Archive for Twins

Twins Add Another Perfectly-Serviceable Pitcher in Santana

The 2014 Winter Meetings went on at a fairly furious pace, all things considered. There was of course speculation as to what kind of moves would be done. Jon Lester was expected to sign — he did. There were rumors Matt Kemp could get traded — he was. The Red Sox were thought to be looking to alleviate their crowded outfield — this also happened. But a ton of other things happened. The White Sox tried to get better, the Reds had a mini fire sale, and the Dodgers turned the Winter Meetings into their personal Out of The Park game. I don’t really want to call it a tradeapalooza, but I want to call it a tradepocalypse even less, so I’ll stick with the former. And in the middle of it all was the Twins signing Ervin Santana to a four-year, $55 million contract. If one were skimming the pages of MLB Trade Rumors looking for the fallout of the Winter Meetings, the Santana headline would most likely cause them to shrug unemphatically. Because Ervin Santana, as a player, is an unemphatic shrug. And he’s probably the best that the Minnesota Twins can do. Read the rest of this entry »


Josh Willingham: Honoring the Hammer

Someday, an up-and-coming SABR scientist should try to measure the psychic effect that losing has on ballplayers. As everyone knows from watching “The Natural,” losing is a disease — as contagious as polio, syphilis and bubonic plague. Attacking one but infecting all, though some more than others. And no other major leaguer over the past decade, among hitters, lost as frequently as Josh Willingham did.

Willingham, 35, recently announced his retirement after playing nine full seasons and parts of two more. What a relief it must have been for him to finish as a part-timer with the Kansas City Royals, who made it to the seventh game of the World Series. Only once before had Willingham played significant time for winning team (with the Florida Marlins in 2008), and never had he played in the postseason. Cross it off the list, call it a career. And it was a good one, aside from all of the losing.

Overall, his teams went 503-644 in Willingham’s appearances, producing a .439 winning percentage, the worst among anyone who recorded at least 4,000 plate appearances since he broke into the majors in 2004. It usually wasn’t Willingham’s fault that his team lost; he was the best hitter on the Marlins as a rookie, after Miguel Cabrera, and he was better than Hanley Ramirez. He was the fourth-best hitter in ’07, the third-best in ’08 — and in ’09 and ’10 after being traded to the Washington Nationals. He was the best hitter on the Oakland Athletics in 2011, and the Minnesota Twins in 2012.  It’s just that Willingham’s teams lost anyway.

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Looking for Value in the Non-Tenders

The list of non-tenders is out. Time to dream!

It’s actually a very tough place to shop, even if there are a few names that seem attractive this year. Only about one in twelve non-tenders manages to put up a win of value the year after they were let loose. Generally, teams know best which players to keep, and which to jettison.

You’re not going to get 12 non-tenders in your camp in any given year, but there is a way to improve your odds. It’s simple, really: pick up a player that was actually above replacement the year before. If you do that, you double your chance of picking up a productive major leaguer. So let’s look at this year’s market through that lens first.

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Twins Sign Torii Hunter, Are Unrelatedly Interesting

Last night, the Twins signed outfielder Torii Hunter to a one-year, $10.5 million contract, presumably to end his career. Hunter will play right field in Minnesota, the same place where he made his debut as a center fielder in 1997.

The move really doesn’t mean much. The Twins had somewhere in the vicinity of $10-$20 million of available cap space, and they’re not a team that has a realistic chance to contend in 2015. It’s an understandable fit as a reunion tour signing, and that’s essentially what this is, as Dave Cameron noted in his instant analysis of the move last night.

The Twins signing Torii Hunter probably doesn’t need an entire post for itself. Hunter is 39 years old and he’s coming off a season in which he was worth just 0.3 WAR. He posted his worst wRC+ in nearly a decade, his worst OBP in over a decade, and his outfield defense appears to have declined to an almost unbearable level. Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating each agreed that Hunter’s defense in right field was worth -18 runs last season, both MLB-worsts in right. Of course, defensive metrics in one-year samples are noisy, and we can’t expect Hunter to be quite as bad in 2015, but it’s hard to imagine him being anything but a negative defender at this point in his career.

But again, this signing wasn’t so much about Torii Hunter’s production or the Twins winning in 2015. It was more about holding the fans over, and maybe drawing a few more back in, for 2016 – when things could actually start mattering again.
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Standout Prospects from the AFL Title Game

The Arizona Fall League championship game (domestic professional baseball’s de facto funeral for the year) featured superlative performances from a number of prospects that may have piqued your curiosity. Here’s a look at how, after nearly two months of evaluating these players, I feel things will play out moving forward.

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Stock Report: November Prospect Updates

I’ve said it before but could stand to say it again: prospect rankings don’t have a long shelf life.  Usually, players ranked in the offseason don’t change much over that offseason, or at least we don’t have a chance to see any changes since they normally aren’t playing organized ball.  Every now and then a player with limited information (like a Cuban defector that signed late in the season) will go to a winter league and we’ll learn more, but most times, players look mostly the same in the fall/winter leagues, or more often a tired version of themselves.

This means that updating prospect rankings before we have a nice sample of regular season games to judge by (say, late April), seems pretty foolish.  The two mitigating factors in the case of my rankings is that I started ranking players before instructional league and the Arizona Fall League started and I also did draft rankings, which are constantly in flux.

I was on the road 17 of the last 18 days, seeing July 2nd prospects (recap here), draft prospects and minor league prospects.  I’ll take this chance to provide some updates to my draft rankings from September and below that, some players that looked to have improved at the AFL, particularly those from clubs whose prospects I’ve already ranked.

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Mark Appel Proved Wednesday The Big Stuff Is Back

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades.   -Kiley

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Evaluating the Prospects: Minnesota Twins

Evaluating The Prospects: Texas RangersColorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks & Minnesota Twins

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

The Twins have both top-end talent and lots of depth in their system, which will likely rank their system among the best in the league when I get around to that later this off-season. It’s interesting to note that the Twins, known as a team that preferred to draft starters average fastballs and pitchability in the past, drafted almost all relievers with their early picks in 2014.

They drafted 8 pitchers in their first 10 picks last June with scouts projecting all of them to be relievers, though the Twins will develop some as starters for now.  Minnesota now has, by my count, 10 pitchers in the system that have recently hit 98 mph or higher, which is close to the most in baseball, if not the most. Twins execs say it was more situational that they drafted the pitchability type arms in the past, but that there has been a concerted effort to move more toward acquiring power arms, even if they project as relievers.

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A.J. Achter: An Underdog in the Twin Cities

A.J. Achter made it. He wasn’t supposed to make it. The 26-year-old right-hander lasted until the 46th round of the 2010 draft and was offered bupkis for a signing bonus. Now he’s stepping onto the big stage. The Minnesota Twins called up Achter from Triple-A Rochester when the calender flipped on Sunday night.

Achter enrolled at Michigan State University after going undrafted out of an Oregon, Ohio, high school. He didn’t sparkle with the Spartans. After going 8-13 with a 4.29 ERA over three seasons, he was selected 1,395th overall by the Twins. Knowing he was a long shot, the education major made plans to return for his senior year.

“I was taken in a round that doesn’t even exist anymore,” Achter told me on Sunday, hours before news of his promotion broke. “They didn’t even offer me a signing bonus. It was, ‘Hey, we drafted you, congratulations, but we can’t afford to give you anything right now – unless you’re willing to sign for a plane ticket.’ I wasn’t willing. I was plenty fine with going back to Michigan State.”

Two months later, following a strong performance in the Cape Cod League, he changed his mind. So did the bean counters. Achter’s work out of the bullpen — he’d been a starter at MSU — and was impressive enough that bonus money appeared in Minnesota’s draft-budget coffers. Read the rest of this entry »


Sam Fuld and Completing the A’s

I’m going to tell you something you’re not going to like. You’re going to think this is stupid, and you’re going to want to dismiss this as rubbish, but, I mean, let’s just get right to the point. If nothing else, this is where we’ll start. Early Thursday, the A’s gave up Yoenis Cespedes and more for Jon Lester and more. A little later Thursday, the A’s gave up Tommy Milone for Sam Fuld. Losing Cespedes opened up a spot in the outfield; adding Fuld plugged it. Here is a fun fact:

Career

Cespedes: 2.9 WAR / 600 plate appearances
Fuld: 2.5 WAR / 600 plate appearances

Obviously, Cespedes has a thousand times more natural talent. Obviously, Cespedes has more potential and a higher ceiling. Obviously, Cespedes is younger. Obviously, that’s a little deceptive because Fuld has spent a lot of time as a defensive replacement. Obviously, we can trust the defensive metrics only so much, and obviously, Cespedes is the more marketable player since he has some of the purest right-handed power in the sport. But here is the general message: Sam Fuld is not far and away an inferior overall player, compared to Yoenis Cespedes. At least, they’re somewhat close. And this year, specifically this year, Fuld’s been worth the same WAR in a fraction of the time. So you can see why the A’s are happy to get Fuld back, a few months after designating him for assignment.

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Prospect Watch: Nick Gordon and Post-Draft Expectations

A couple of weeks ago, I broke from the typical Prospect Watch post setup to write this, which still managed to provide thoughts on and evaluations of two players but in a more freeform space than usual. On some occasions such as that one, I find my thoughts on players get encased in larger thoughts about prospecting in general. In this installment, I bring you another, but it concerns a player of far more repute than 25-year-old A-ball pitcher Dario Alvarez or his reliever teammate Akeel Morris–I’m talking about 2014’s fifth overall draft pick, Twins shortstop prospect Nick Gordon.

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Mariners Replace* Rusty Corey Hart with Rusty Kendrys Morales

* Update: kind of. Though Morales will surely take opportunities from Hart, they may coexist on the active roster. It’s complicated, but it shouldn’t change too much about the analysis.

There was never any question that the Mariners liked Kendrys Morales. They traded for him in the first place, and he hit. They offered him a three-year contract. They kept in touch with him during the offseason. If the Mariners had had their druthers, they would’ve locked Morales up to return as the team’s DH. But Morales, see, didn’t really want to go back to Seattle:

“He knew it was going to be tough to look for another offer, or another job, but in his heart he just didn’t really want to come back here and be in the same spot … he was taking his chances to see if something was better.”

When a player is a free agent, he gets to decide where he ends up. When a player belongs to a team, however, he can’t control where he gets traded, barring a full or partial no-trade clause. The Mariners couldn’t sign Morales, so he waited and waited and signed with the Twins. The Twins fell quickly out of the race, and now they’ve traded Morales to the Mariners, for Stephen Pryor and salary relief. The Mariners got Morales the only way they knew how to, and now he’ll serve as the rusty DH, in replacement of a rusty DH.

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Prospect Watch: ’14 Draftee Arms in the Appy

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment of the PW, I’m focusing on three hurlers in the Appalachian League who were just selected in the top three rounds of the 2014 draft.

***

Foster Griffin, LHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 18  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 8.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 6/3 K/BB, 1.04 ERA, 5.15 FIP

Summary
More about projection than current ability, Griffin is nonetheless off to a good start in pro ball.

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Twins Agree to Borrow Kendrys Morales

The surprising part wasn’t that Kendrys Morales signed immediately after he was no longer tied to compensation. The surprising part was that Kendrys Morales signed with the Minnesota Twins, instead of any of the more obvious possibilities. When Morales signed, the Twins were 29-31, and they fancy themselves a surprising potential contender, which tells you something about where the expectations were set a few months ago. The Twins got Morales for about $7.6 million and four months, and the organizational quotes you hear are full of optimism and positivity.

A rundown, courtesy of Rhett Bollinger:

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Trevor Plouffe and the Dangers of Good Results

Trevor Plouffe had a good June 2012 — he hit .327/.391/.735 with 11 home runs — and announced himself to the baseball world in his third season. Unfortunately for him, though, those were good results after a process that didn’t fit him best. It was the slump that came after (.226/.279/.381 with eight home runs) that taught the Minnesota Twins third baseman the tools he needed to become a better player.

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Phil Hughes to the Max

Fact: Phil Hughes has always been a tinkerer. All players are constantly making adjustments, so in that sense all players are tinkerers, but Hughes has been a tinkerer to the extreme. He’s gone back and forth on what pitches he’s wanted to throw, and Ben Lindbergh identified several different versions of Hughes, the pitcher. Adjustments are interesting to investigate, so Hughes hasn’t been dull, although this leads us to the next fact.

Fact: Phil Hughes has seldom been good enough. The former top prospect has a career 12.2 WAR, and for the most part he’s been missing consistency. Because of the inconsistency, there’s been the tinkering, and perhaps because of the tinkering, there’s been additional inconsistency. There’s always been the question of Hughes’ potential. There’s never been a question of whether or not Hughes was a disappointment. Because of his reputation, people were surprised when the Twins handed Hughes a guaranteed three-year contract.

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Prospect Watch: Pitching Behemoths

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

***

Jake Johansen, RHP, Washington Nationals (Profile)
Level: Low-A  Age: 23   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 26 IP, 28 H, 20 R, 23/16 K/BB, 5.88 ERA, 3.80 FIP

Summary
Johansen has premium size and arm strength, with enough supplemental skills to make him very interesting.

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The Twins New Plan: Don’t Swing

Don’t look now, but the Minnesota Twins lead the major leagues in runs scored per game. The Minnesota Twins — with a line-up featuring the likes of Chris Colabello, Pedro Florimon, Kurt Suzuki, Aaron Hicks, Josmil Pinto, and Trevor Plouffe — are scoring 5.52 runs per game in a month where Joe Mauer has been kind of terrible. On the list of amazing things to happen this April, this has to rank near the very top. And the way they’re scoring runs is perhaps just as surprising.

When you think of organizations that have committed to a patient approach at the plate, you probably think of the Red Sox, Yankees, A’s, and Indians; clubs with long track records of emphasizing on-base percentage and working counts. You probably don’t think of the Twins; over the last three years, Minnesota’s hitters rank just 24th in OBP and are tied for 16th in walk rate. Even with a franchise player like Joe Mauer, taking pitches and getting on base hasn’t really been a point of emphasis for the Twins, and Mauer found himself surrounded by the likes of Ben Revere, Ryan Doumit, Alexi Casilla, and Danny Valencia.

Those four are all gone now, however, and the new Twins don’t look much like the old Twins. Their 12.9% walk rate leads the majors, and their .354 OBP ranks second only to the Colorado Rockies. The Twins are basically walking their way into wins, and it looks like it might very well be be design.

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Phil Hughes is Back to His Old Ways

Everyone is good at something. We may not be great or elite, but we all have something we can do better than anyone we know. Whether it’s whistling, whittling, or wrestling — you can do something better than your friends and family. It could have to do with genetics or just hours of practice, but there’s something. This is not to say that being good at something is actually a good thing. Most talents are pointless at best.

I used to work in a sheet music store/warehouse. Part of my job was pulling sheet music for customers who called the store or came in looking for something. I would look up the thing on my computer, then take to the stacks. Every piece of stock had a nine digit stock number. I started off writing these things down, but eventually just committed everything to memory. Doing this dozens of times a day allowed me to become very proficient at memorizing and then immediately forgetting nine digit numbers. I can still do it pretty well. This is a pretty dumb talent.

On April 9th, Phil Hughes started a game for the Twins. He gave up four runs, striking out three and walking three. This isn’t entirely atypical of Phil Hughes, but he’s certainly done better. He pitched only five innings, however. This, we are learning, is probably more of the norm for him. Read the rest of this entry »


Brian Dozier: When Just OK is Good Enough for the Twins

There’s this town in Wisconsin near where I grew up. To put it bluntly, it stinks. Not in the high school sports “you stink!” sense, the town actually smells bad. It is home to some paper mills, and the byproduct of paper mills is a certain odor. I don’t mean to make it as if the place smells like a garbage dump or sewer, but it’s pungent enough to cause a nose wrinkle. That is, it wrinkles the noses of the outsiders. The people who live there, the people exposed to it every day, they don’t notice it anymore. It’s the phenomenon known as the shifting baseline. When a town has smelled the same way for so long, people tend to shift their perspectives about how towns should smell. This idea, of course, applies to pretty much anything. But for this town in Wisconsin, it’s the smell. For the Minnesota Twins, it’s the middle infield.

The Minnesota Twins have put up some pretty poor seasons as of late. But they were pretty good not that long ago having made the playoffs six times between 2002 and 2010 (what they did in those playoff games is a different story).  They have employed Johan Santana when he was good, Francisco Liriano when he was good the first time, Joe Nathan, Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, a pre-concussion Justin Morneau, and even squirreled some late-career heroics out of Jim Thome in the past few years. They were a mid-market team in a fairly week weak division, and some good development and some luck swung in their favor. Their middle infield has been an exception, however.

The middle infield for the Twins has been a veritable wasteland for the past 15 years. Players like Luis Rivas, Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert, Luke Hughes, Brendan Harris, Cristian Guzman, Juan Castro, Adam Everett, Eduardo Escobar, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka have been the Twins’ representation up the middle. They traded Carlos Gomez for J.J. Hardy. They then traded J.J. Hardy for two relievers who have yet to make the majors. Nishioka was supposed to be their next big hope, as they paid $5.3 million in posting fees to negotiate bringing him over from Japan. He stunk, broke his leg, came back and continued to stink. They sent him and his $3 million salary to Triple A for 101 games, in fact, to no avail. It’s been a rough going, is the point of this paragraph.

And so when one Brian Dozier provided even the faintest hint of being close to decent, the Twins looked like they may have shaken their no-hit-infielder blues. Dozier was drafted as a college shortstop in the 8th round of the 2009 draft. He played multiple infield positions in the minors, but  got most of his work in at shortstop. When he was called up in 2012, he was deposited at short. It did not go well. He had a dismal 64 wRC+ while being so-so defensively. The Twins were struggling as a team, so they had no problem letting Dozier try and work things out during the season. It never happened. It seemed as if Dozier was destined to succumb to the destiny of Twins infielders past.

In 2013, Minnesota decided to place Pedro Florimon‘s glove at short. Florimon can’t hit either, but the Twins saw his glove as at least some kind of asset at the position. Dozier was moved to second base, and, at least in comparison to past performances, flourished. His defense improved. He started hitting for more power, knocking 18 homers in 623 PA. He nearly doubled his walk rate. Everything was coming up Brian Dozier. By now, you’ve clicked on Brian Dozier’s player page and seen that his 2013 performance ended with a 101 wRC+. This is true. But for Twins fans, he must seem like a godsend. The baseline has shifted a little over the past 15 years.

These are the Twins second baseman since 1998 who have accumulated at least  400 PA in a season.

Season Name OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
2010 Orlando Hudson 0.338 0.372 96 3.1
2013 Brian Dozier 0.312 0.414 101 2.8
2006 Luis Castillo 0.358 0.37 95 2.1
2012 Jamey Carroll 0.343 0.317 87 2
2009 Nick Punto 0.337 0.284 72 1.6
2008 Alexi Casilla 0.333 0.374 90 1.3
2008 Brendan Harris 0.327 0.394 93 1
1998 Todd Walker 0.372 0.473 114 0.9
2005 Nick Punto 0.301 0.335 70 0.8
2000 Denny Hocking 0.373 0.416 101 0.5
2003 Luis Rivas 0.308 0.381 80 -0.1
1999 Todd Walker 0.343 0.397 86 -0.3
2001 Luis Rivas 0.319 0.362 79 -0.6
1999 Denny Hocking 0.307 0.378 69 -0.9

Dozier comes in tied for second in WAR, and tied for second in hitting. I’m going to repeat that for clarity; over the past 15 years of Twins second baseman, the second-best hitting performance came in at 101 wRC+.

So, what changed? What turned Dozier from a failed experiment at shortstop to a viable option at second? He turned 26 near the start of the 2013 season and had three full seasons in the minors, so it’s not as if he was rushed. Though he could just be a late bloomer, that’s not out of the question. He cut down on his overall swing percentage, with a 10% drop in swings at pitches outside of the zone. It could be that he needed more time against major league pitching to figure things out. Another component could come from his switching defensive positions.

While it’s hard to quantify, there are many stories of players turning things around offensively after switching to a position they were more comfortable in. If defensive metrics are telling a true tale, Dozier didn’t seem all that comfortable at short. One of his bigger problems was getting the ball to first. While errors certainly don’t tell the whole story, he committed nine throwing errors at short in 2012 versus just one at second in many more attempts in 2013. It could be that his arm just wasn’t strong enough, or it could be that his lack or range lead to hurried and off-balance throws. He seems to have decent enough range, but could also have been getting help from Florimon in reducing the ground he needs to cover.

dozierdive

It could be that the reduced pressure of playing second helped him at the plate. Perhaps not having to work as hard on defense allowed him more time in the cage, or just a clearer head in the batters box. It could be that these things are mutually exclusive, but it’s probably a safe bet that the defensive move helped his hitting at least a little.

Steamer, Oliver, and ZiPS project Dozier to regress offensively. Oliver sees a big jump in defense, but the others see it staying about the same. He’s only had one season at second, so it becomes hard to project, especially if the uptick in offense thanks to the defensive switch is a real thing. The Twins are on the upswing, but still have a good amount of things to address. Their bullpen was pretty much the only bright spot last season. They have some heavy hitters coming up in the system, and have switched philosophies slightly when it comes to pitching — looking to collect more hard-throwing pitchers rather than their usual low-velocity strike throwers. If Dozier can play well enough to keep his spot, he may be around long enough to see the team’s latest renaissance. If he does, the middle-infield baseline will have shifted for the first time in a long time for Minnesota.