Twins Notes: 3/29/2018

It is Opening Day today and based on feedback, I have decided to continue the note posts I started this Spring (you can find them all here), during the season as well.  The last time I seriously attempted something like that was 5 years ago, with the once weekly and unfortunately named Random Tuesday Twins Thoughts and Tidbits (you can find all the posts of that series here).  These notes will be at irregular intervals, since I would like them to be somewhat substantial in content; however hopefully frequent, pretty much like the Spring Training ones were.  I would love to hear feedback and whether there are certain things you would like to see or not see.

Here is the latest installment of Twins Notes:
  • The 2018 season started with a bang, when Cubs' lead off hitter Ian Happ hit the first pitch of the season from Marlins' starting pitcher Jose Urena for a home run to the right field (video link.) Last time that happened was in 1986 when Boston's Dwight Evans hit a home run off then Detroit (and in 1991 Twins') starter Jack Morris in 1986
  • The MLB celebrated Opening Day (which was the earliest ever and the only one that all 30 teams had scheduled games; the ones in Cincinnati and Detroit were rained out) with special bases
  • Opening Day Twins Trivia: This was be the 118th Opening Day for the Twins franchise. The first one ever was also against the Orioles on 4/29/1901 in a game the Senators won 5-2.  The Twins franchise Opening Day record against the Orioles after today's game is 5-2, 2-1 since the move to Minnesota.  The only AL team that the Twins franchise teams have not faced on an Opening Day is the Houston Astros. On the other hand they faced the Athletics (both Philadelphia and Oakland) a record 28 times (won 18).  The Twins franchise record on Opening Day is 63-55 after today.
  • The Twins needed extra innings in their 2018 Opening Day at Baltimore.  The last time the Twins had an extra inning game in their season opener was in 2004 when they beat Cleveland 7-4.
  • Starting RHP Jake Odorizzi struck out 7 Orioles in 6 scoreless innings.  Refreshing to see a Twins pitcher induce swinging strikes by throwing pitches outside the zone and throwing high fastballs, after years of futility with having everyone in the organization force-throwing sinkers and pitching to contact.
  • LHP Zach Duke struck out 4 men in the 7th inning, but allowed 2 runs, moving runners with wild pitches (including one who struck out), a walk and a hit that scored both.   RHP Addison Reed, probably the best pitcher in the Twins' pen, pitched a perfect 8th and 9th, striking out 2.
  •  If you cannot throw strikes against little leaguers, minor leaguers or in Spring Training, there is no reason to believe that you can throw strikes in the majors when games matter. RHP Trevor Hildenberger who came in the bottom of the tenth and walked two hitters is hurting the Twins and needs to be demoted until he can find the strike zone.
  • Thankfully RHP Fernando Rodney and brilliance by manager Paul Molitor to play with 5 infielders (having Eddie Rosario as an extra) paid off with a double play after the bases were loaded in the 10th.  Unfortunately Rodney was the goat today, allowing the losing HR to the Orioles' Adam Jones with his first pitch, a 92 mph fastball in the middle of the plate, on the bottom of the 11th.
  • The Twins bats were silent in the first 8 innings, having the Orioles with 96.3% probability of winning the game in the top of the 8th when Molitor's moves having PR Ryan LaMarre in place of DH Logan Morrison and having OF Robbie Grossman pinch hit for CF Byron Buxton, and drive two runs to tie the game, proven also brilliant.  Molitor was definitely on a roll today, other than trusting Hildenberger.
  • 1B Joe Mauer has just passed Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew for most Opening Day starts in Twins history with 14.
  • The Minneapolis Star Tribune had a live Twins' Opening Day blog with live Twitter input here during the whole day.  I hope that they continue this at least on special occasions throughout the season.
  • Here is a picture of all the Twins' players on the Opening Day 25-man roster.  Can you name them all?   
  • Also the best pictures of each of the Twins' 25-man roster players from Spring Training by Twins' team photographer Brace Hemmelgarn is here.  A must see.
  • RHP Lance Lynn finished his last Spring Training tune up in a AAA game against the Red Sox' AAA team with mixed results.
  • The Twins are admitting that unfortunately RHP Ervin Santana is behind schedule on his rehab from a finger surgery.  
  • On the other hand, RHP Phil Hughes is "making enough progress" to be available to potentially start the April 11th game against the World Champions Houston Astros.  This would likely mean that either one of the Twins' relief pitchers with options will get demoted or Rule 5 draft pick Tyler Kinley will be returned to the Miami Marlins.
  • The Twins had not published extension talks with 2B Brian Dozier, which seem to broke down very recently.
  • OF Byron Buxton revealed that he is facing a continuous struggle with migraine headaches
  • One Twins player made it to number 25,  and a surprise another one to number 95 in the mlb.com list of the 100 people who will influence the 2018 season the most.  
  • The second player mentioned above, who is not currently on the Twins' 40-man roster, was also picked as the 2018 breakout player (need to scroll down) by Ryan O'Hanlon, Senior Editor of The Ringer.  
  • Three Twins' players made Jon Heyman's list of Top 60 MLB 2018 breakout stars.
  • In case you missed it, here is my analysis of the team and prediction for the Twins in their 2018 season.
  •  There were a couple of rounds of minor league cuts last week. Links to the two stories here and here.
  • You probably did not know (I did not) that fifty years ago the Twins' opening day game, a few miles south of where they are today, at Washington was postponed due to Martin Luther Kings' assassination.
  • Edward McClelland of the Slate, has a great article on fans who root for franchises that left their hometowns, partially based on his dad, a Washingtonian Twins' fan.
  • Nicole Russell wrote an interesting Twins-centered article on baseball and politics in the Washington Examiner.
  • Alexandra Desanctis of National Review wrote a piece on Baseball Season's Opening Day that always feels like a homecoming.  
  • There was an emergency at Rays' Tropicana Field that required firefighter intervention today. 
  • Today's parting video is a video by the American Heart Association, regarding Twins' great Rod Carew's return to the 2018 Spring Training:

You can find all the installments of the 2018 Twins Notes series here.  As always feedback is more than welcome.


The Twins release 11 more minor leaguers

In addition to the six minor leaguers I indicated yesterday, the Twins released eleven more:

C Jhonathan Alvarez; signed as an international free agent on July 2, 2012; Fort Myers.
RHP Vadim Balan; signed as an international free agent on May 28, 2015; GCL.
RHP Austin Bizzle; Drafted on the 40th round of 2017; GCL.
LHP Taylor Clemensia; signed as an international free agent on May 8, 2015; GCL.
C Dariel Crespo; signed as an international free agent from Cuba on August 28, 2017; DNP
C Bryant Hayman; signed as an undrafted free agent on June 18, 2015; Elizabethton.
2B Dane Hutcheon; Drafted on the 29th round of 2016; Fort Myers.
OF Max Murphy; Drafted on the 9th round of 2014; Chattanooga
RHP Callan Pearce; signed as an international free agent on July 5, 2013; GCL.
RHP/SS Joe Rosenstein; signed as an undrafted free agent on July 21, 2017; GCL.
LHP Evan Sanders; signed as an undrafted free agent on March 3, 2017; Cedar Rapids


The Twins release six minor leaguers including a former first round draft pick and a top 60 prospect

Today the Twins released the following six minor leaguers:

RHP Tyler Beardsley; 16th round 2016 draft; Cedar Rapids
RHP Eduardo Del Rosario; signed as an international free agent December 21, 2012; Fort Myers
RHP Sandy Lugo;  Drafted in the minor league portion of the 2017 Rule 5 draft from Reds; Number 56 prospect.
2B/OF Levi Michael; 1st round 2011 draft; Rochester
RHP Patrick McGuff; 32nd round 2016 draft; Cedar Rapids
RHP Keaton Steele; 8th round 2014 draft; Fort Myers.  I saw him pitch this Spring Traning, report here.


Your 2018 Minnesota Twins: Analysis and Predictions.

This is my last Spring Training Notes piece for this season.  As with the previous seasons I finish my Spring Training notes with a prediction of how the Twins will do this season based on what I have seen this Spring.

I think that 2018 will be an interesting season for the Twins.  They improved a lot in the off-season addressing some of their glaring weaknesses, namely starting and relief pitching.  On the other hand, there are some situations that can be disrupting for the team.  Here is a closer examination:

Starting Pitching:
Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn are light years ahead of the likes of Bartolo Colon (15 starts), Hector Santiago (15 starts), Phil Hughes (9 starts), and a whole lot of others (16 starts) who started in 2017.  Ervin Santana is a question mark and that was even before his injury that seems to be lingering into May.  On the other hand, I believer that improvement from Jose Berrios (primarily) and Kyle Gibson (secondarily) as well as potential positive contribution by Trevor May, will offset the loss and regression of Santana.  Based on what I have seen, Fernando Romero might be the best pitcher of the Twins at this point, and if healthy he can make a tremendous contribution in the second half of the season.

The Twins did improve in the bullpen.  Part of it was addition, part of it was subtraction.  The question is whether they improved enough to have a top bullpen.  Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney, and Zach Duke are useful players with varying degree of usefulness.  However, does any of them strike fear in opposing batters?   Would any of them have a place in one of the top bullpens?  Maybe Reed, as far as the second question goes.  Trevor Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers were hit hard and often in the Spring and not sure how this will translate into the season.  Other than Gabriel Moya,  and maybe John Curtiss and Jake Reed, there are not many reserves who project as "lights out".  And that is what the new and improved Twins' pen misses.  Maybe the aforementioned May, the injury-nursing Phil Hughes (who is projected in long relief, but way back in the day was Mariano Rivera's successful set up man.) or possibly Michale Pineda might jump into that role.  Alternatively, depending on the team's record come July, a trade for a "lights out" arm, might be in the works.  All in all an improved bullpen, but in no means a top bullpen.  It is hard not to improve one of the 5 worst bullpens in the league, but still it needs work.

Position Players:
The Twins' young core seems much improved from last season:  Miguel Sano who has the allegations now behind him and can focus 100% on baseball will play with a chip on his shoulder and will make some damage.  Byron Buxton is a much better hitter than I have seen him be previously, and based on what I saw this spring, he will finally bring his speed on the table.  Max Kepler is also improved.  He is taking meaningful PAs against LHPs, something that was not true last season.  Jorge Polanco's head was in his positive test all Spring and it showed.  Hopefully he will come back ready in the second half.  Logan Morrison will be a good addition and if he hits behind Sano, he will give him the protection he did not have in 2017.  Eddie Rosario was hurt most of the Spring and I did not have much of an opportunity to form an opinion, but if he repeats 2017, and there is no reason he could not, the Twins will be happy.  With Eduardo Escobar moving into at starting SS at least for the first half of the season, you have a Twins' 2018 double play combination that hit 55 HRs in 2017, second only to Cleveland.  His double play partner, Brian Dozier, and his free agency status might be a distraction this season.  He talked a lot about it, as he did about the decreased FA compensation this off-season.  He also did not do very well with the bat this Spring.  Not sure whether the two things are related or not, and hopefully it will not carry into the season.  The same with the other upcoming free agent, Joe Mauer.  Mauer's situation is different and Mauer has not been vocal about it and I don't think that it will affect him.  It will be great if Dozier and Mauer will speak with their bats regarding their upcoming free agency.

Do you remember when the Twins' reigned over a weak AL Central, other than times when one of the other teams was super competitive and they were neck to neck? This season the AL Central will look a lot like that with Cleveland staying about the same on paper and the improved Twins, the only teams with a winning record in 2017 and the rest of the division weakening.  Maybe not the White Sox, if the young players surprise, but Detroit and Kansas City are in full rebuild mode.  According to fangraphs, the Twins have the second easiest schedule (on paper), but this should not be much of a relief, because Cleveland has the easiest.

The 2017 team won 85 games, but overachieved. I think that the 2018 Twins will finish with a record of 90-72, securing at least a wild card spot, and the AL Central will come down to the wire between the Twins and Cleveland.  Unfortunately, unless there is major improvement (or surprises) in the bullpen , this does not seem like a team that will move deep into the post-season, unless the bats go crazy.  And this can happen.

So you have it.  This is my last Spring Training Notes post, since the Twins start the season this Thursday at Baltimore, after they play an exhibition game in Washington against the Nationals.  To see all the notes and coverage of the 2018 Twins' Spring Training, including my daily live reports from Fort Myers in the second half of March, please visit here