Spring Training Redux: How will the Twins do in 2014? Here is my prediction.

Every year I wait to watch the Twins in Spring Training before I form an opinion about how they will do this coming season.   And I like to watch them in person to do this, just trying to see little signs here and little clues there.    A bit before I did that, my arm was twisted to give a number of wins and position of finishing for the Twins this season, and I predicted that the Twins will go 81-81 to finish third in AL Central.  It was a quick prediction based on the improvement of the pitching staff this off-season.  Even Mike Pelfrey, recently said (reference to be added soon) that the Twins will finish at least .500 next season.

This might be good on paper, but I really got a bad feeling last week.  And it does not have to do with the front office completely ignoring the offensive and position player side of the ball this off-season (the only moves practically being substituting Kurt Suzuki for Ryan Doumit and Jason Kubel for Justin Morneau.)  It does not even have to do with the recent (and much celebrated and discussed) comments of acting GM Rob Antony, suggesting that nobody who is competing for a spot is actually doing anything to win a job.   On paper, and being optimistic, I thought that Willingham and Plouffe will rebound, Hicks will reach his potential, Arcia will be the power hitter we all expect to be, Pinto will solidify the catcher position, Mauer will improve with his knees not having the catching stress and that Escobar will have a break-through season as a shortstop akin to Brian Dozier's 2013 who would not regress.   It might still as well happen.  And then the Twins will win at least 81 games.  And I hope it happens.

But I got a really bad feeling last week.   And it was there precipitated and displayed in front of the eyes of the 100 of us who remained late Tuesday night to see the last pitch at that Twins' night game hosting the Rays.  And it had not much to do with Vance Worley's right arm and the batting practice projectiles he was throwing, but by the lackadaisical play and non-effort by the position players the whole spring.  And not only the ones who are fighting for a job per Rob Antony.  And not only at that game, but this was the epitome.

On the flights to Fort Myers and back I have been reading Cool Of The Evening: The 1965 Minnesota Twins by Jim Theilman (an excellent book and highly recommended, btw.)  Thielman mentions that one of the turning points of the 1965 magical Twins' season came at the middle of Spring Training in Orlando's Tinker Field:  At the middle of a game, because of lack of effort, Sam Mele, the Twins' manager, took Zoilo Versalles (the eventual 1965 MVP) out of the lineup, benched him for a while and fined him $300, an amount very high for the time.  This gave the message that it is expected for even the best players to give 100% even during Spring Training and set the tone for the rest of the season.

How many times the last 3 seasons have you seen plenty of Twins' players not giving it all?  And with what consequences?   And it is continuing this Spring and I do not think that the Twins will go anywhere unless they go back to full effort (Mele's season, piranhas' season or whatever, take your peak.)   Examples (from that game) :

  • Josh Willingham hits a scorcher past third base to left that bounced just over the bag, half a foot fair and rolled all the way to the corner.  As the ball was hit, I was thinking triple all the way.  Mr Willingham jogged around the bases and managed to get himself thrown out at second by a few feet.  It ended up being recorded as a single with the hitter thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double. On the field It was much more.
  • Vancy Worley was hit hard. Very hard.  And at about four times, if Trevor Plouffe was guarding the line on inside fastballs, he would have made outs out of those 4 hits.  I do understand it if it happens once.  Then you adjust.  And the Twins have a special infield coach who should supposedly help these days too. On paper it was four hits (a couple doubles as well.)   On the field it was much more. 
  • Alex Presley gets on base.   Gets a good jump trying to steal second.  He is there before the throw.  He over-slides the base.  He is tagged out.  For the third time.  On the paper it was recorded as an CS.  On the field it was much more.
  • Later in the game there is fly ball to the short left field.   LF Wilkin Ramirez goes in, SS Eduardo Escobar goes out to catch the ball.  Ramirez yells "I got it".  Escobar stops 7-8 feet away.  The ball drops in front of Ramirez.  On paper it was an error.  On the field it was much more.

It is the little things.  And they are not little. They are big cumulatively. And it is accountability for not doing things right.  Did Willingham and Presley have extra base running practice the next day?  Plouffe and Ramirez fielding practice?  Did anyone of them get pulled out of the game (they cannot be fined, the CBA took care of that)?  We all know the answer.  And if the Twins do not start holding everyone from the players, to the manager, to the coaches to the front office accountable for what is happening on the field, not much will change.  Rotation improvements or not.

My prediction: I hate to say it, but 70-92 and 5th place.   But I do hope that this time someone is held accountable for this...

Video: Twins Niko Goodrum at Bat vs the Orioles' A+ team this Spring Training

From this Spring Training:  Niko Goodrum at bat against the Baltimore Orioles' Advanced A team last Tuesday


Is there a trade between the Minnesota Twins and the Tampa Bay Rays imminent?

This morning the Minnesota Twins' AAA and AA teams had an intrasquad game at Field 3 at the Lee County Sports complex.  I will have more about it in my daily Twins Spring Training report that will be coming soon, but a couple interesting things happened that need to be noted.  Kevin Correia was scheduled to start tonight against the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota; instead he started for the AAA squad facing Trevor May, who started for the AA squad.  Potentially, Correia pitched in this game to get his work in, in case the weather did not cooperate (and it did not.)

What was interesting was that there was a Tampa Bay Rays (with badge and id) scout who was paying strong attention to both Kevin Correia and Trevor May, timing each of their pitches, charting them and taking many notes.   Each of the Twins' starters pitched 5 innings.  After that, the aforementioned scout, put the notebook away and became an observer.

Coincidence? There has been speculation that Kevin Correia might be traded before the season started, and it is common knowledge that the Rays at this point do not have a fifth starter behind David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer (since Erik Bedard has been faltering,) and two of the aforementioned four are not very experienced.  The other internal options for the Rays' fifth spot (Jake Odorizzi, Nathan Karns and Cesar Ramos) offer slim pickings and someone like Kevin Correia (or even Trevor Mays) will be a definite upgrade.


Twins Spring Training Report from Fort Myers: 3/16/2014: Dueling Aces and Minor League Intrasquad games

Today it was Minnesota Day at Hammond Stadium, which apparently means that a whole bunch of people get early at the ballpark to tailgate at the parking lot and is a pain to find parking spots.   I arrived just in time for the two intrasquad games (AAA vs AA) and (A+ vs A) at Fields number 2 and 3.  Aaron Hicks was hitting for the AA team and Pedro Florimon was playing for the AAA team, so that is where I exclusively spent my time before I was headed to the ballpark for the Twins and Marlins game.

Alex Meyer was pitching and he was practically unhittable and a strike out machine, other than a long home run by Mike Gonzalez who looks in shape this season and will likely split the 1B/DH duties with Kennys Vargas in New Britain.  I am not going to give a scouting report on Meyer, it is unnecessary, but he was on top of his game and hitting his spots with ease.    I have not noticed before, but he does this weird thing with his mouth when he pitches:

Aaron Hicks did not play at the field but was the second batter in every inning for the AA squad and did nothing in 3 innings against Alex Meyer.  However, when he was replaced in the fourth, Hicks hit a long home run in dead center off Yohan Pino.   Pino was not quite as good as I remember him to be, his control was just not there.

Speaking of not good, BJ Hermsen started for the AA team and he was, well, not good.   It was amazing that he has been the Twins' minor league pitcher of the year in the past as well as having a spot on the 40-man roster.   I am not sure what has happened to him, but it is not pretty.  He was hit hard by every Rochester player, allowing multiple home runs and extra base hits.   Even Pedro Florimon hit a triple off him in one plate appearance and struck out (a feat by itself because Hermsen struck out 3.7 AA hitters per 9 innings last season) in another.

And if you are a major leaguer, this is how you go from the back fields to Hammond Stadium:

Some additional tidbits from the intrasquad game:  Evan Bigley played CF for Rochester today.  With Mastroianni back there tomorrow, I do not think that this will be a common sighting.  Bigley was fine at the field and made a couple good catches and looked good at the plate as well.   I think that this is a make or break season for him. 

This off-season the Twins picked up 28 year old CJ Ziegler, the Independent American Association MVP (.318/.408/.645 with 30 HRs and 99 RBI in 100 games,)  hoping it will be Chris Colabello's second coming.   Ziegler is listed at 6'5", 245 lbs, but he is a much bigger man.  This of a righty Jim Thome.  It will be interesting to see how he does in Rochester

Cole Johnson came to relieve BJ Hermsen and I think that he might be a sleeper.  Very lanky righty with easy delivery, throwing almost side arm and good movement.   Not a mph guy, but good solid stuff and looks like he got a good feel for pitching.  He struck out 11 per 9 innings last season in AA, so he might be doing something right.  The 44th round pick from Notre Dame in 2011 has been flying under the radar so far, but he might be someone to pay attention to this season.

Back at the Hammond Stadium the Twins hosted the Marlins, which resulted in a pitching matchup between a former Twins Ace

and the current Twins' Ace.

It was a pitching duel through five with each of the starters giving one run a piece and each of the starters topping out at 92 mph (which is quite a feat for Slowey.)    Ricky Nolasco was very impressive in that he has a repertoire of 5 (or so) pitches and he is throwing them any time in the count.  His change up (79-81) was particularly impressive today.   He will be the Twins' opening day starter and I predict a great season for him.   Both Jasons (Kubel and Bartlett) reached base today (a rarity for these guys) on walks.  Despite Twins' fans rooting for them to make the team, I think that their best days are well behind them and that they are not major league caliber players at this point.   Aaron Hicks came in for Alex Presley and had a nice double.    At this point, I think that it is not even close between these two.  In addition to Presley having an anemic bat this Spring and misjudging balls at the outfield, at one point in a single at mid-depth, he bounced the throw to the cutoff man.  An arm reminiscent of Ben Revere.  Speaking of feats, at some point Josh Willingham hit a strong liner that hugged the right field line.  I was thinking triple all the way as soon as it left his bat, but he managed to get thrown out at second base.  Unacceptable at pro ball.  Maybe the thing in his back pocket was weighing him down...

Tomorrow the Twins are playing the Orioles in Sarasota and it will be a full day of minor league coverage from Fort Myers for me.  

The Minnesota Twins cut 8 and the latest Spring Training dashboards

Today the Twins announced 8 cuts from the major league Spring Training camp.

The following players were optioned to AAA Rochester:

C Eric Fryer
LHP Kris Johnson
SS Danny Santana

And the following were re-assigned to the minor league camp:

IF James Beresford
LHP Sean Gilmartin 
OF Darin Mastroianni
OF Jermaine Mitchell
3B/1B Brandon Waring

The Santana and Johnson cuts are pretty surprising because they were doing pretty well.  Santana was probably the best position player at the camp and Pedro Florimon could not get the ball out of the cage in batting practice a couple days ago.  It might be good news for Eduardo Escobar.  However, I find it surprising that Doug Bernier, who has been barely average and Jason Bartlett who has been awful, are still in camp.  Kris Johnson's performance was the best of a lefty in the bubble so far, and his cut is also interesting at this point, given the fact that Aaron Thompson (not to mention Scott Diamond) is still in camp.  Maybe  they want to stretch him for starting in AAA.

These cuts leave the Twins with 20 pitchers and 20 position players, which means that 15 more need to be cut before opening day.

Here are the newest Spring Training Dashboards reflecting last night's game, including the players who were cut:
(You can find all of the 2014 Spring Training dashboards here) :

A reminder of the scoring system:

For the pitchers, I quantify using  a measurement created by Bill James more than a decade ago called "Game Score".  It is calculated as follows:
You start with 50 points for each pitcher.
Add 1 point for each out.
Add 1 point for each strikeout.
Subtract 2 points for each hit.
Subtract 4 points for each earned run.
Subtract 2 points for each unearned run.
Subtract 1 point for each walk.
There is a point bonus for pitching more than 4 innings as well, adding 2 points for each IP after the 4th, but this is not too applicable here.

Game Scored of 49-51 are "average" (yellow),
everything higher than 51 "above average" (green),
and everything below 49 "below average" (red).

For position players, I devised a similar metric that goes like this:
Start with 0 points (unlike the pitching Game Score that starts with 50)
Add 1 point for each Run, RBI, 2B, SB, BB, and HBP recorded.
Add 2.5 for each hit, 3 for each 3B and 4 for each HR.
Subtract 1 for each CS and GIDP,
subtract 1 for each error,
for catchers add 1 for each CS
Subtract 0.2 for each SO and 0.5 for each AB.

Again, as in the Pitching Battle Dashboard, the Position Player Battle Dashboard is color-coded based on average, above average and below average performances, where:

Average is Batting Game Score between 0 and 2
Above average is Batting Game Score higher than 2
Below average is Batting Game Score less than 0

Players on the 40-man roster are in bold.  The ones without options are also underlined.  Left-handed pitchers are in italics.

Here is the Dashboard for the Twins' position players:

And here for the pitchers:

I am heading to Hammond Stadium soon, where the Twins meet Kevin Slowey and the Florida Marlins.