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.