of his pitches (fastball unless mentioned) :  First inning: 91-ball (B), 93 swinging strike (SS), 94 ground out (GO).  94 fly out (FO). 94 Foul (F), 84 (SLider) Looking Strike (LS), 86 (SL) SS.  Second inning:  92 Hit. 95 B, 91 B, 93 LS, 94 F, 95 F, 81 (CHange up) B, 93 LS - K. To Mr Parmelee: 91 B, 96 F, 85 (SL) B, 84 (SL) F,  85 (SL) SS - K. 95 SS, 92 B, 95 B, 96 GO.   Very good movement with the fastball, and, as you can see, he does very his speeds.  Changeup is not his stronger pitch and he threw only one, but his slider is above average.  Looking forward to seeing him this season with the Twins.

As far as position players, disappointed with Torii Hunter who killed a couple of Twins' rallies, the first by hitting into a double play with the bases loaded and one out on the first and the second by striking out with runners in scoring position and one out.  If you read the box score, you'd think that Danny Santana had a good day with two hits,  but what the box score does not show is a couple of awful swinging strike outs and a dropped ball when Rohlfing tried to throw the runner away that ended up moving the runner to third.  I think that the battle for the starting Shortstop position is neck to neck as far as Santana and Eduardo Escobar are concerned.  Hicks had a bad day at the plate and had a mishap (took a bad route and the ball dropped inches from his foot, but was too shallow) at the outfield that went for a double and a trapped ball that he could have caught.  Between the four centerfield contenders nobody has really pulled ahead at this point.  Eddie Rosario is hitting .242/.235/.515, Shane Robinson .269/.345/.385, Hicks .222/.313/.370 and Jordan Schafer .217/.357/.261.  Pick your poison.   Oswaldo Arcia had a good play with the glove on a shallow fly ball that he aggressively called Hicks away and fielded cleanly; that ball would had been an adventure for Willingham last season.

Really impressed with the improvements at Hammond Stadium, but there are a few things sorely missing:  A couple of (small) infield boards; one to indicate balls and strikes and outs and the other pitch velocity.  The main board is not visible from all outfield seats well.  But there is always next year.

Tomorrow and Monday, there are no home games for the Twins, so expect full coverage of the action at the minor league fields.