Sunday, September 21, 2014

Twins Free Agent Targets

2015 is when the Twins are going to start their turnaround. The cream of the prospect crop is reaching the majors - Arcia, Santana, Vargas, Pinto, Hicks, Buxton, Sano, Gibson, May, Meyer and Berrios. There are some skilled veterans who aren't yet past their expiration date - Mauer, Dozier, Plouffe, Suzuki, Perkins, Hughes and (hopefully) Nolasco. Combining these two groups will make for the core of the next great Twins team. At least, that's what they tell us.

In reality, the Twins struggled to improve as much as they may have liked in 2014. The pitching improved, but is still among the worst in the league. The lineup was actually very good, but still has some gaping holes. And at the end of the day, the team is going to need some help to make it out of the cellar of the American League.

The front office will be looking at a payroll of under $70 million for 2015 and have indicated that they intend to spend. The positions the Twins will attack, according to what I've read online and the general feel around the Twittersphere, are starting pitching and outfield. Let's take a look at some guys they will likely kick the tires on, starting with pitchers:

Current state:
Phil Hughes is the only pitcher to earn a guaranteed spot in the rotation next year. Ricky Nolasco will almost certainly be given every opportunity to pitch as he enters his second out of five years under contract. Kyle Gibson and Tommy Milone will be on the team, but haven't locked down a rotation spot necessarily. Mike Pelfrey is also slated to make $5.5 million next year and could be a factor at the back end of the rotation. And lastly, Trevor May, Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios are all extremely talented guys who pitched in AAA last season and should get a shot at some point in 2015. Not to mention a slew of extra lefties who could be serviceable, Kris Johnson, Logan Darnell and Sean Gilmartin.

What the Twins should look for:
Given this outlook, rotation spots are going to be difficult to earn next season. However, most of the candidates are young, injury-prone, unproven, not that good or some combination of those. So, that combo of uncertainty plus money to spend plus a need to improve the squad means that the Twins will likely invest in a pitcher. The situation also suggests that the Twins should invest in a certain type of pitcher. There's no need to sign an inning's eater type, like Correia, Nolasco or Pelfrey. They need a guy to pair with Hughes at the front of the rotation. However, it's unlikely they'll be able to draw one of the top pitchers on the market like Jon Lester, James Shields or Max Scherzer. That restricts them to a certain second-tier type with the upside to lead a rotation. This is our prototype.

Who fits the mold:
Josh Beckett -- I'm starting out with the most ridiculous suggestion. Beckett has the talent to be one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball but is inconsistent and often injured. Perhaps the Twins could strike at the right time and get next year's version of Phil Hughes.

Francisco Liriano -- A reunion with this strikeout artist would make sense as the Twins are lacking in frontline left-handed pitching and should be reasonably priced because of his injury history.

Ervin Santana -- Over the past 5 seasons, he's averaged 205 innings and 3.84 ERA. He's been home run prone and may resemble Nolasco too closely, but he has front-line potential as he showed with the Royals in 2013.

James Shields, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer -- Pipe dream of most Twins fans. I would hope they stay away from dishing out huge money on any of these guys who would help, but have their best years behind them and would be a financial drag for years to come.


Outfield!

Current state:
Oswaldo Arcia has right field on lock for the foreseeable future. Beyond that, there's nothing set in stone for next season. Center field could be occupied by Jordan Schafer or Aaron Hicks until Byron Buxton is ready - but we really aren't sure how long that will take. Left field could also be handled by Schafer, Hicks, Chris Parmelee or a prospect such as Eddie Rosario. Clearly, at least one outfielder is very much needed at least for 2015 and possibly beyond.

What the Twins should look for:
I've read they want a slugger. A big right-handed bat, like another Willingham or Cuddyer. This type of player would fit nicely in left field and the middle of the lineup. Howeveooking at the current construction of the roster and assuming Buxton isn't ready opening day, it's pretty clear they need a guy to man centerfield at least adequately. I would expect this to be where they spend most of their money, with only Cuban Yasmani Tomas probably out of play, as he's expected to make $75 million.

Who fits the mold:
Nelson Cruz -- If the Twins get their dream to come true, they'll end up Cruz. He can be slotted into left field and the #4 slot in the lineup between Mauer and Arcia. Not to mention the damage that right-handed sluggers have done in Minnesota. His gaudy home run total this season might drive up his price while his mediocre plate discipline and injury history tell us more about his actual value. Signing Cruz would almost certainly be an overpay but he is a good fit.

Colby Rasmus -- His career slash line of .246/.313/.438 isn't attractive. But it's excusable when you consider that he plays a solid centerfield, has thunder in his bat and is a solid-average baserunner. He might carry a higher price tag than some others but he also has more upside. He'd fit well on the Twins on a two year deal, starting 2014 as the centerfielder and then providing huge value off the bench once Buxton reaches the majors or taking over left field.

Emilio Bonifacio -- Emilio's triple slash line as journeyman isn't too outstanding .264/.320/.343. But he provides great flexibility in that he could play pretty much any position on the field. Flexibility would be very helpful if team officials think Buxton will be ready early on in the season and could use Bonifacio as a backup at nearly every other position.

So it appears Byron Buxton is the key to the puzzle. If the Twins want him to spend an entire season between AA and AAA getting reps, Colby Rasmus makes the most sense, potentially sharing the outfield with Hicks or Schafer. If Buxton could be ready early in the season, Bonifacio would be an excellent complementary piece and provide flexibility. Nelson Cruz would fit in left field regardless of what's going on in centerfield as Eddie Rosario looks less and less like a big piece of the future in left field. The Cruz scenario is more related to the Pohlad's grip on the purse strings.

I'd love to hear what you guys think about the off-season as well - any trade targets? Do they need bullpen help? How about leaving Santana in the outfield and signing JJ Hardy back? Tweet us @Pitchers_Duel or leave a comment!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Twins Prospects in the Arizona Fall League

With opening day just a few weeks away for the Arizona Fall League, Pitchers’ Duel gives a quick look at all seven Minnesota Twins prospects who will be making their way to the deserts of Arizona.  Some will be looking to extend an already solid 2014 campaign while others are looking to make up at bats and innings due to missed time.  The scouting reports are compiled from Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America and MLB Pipeline.  For the players’ rankings, the BP ranking is from Jason Parks’ preseason rankings.  MLB Pipeline updates their rankings as deals are made and are current.  The Baseball America rankings are from their preseason reports.

Jason Adam (RHP) 
6’4”  225 lbs

Acquired by the Twins from the Royals in exchange for outfielder Josh Willingham, Adam has split time between AA with the Twins and Royals and pitched eight games (all in relief) at the AAA level for Kansas City.  Between those three stops, he had a 4.70 ERA in 29 games (19 starts).  He totaled 120.2 innings and struck out 103 and walked just 36.  Jason Parks (formerly of Baseball Prospectus and now a scout for the Chicago Cubs) said his ultimate role is a number four starter at best or a long reliever out of the pen.  His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s with an above-average breaking pitch and occasional change up.

2014 Prospect Rankings:
Baseball Prospectus: #9 (Royals)
MLB Pipeline: NA
Baseball America: #9

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Most Exciting Twin

I've had a few of my friends, some of them Twins fans, ask me how I could watch continue watching the Twins with any regularity. My response is always the same, "there are some good young kids who I want to watch". At times I barely believe the words coming out of my mouth, for example, when those young kids are a struggling Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia or Kyle Gibson.

But for the past two months, I've been able to say it with conviction because of Danny Santana. He's young, he hits and boy can he run. 61 games into his major league career he's hitting .331/.369/.483 and as that line suggests it's not an empty, Ben Revere-esque batting average - Santana has been hitting the ball hard. Despite playing in roughly half the team's games, Santana has hit 15 doubles, 3 triples and 5 home runs - good for 5th on the team in extra base hits (1 more than both Arcia or Mauer despite fewer plate appearances).

It's plenty exciting to watch a 23 year old switch hitter have success hitting in the majors even if that's all he's doing. But the most exciting part of watching Danny play is what happens after he hits the ball. Singles stretch to doubles and doubles stretch to triples. Pitchers spend time worrying about him on basepaths and then he steals anyway. He's bringing a kind of excitement to the field Twins' fans haven't seen since Christian Guzman.

Speaking of Guzman, I think he is an excellent model of what we should hope to expect out of Danny Santana in his career as a Twin. Over his career, Guzman hit .271/.307/.383 and averaged 27 doubles, 10 triples, 7 home runs and 14 stolen bases per 162 games. Some years were better and some years were worse, obviously, so don't get me wrong and say that's anyone's absolute maximum production. Further, Guzman provided average to slightly above average defense at shortstop - something today's Twins sorely lack. I think we should all be very satisfied if he can mimic Guzman and make two all-star games in his career.

Right now we're seeing Danny Santana play completely out of position at center field but he will have to move back to shortstop eventually. He is a horrendous outfielder, rarely making good reads on flyouts and misses cut-off men regularly. However, all reports are that he's a very good shortstop with a cannon arm. If he can provide that strong defense along with his flashy production on offense, Santana should be an important part of Minnesota's future plans and a great reason for us to keep watching.

Friday, May 9, 2014

2014 Japan All-Star Series

Today MLB announced that as earlier as this November, they will send a team of All-Stars to Japan to resume the Japan All-Star Series.  The series was last played in 2006 and has not been scheduled due to the World Baseball Classic.  I love making rosters for these types of exhibition games and this is the team I would send across seas.  Past rosters have included 27 players made up of 12 pitchers and 14 position players.  Enjoy!

Pitching Staff

Rotation
Justin Verlander - DET
Jose Fernandez - MIA
Clayton Kershaw -LAD
Max Scherzer - DET

Bullpen
Fransisco Rodriguez - MIL
Sergio Romo - SF
Craig Kimbrel - ATL
Glen Perkins -MIN
Koji Uehara - BOS (he could play for team Japan as Japanese players have done in the past)
Aroldis Chapman - CIN
Brad Ziegler - ARI
Will Smith - MIL
Kenley Jansen - LAD

Position Players

C Yadier Molina - STL
C Buster Posey - SF
C Jonathan Lucroy - MIL
1B Paul Goldschmidt - ARI
1B Miguel Cabrera - DET
2B Robinson Cano - SEA
SS Troy Tulowitzki - COL
3B Matt Carpenter - STL
UTL Ben Zobrist - TB
OF Giancarlo Stanton - MIA
OF Carlos Gomez - MIL
OF Mike Trout - LAA

OF Jose Bautista - TOR

Monday, April 28, 2014

An Old Memory: The Bob Feller Museum

When I traveled to Evansville, Indiana this past weekend, the Evansville Courier brought back a memory that I hadn't thought about in a long time.  The article, Feller museum struggling to survive by Luke Meredith, brought me back to the spring of 2009 when I was making a trip down to the University of Iowa and we made a stop in the small town of Van Meter.

This town is so small if I blinked, we would've been out of the city limits.  But I had to make a stop at the Bob Feller Museum.  It was fascinating.

I learned that Feller was offered a $1 signing bonus from the Cleveland Indians and he never even received that money.  I also learned he is the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter on Opening Day.

Meredith's article though was about how the museum is struggling to stay open.  Obviously, being in such a small town, it does not get many people through its doors which makes it hard to turn any sort of profit.

This saddens me because I think this is what baseball is all about.  The history and the great players of the past who have made the game so enjoyable for me and millions of other people around the world.

This isn't the typical Pitcher's Duel post but just a friendly reminder that if you ever have the chance to honor the great history of baseball by visiting Cooperstown, reading a biography on a former player or by stopping in Van Meter, take the time to soak it all in.  Life is short and it should be everybody's goal to learn something new and honor America's Pastime.

Here is a link to Meredith's article: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/iowa-baseball-museum-struggles-when-namesake-dies

Monday, April 14, 2014

Some Early Trends in Twins Territory

-Trevor Plouffe has shown great plate discipline to the tune of a .326/.446/.413 batting line. He's walking (16.1% of PAs) at a rate almost double of his career rate and cut his strikeout rate from 21% to 14%. It appears the change in approach has traded off on-base skills for power as he only has 4 extra base hits on the young season.

It's difficult to say if this trend will continue, but at the very least it's a bright spot for the future of third base with top prospect Miguel Sano sidelined by injury for 2014. If Plouffe can continue to shrink his strikeouts and take walks, he could be an excellent role player for the Twins.

-Dozier's Pop: He's not turning into Robinson Cano, but it looks like Dozier has legit home run power. A lot of people believed that last year's 18 home runs were a fluke and a number in the low teens would be more realistic in the coming seasons.

That said, he will likely see more of his home runs turn to doubles in the coming months. I would tack him as a good bet to repeat a home run count in the high teens with a chance to top 20 bombs.

-Josmil Pinto. It's clear he can hit based on what we've seen so far this season. I still expect him to hit a rough patch in the middle of the season as he's forced to adjust to pitchers who know will have a book on him, but I still love what I see. Additionally, Kurt Suzuki is doing very little to keep Pinto on the bench and we should see Pinto getting more and more time behind the dish.

-I still do not believe in Jason Kubel at all.

-Kyle Gibson has put up a shiny 2-0 record and 1.59 ERA but I'd be shocked if he kept it up. I've been a big Gibson fan in the past, but not right now. He's stranding 87.5% of runners on base and surrendering hits on just 23.5% of balls hitters put in play. I'd expect him to be good at both of these aspects of the game because he is a groundball pitcher, but nowhere near these rates. For now, Gibson is just a back-end guy with the pitching repertoire to be a mid-rotation guy in the future.

-I still really like what I've seen from both Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco. Neither will be aces and both have been frustrating in the past, but they both have really impressive pitching ability.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Opening Day is So Close

We're so close you guys! Like three or four days depending on your team of choice.

Pitcher's Duel will remain active this year. It's kind of sad that I even have to post that but we've been producing nil content over the winter so I feel like it needs to be said.

While you're here... So how about that winter? Those trades and free agent happenings and all the injuries! Right?

See you all very soon. Hopefully.

Regards,
Nils