Is Twins' 1B Joe Mauer about to have a breakthrough season?

Joe Mauer, the Twins catcher-turned-first baseman because of the effects of a concussion, has just turned 34 years old and the usual pundits came out of the woodwork to say that Mauer is pretty much done.   But is this the case?    Mauer has signed a contract extension on 3/20/2010 up to and including his 2018 season, for $23 million a season.  According to the fangraphs, dollar's value equation, so far Mauer has provided the Twins a $291.3 million dollar value, while the Twins have paid about $150 million dollars, a close 2-1 bargain for the team. It is true that Mauer's performance the last three season has not been in par with his performance at his peak, and the value he has provided to the team has underperformed his contractual pay, which has been a big part of the sports show chatter in Minnesota the last few seasons, in par with the Twins' miserable showing.

But is this about to change?    In the previously mentioned article, the author suggests that "this spring, hitting the ball hard was very much an exception for Mauer, and there has been almost none of that to start the season".  Thankfully, modern technology has provided us with Statcast measures of exit velocity from a hitter's bat.  The up to date data is here.   Sorting by average exit velocity, Twins' fans will be thrilled that Miguel Sano is leading the league in hard hit balls with 98.1 mph, way ahead of the second place Joey Gallo with 95.8 mph.    Scrolling down a bit, once will see the who is who of the leagues power hitters, and tied with Joe Napoli at 90.9 mph, and ahead of sluggers like Bryce Harper, Yoenis Cespedes, Mike Trout, and Edwin Encarnacion among others,  is Twins' own first baseman Joe Mauer.   The average of his average exit velocity the last two seasons (Statcast was not previously available) was 89.8, a full mph plus lower; and average exit velocities are usually depressed early in the season when it is colder.  So that 90.9 mph will likely get higher.

The fact is that, unlike certain perceptions, Joe Mauer is hitting the ball very hard in this young season.  Add to this fact that, unlike the last few seasons,  Mauer's K% is only 7%, and this season has all the makings for a breakthrough season by Mauer.   How is this possible with a .224/.268/.254 slash line?   Looking at the batted ball date, his BABIP is .242 this season.  His career BABIP (that drives his batting average) is .339.  The previous three seasons (down seasons) his BABIP was averaging .317.   If someone assumes a regression to the last 3 season average BABIP, his current .224 batting average  projects to a .293 batting average.   His current isoD that drives OBP is at .044,  and current isoP that drives slugging percentage is at .030, while his last 3 year averages are at .086 and .119 respectively.  This indicates that upon regression to his last 3 (down) seasons, we are looking at a .293/.379/. 412 slash line for Mauer.  This is a .791 OPS something that we have not seen by Mauer since 2013, and this assumes that he will regress to the performance of the last 3 seasons,  not taking into account the dramatic decreases in strikeouts and increase in hard hit balls.  

Can Joe Mauer have an .850 or .900 OPS season for the Twins in 2017?   All the signs say that it is probable, regardless that being his "foreboding" age 34 season.


Who is the newest Twins' pitcher, Nick Tepesch?

In order for the Twins to stop their recent slide, they have started the Rochester shuffle to improve the parent club.  They optioned LHSP Adalberto Mejia to AAA, placed RHP Justin Haley to the 10-day DL, and replaced them by 1B/DH Kennys Vargas and LHRP Buddy Boshers.   After the Tigers' series ended on Sunday, they optioned Boshers to Rochester.  It looks like RHP Nick Tepesch will be his replacement on the 25-man roster; however Tepesch is not on the 40 man roster and the Twins will need to open a space (perhaps by placing LHRP Ryan O'Rourke who has been on the 10-day DL with a flexor mass pronator strain, to the 60-day DL.)

Tepesch is a 6-4, 225 lbs, 28 year old righty from Kansas City, MO.  He was drafted by Boston in the 28th round on the 2007 draft from Blue Springs (MO) High School, but declined to sign and went to the University of Missouri.  There he was a General Architecture major and 2009 Academic All-Big 12 Conference.  Tepesch was at the Missouri bullpen his Freshman season and moved to the rotation his Sophomore and Junior seasons.  As a Collegiate he participated in 55 games (30 starts) pitching 213 innings,  striking out 176 (7.4 K/9) and walking 67 (2.8 BB/9.)  He ended up with ta 1.49 WHIP and 5.11 ERA.  He was drafted by and singed with the Texas Rangers in the 14th round of the 2010 draft, when current Twins' General Manager Thad Levine, was the Rangers' Assistant GM.  Worth mentioning that his signing bonus was over slot, $400,000, roughly 3rd round bonus money, which means that Levine & Co saw something they liked in Tepesch.

Tepesch rose pretty fast in the Texas system, without being a touted prospect, his highest position was 19th at the 2012 Baseball America list.  He started his pro career in 2011 in the Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League (A).  He pitched 138-1/3 innings in 29 games (23 starts), striking out 118 (20.2 K%, 7.7 K/9) and walking 33 (2.2 BB/9, 14.6 K-BB%), with a 4.03 ERA, 4.13 FIP, and 1.30 WHIP (.328 BABIP).  In the 2012 season he jumped up to the Myrtly Beach Pelicans' rotation (Carolina League, high A), pitching well (12 GS, 71-2/3 IP, 59 K, 18 BB, 1.200 WHIP, .307 BABIP, 2.89 ERA, 3.33 FIP) to warrant a promotin to to the Frisco Roughriders' rotation (Texas League, AA) where he help on his own (16 G, 14 GS, 90-1/3 IP, 68 K, 26 BB, 1.362 WHIP, .312, 4.28 ERA, 4.18 FIP).

In 2013, Tepesch moved up another couple levels:  He started the season in the rotation of the AAA Pacific Coast League Round Rock Express where he pitched in only one game before he moved to the Rangers' rotation on April 9th.  There as a 24 year old he appeared in 19 games (17 starts) pitching 93 innings, striking out 76 (18.7 K%, 7.4 K/9) and walking 27 (2.6 BB/9, 12.0 K-BB) finishing with a 4.84 ERA (4.19 FIP) and 1.37 WHIP (.309 BABIP) and a 4-6 record.  During that season he lost 2 months (July and August) with right elbow inflammation, and return for a start and 2 relief appearances in September.   In 2014 he started the season in Round Rock where he pitched very well (7 GS, 45-2/3 IP, 41 K, 9 BB, 0.985 WHIP, .280 BABIP, 1.58 ERA, 2.91 FIP.)  He was promoted to the bigs on May 14.  His second stint with the Rangers was similar to his first (23 G, 22 GS, 126 IP, 56 K, 44 BB, 1.365 WHIP, .272 BABIP, 4.36 ERA, 5.01 FIP.)  He lost all of the 2015 season with elbow inflammation and thorachic outlet syndrom surgery, spent the 2016 season in the AAA clubs of the Rangers, Athletics, Royals, and Dodgers, before making a single emergency start with the Dodgers on September. 

The Twins signed him to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training and assigned him to AAA Rochester where he made 3 starts (18 IP, 4 BB, 17 K, 2.00 ERA, 2.06 FIP, 1.33 WHIP, .364 BABIP)   He had an opt-out clause on June 1st, so the Twins could have waited another month.  Tepesch has a 87-90 mph fastball, a mid 80s slider/cutter and a high 70s curve ball.  His fastball is an average pitch, but his slider/cutter is close to plus and is his bread and butter pitch.  He uses the curve as a change of pace pitch.  Good command and control of all of his pitches. In 2012 BA said that he had the best slider and the best control in the Texas system.

Tepesch looks like he will move into the role that Haley vacated for the Twins, as a long reliever, and might be in the discussion for the potential fifth starter spot, when it opens on May 6th.  Not an overwhelming pitcher, but someone who can eat innings especially after a short start or during extra innings.