Saturday, December 06, 2008

Gardy Has Outfield Right

There are a lot of complaints about Ron Gardenhire's comments in Fargo regarding next year's outfield. They got blown way out of proportion over at the STRIB by Howard Sinker,  the former sports writer who is trying to write stuff that sounds the way sports writers think typical fans think. But in many ways Gardenhire was merely stating the obvious, Cuddyer, Gomez, Span are the starting point for next year's outfield.  What are the other options for next year?

1) Cuddyer, Young, Gomez
2) Young, Span, Gomez
3) Cuddyer, Young, Span

It appears to me that Gardenhire's trio is the strongest both offensively and defensively.

We can start by eliminating option one simply because Span is the Twins leadoff hitter. The Twins could move Gomez back into that spot, but there is nothing that would indicate he is any more ready for that than he was last year.

Option two seems to be the one many fans support. But if he plays like he did in 2007, Cuddyer is better both offensively and defensively than Young. With his arm and his experience with the baggie that would be true even if Young moved to right field and Span went over to left.

Option three is probably the most arguable. But Gardy rightly sees Gomez as his future center fielder. Span is no slouch in center, but Gomez has the potential to be a worthy replacement of Torii Hunter as he gets more experience.Putting Young and Cuddyer in the corners with Span between them is the worst defensive outfield the Twins could have.

Of course, the real problem is not what makes the best outfield next year. Its that many people see Young as a budding super-star. Cuddyer isn't. That 2007 player is probably his ceiling and he may not ever reach that again. But that is looking long term and there is nothing wrong with having Young in a postion of having to force Gardy to play him more. With Kubel in the DH slot, there are going to be opportunities for a right handed bat to play. But if you are looking at the opening day lineup, then you would have to go with Cuddyer, Gomez and Span.

Of course opening day is a long way away. Its possible someone will get hurt or play their way into a regular role in spring training. Or get traded. But for now Gardy is spot on.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Its all about money

According to the newspapers, the Twins have offered Casey Blake a two year contract with an option for a third, but he wants three years. Apparently the Dodgers are also in the mix with a two year contract offer. Blake is 35 and you have to be a bit skeptical whether he will be worth $6 million in three years. But that isn't really what the discussion is about. Its about money. Two years at $6 million means a $12 million contract, 3 years makes it $18 million. Its likely that they will end up splitting the difference with the team that comes up with the largest amount of money.

The reality is that his is true of a lot of contracts. While they are paid yearly, the total commitment of dollars is where the real negotiations are. If  Blake is a regular for three years and produces the way he has recently then $18 million is a pretty good deal. But if he turns into a spare part in the next year or two, $18 million is too much.  On the other hand, $12 million for two years with an additional $3 million if they decide to buy him out would make him expensive at two years, but a good investment if he lasts three.

Blake fits the Twins well. He is another right handed bat with some pop that will settle nicely into the seventh spot in the order. He gives them a guy who can play first base and give Morneau a day off. He is the kind of addition that could make the difference between just contending and making the playoffs. That is worth $15 million, it may even be worth $18.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Five Myths about Bert Blyelven's HOF Candidacy

1) Blylevens' record can be attributed to playing on bad teams. In fact, the teams Blyleven pitched for were above average, winning more games than they lost.

2) Blyleven's teams didn't score many runs. In fact, Blyleven's teams scored more runs than the average teams during those same seasons.

3) Blyleven had the "bad luck" of pitching when his team didn't score.

Some people have gone through the games and shown that Blyleven got below average run support when he pitched, despite the fact his teammates, on average, scored more runs than other teams. They attribute this to "bad luck".

If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all.

Even if you attribute his teammate's offensive failure to luck, its certainly just as likely that same luck improved Blyleven's own results right along with his opponents. What are the likely explanations that would explain both pitchers doing better than usual?
  • A) As the staff ace, Blyleven faced other team's aces. But Blyleven wasn't always the staff ace. On the Twins, for instance, Frank Viola was the staff ace. Blyleven was the number two starter.
  • B) Blyleven pitched more often in stadiums friendly to pitchers than his teams played in on average.  Of course, that would mean Blyleven's own statistics were improved by the same factor that drove down his run support.
  • C) He pitched in games where umpires had large strike zones. Again, Blyleven's own statistics were improved by the same factor that drove down his run support.
  • D) His teammates just happened to score fewer runs when Blyleven pitched. Statistically, given the large number of games over many seasons, that is an unlikely explanation.
4) Blyleven's lack of run support could only have been luck.

The most likely explanation for Blyleven's lack of run support is that umpires widened their strike zone when Blyleven pitched and that benefited both pitchers. Given Blyleven's outstanding curve, that is not unlikely. Umpires can be fooled as easily as hitters. If they are calling Blyleven's curve off the plate a strike, they are likely to start doing the same for the other pitchers' pitches. Is that speculation? Yes. But so are all the possible explanations based on luck.

5) Blyleven's low results in the Cy Young award voting should not be a factor.

This is the Hall of Fame. Is there some reason why voters whose peers never recognized Blyleven as one of the premiere pitchers during his career, should now vote him in to the Hall of Fame? Moreover, it wasn't just sports writers who didn't recognize Blyleven. The managers of the allstar teams rarely recognized him as a premiere pitcher either.

Blyleven had a very long and successful career that put him among the leaders in a number of categories.  But there are many people that attribute his presence in the leadership more to the length of his career, than to any outstanding success he had.  When proponents of Blyleven's candidacy are reduced to siting  "win shares" and "ERA+", as the StarTribune did in today's paper,  you know they have been reduced to grasping at straws. 

I am an agnostic on Blyleven as a Hall of Famer. It would certainly not be an outrage if he was elected, but its not an outrage that he hasn't been. He is, at best, a borderline candidate.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Twins Prospect Book Released

Local Twins blogger Seth Stroh has released a book covering 175 players in the Twins minor league system. Here is a link to his description of the book, including ordering information.
This is really the first time anyone has done this kind of in-depth reporting on the Twins system. Of course most of these guys will never where a major league uniform, but that is half the fun of following the minor leagues. You can pick out favorites and follow their struggles and successes. This kind of book is now available because independent journalists, like Seth, have developed audience on the internet.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Immediate Prospects - Next Year's Twins ROY

Looking at the Nick Blackburn controversy raises an interesting question. Who are the top ten prospects to provide the Twins immediate help next year. Blackburn would have been near the top of that list last year, even if he was nowhere near the top prospect in the Twins system. So lets look at next year based on three criteria: How close is a player to being ready to help. What is the player's upside next year. Opportunity will also need to be a factor, but the fact that a player looks blocked wouldn't eliminate them from the list since injuries happen. Not being considered are players like Drew Butera who are only likely to get a September callup.

Here is the list of potential "Nick Blackburns" next year ranked in the order of how likely they are to be the Twins' rookie of the year:
  1. Jose Mijares - Some folks have already handed him a spot in the bullpen. That may be too enthusiastic, but he clearly has a good shot.
  2. Phil Humber - He's out of options. He is almost certain to make the roster and he is probably ready to contribute.
  3. Randy Ruiz - right handed bat off the bench
  4. Jose Morales - If he fully recovers and can catch, he is probably the first choice if one of the catchers go down.
  5. Bobby Korecky - Good shot  at filling out the bullpen at some point if there is an opening
  6. Jason Pridie - Blocked, but ready to contribute if the opportunity presents itself.
  7. Mathew Macri - Backup infielder and right handed bat
  8. Alejandro Machado - His chances depend on his arm. If he fully recovers he has a shot at the shortstop position if the Twins don't fill it.
  9. Trevor Plouffe - Like Machado, his chances depend on who the Twins sign to play shortstop. By mid-season, Plouffe will probably be ready to step up to the major leagues.
  10. Kevin Mulvey - Potential bullpen help or starter
Others who merit consideration;
Brian Duensing - Potential bullpen help or starter
Tim Lahey - Potential bullpen help similar to Korecky, but not on roster
Armando Gabino - Potential bullpen help, on the roster but probably not ready until mid-season
Anthony Swarzak - Potential starter who could be ready by mid-season
Zachary Ward - Potential bullpen help who could be ready by mid-season
Ryan Mullins - lefty out of the bullpen, he will need to break out to be ready by mid-season

There are also a few players in the lower minors who could  break out. Steve Tolleson's performance in the AFL indicated his bat was ready, but his glove still needs work. Likewise Jeff Manship could develop quickly and fill a bullpen or rotation spot if one opens up.  Carlos Gutierrez is the guy who could break through from last year if he stays in the bullpen. But the Twins seemed determined to make him a starter and that will probably take more than a season.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Baseball America's Top Ten

Baseball America is about to release their top ten prospects for this year. Here is last year's list.

1. Nick Blackburn, rhp
2. Joe Benson, of
3. Wilson Ramos, c
4. Tyler Robertson, lhp
5. Anthony Swarzak, rhp
6. Ben Revere, of
7. Jason Pridie, of
8. Brian Duensing, lhp
9. Jeff Manship, rhp
10. Trevor Plouffe, ss

Last year, John Manual put Nick Blackburn at the top of the list and took a lot of flack for it. Despite his apparent belief that he was vindicated by Blackburn's presence in the Twins rotation, the choice of Blackburn may even look worse now than it did then. Unless Baseball America has changed its standards, top tens are a combination of both ceiling and how close players are to being ready. Blackburn was clearly close, the question was his ceiling. And last year didn't answer that question.

Even by the standard is "most likely to be the team's rookie of the year next year", Blackburn wasn't a winner. That award belonged to Denard Span, of whom  Manual had this to say
"first-round picks Denard Span (2002) and Matt Moses (2003) were supposed to be ready for big league jobs by now, yet are far from ready."
So who else should have been ahead of Blackburn? Pretty clearly Ben Revere. His 2008 season showed his draft position was not inappropriate and his 2007 year was not a fluke.

Trevor Plouffe is another guy who belonged ahead of Blackburn. He is at that stage where people are calling him a "slap hitter" because he isn't hitting a lot of home runs at age 22. They did the same thing with Torii Hunter at that same age. In fact, their power numbers in their first year at AA were pretty similar with Plouffe having a slight edge. While Hunter always projected to hit for power despite his numbers,
Plouffe probably doesn't project to have Hunter's power. And, unlike Hunter, he probably isn't a gold glove. But if he can play shortstop, he is going to be well above average offensively.

I think Swarzak, Robertson and Ramos should have been ahead of Blackburn, although you can make the argument Blackburn, with some major league success, has now surpassed the two pitchers. Based on his brief stint this fall Jose Mijares was probably a step up on Blackburn as a prospect as well. But you can argue a relief pitchers, even a hard throwing left hander, is not as valuable as a starter. Chris Parmelee also belonged on the list, despite his struggles.

All of those players are more valuable than a back of the rotation starter. Manual had the idea Blackburn was more than that. And nothing he has done so far shows it.

Finally there was this little tidbit:

Minnesota has had more success of late drafting and developing pitchers than hitters."

Last year's Twins included Cuddyer, Mauer, Morneau, Kubel and Span. The rotation had Baker, Slowey, Perkins and  Blackburn. And the bullpen had Crain. Which group of players would you take? What's more, every one of the pitchers was a college kid, while the everyday players were drafted out of high school.  And that is the actual distinction. The Twins have had quicker success of late from players drafted out of college. Not exactly worth remarking on.

There was a time when Baseball America's ranking pretty accurately reflected the views of professional baseball evaluators. That time, as Manual made clear, is past. They recently seem to have shifted their target audience to pseudo-sophisticated fans - sharing the same shallow, impatient  analysis as most of the other baseball media. Entertaining as Baseball America's top tens are, they don't really give us a very good idea of the real state of the Twins system. When a writer says things like "I rank this guy higher than the organization does",  you wonder what he is thinking or if he isn't and its just ego talking.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Twins Top 10 - 1999 Retrospective

I did a retrospective last year of the Twins Top 10 for 1998. I want to do the same thing for 1999. Again I am going to look beyond prospect lists at the time to the players who played in the Twins minor leagues in 1998 and later contributed at the major league level. Here is that list:

GCL (Rookie)
Tommy Watkins IF (18)
Luis Rodriguez IF (18)

E-Twins (Rookie)

Michael Restovich OF (19)
Grant Balfour P (20)
Kevin Frederick P (21)
Saul Rivera P (20)

Fort Wayne (Low-A)

Michael Cuddyer IF (19)
Matt LeCroy C (22)
Michael Ryan IF (20)
Juan Rincon (19)
Brad Thomas (20)

Fort Myers (High-A)

Luis Rivas IF (18)
Cleatus Davidson IF (21)
Matt LeCroy C (22)
Matt Kinney P (21)

New Britain (AA)

Cristian Guzman IF (20)
Jacque Jones OF (23)
Chad Allen OF (23)
Doug Mientkiewicz 1B (24)
Torii Hunter OF (22)
Chad Moeller C (23)
John Barnes OF (22)
Mike Lincoln P (23)
JC Romero P (22)
Joe Mays P (22)

Salt Lake City (AAA)
Corey Koskie IF (25)
Brian Buchanan OF (24)
AJ Pierzinsky C (21)
Benj Sampson P (23)
Mark Redman P (24)
Todd RItchie P (26)
Travis Miller P (25)

Based on their actual performances in the major leagues, here is a list of the Twins top ten future major league players after the 2008 season:

Torii Hunter
AJ Pierzynski
Jacque Jones
Cristian Guzman
Michael Cuddyer
Corey Koskie
Juan Rincon
Doug Mientkiewicz
Mark Redman
Luis Rivas

The other candidates to be on that list would be Joe Mays, Todd Ritchie, JC Romero and Matt LeCroy. Compared to the 1997 list, only David Ortiz had graduated to the majors. Guzman came over in the Knoblauch trade and replaced him on the list. It says something about the 1998 draft that not one player made the list. Saul Rivera is really the only player the Twins took in that draft that has had more than a brief stint in the major leagues.

So how does the actual outcome compare to the evaluations at the time?

Baseball America's Top Ten for 1998-99
  1. Michael Cuddyer, 3b
  2. Mike Restovich, of
  3. Cristian Guzman, ss
  4. Luis Rivas, ss
  5. Matt LeCroy, c
  6. Ryan Mills, lhp
  7. Jacque Jones, of
  8. Doug Mientkiewicz, 1b
  9. Corey Koskie, 3b
  10. Mike Lincoln, rhp
Missing: Hunter, Pierzinsky, Rincon, Redman
Misses: Restovich, LeCroy, Mills, Lincoln

Monday, November 03, 2008

Twins Top Ten (11) Prospects

Here are eleven Twins prospects to watch out for. They are in no particular order, but simply the players I think are likely to contribute the most at the major league level at some point in the next 8 years. Why eleven? I started out to create a top ten but found no compelling reason to leave anyone off this list. I look out 8 years, because most players have reached their peak by the time they are 27. While talented young players sometimes get to the major leagues quickly, it also sometimes takes several more years before they show their full talent.

Ben Revere (OF)
The question with Revere is whether he will develop the power the Twins saw when they drafted him or have to rely on his running game. Either way, he will contribute at the major league level.

Angel Morales (OF)
When drafted, Morales was identified as a slap-hitter in some quarters. He clearly isn't.With his outstanding speed and power, this is a guy who could be as a superstar or a super bust. The question is whether he will make enough contact at higher levels to make use of either one.

Deolis Guerra (P)
Guerra was a touted part of the Santana deal but the Twins turned him into a project, working to improve his delivery. Given their track record of success with pitchers in the minor leagues, you have to expect they know what they are doing.

Wilson Ramos (C)
A power hitting catcher with a plus arm and defensive skills. You can't get much better than that.

Rene Tosoni (OF)
Tosoni was injured this year. But this is a guy who hits for both average and with enough power to take a corner outfield spot.

Tyler Robertson (P)
Robertson remains one of the Twins top young prospects. He may be a few years away but he has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter.

Anthony Swarzak (P)
Swarzak struggled some at AA but did better once promoted. He is probably still at least one full year away from the major leagues. Like Robertson, he has the stuff to take a spot toward the top of the rotation. He also has a curve ball that would work well out of the bullpen.

Trevor Plouffe (SS)
Plouffe is probably still a year away from taking over as the Twins shortstop. He does not look to have star potential, but he will be an above average hitter and more than adequate fielder.

Jose Mijares (P)
Mijares almost had a wasted season last year that he turned to his advantage. He recovered from an auto accident and then showed enough to get a late season callup. Better yet, he showed that he is probably ready to be a key part of a major league bullpen.

Phillip Humber (P)
Humber started out struggling at AAA. But he came back the last half of the season. He is out of options, so he is very likely going to on a major league roster next year. He has potential as a starter, but is blocked on the Twins. It may take him another year, but if he doesn't win a place in the rotation, he will likely end up an 8th inning guy.

Kevin Mulvey
(P) Mulvey is younger than Humber and will likely get another year at AAA. He is probably a notch below Robertson and Swarzak in terms of his potential at the major league level. But he has all the tools to be a solid major league starter.

The Twins top three draft choices, Hicks, Gutierrez and Hunt have a shot at making this list next year but a half season after the draft doesn't really tell us anything. The Twins also have plenty of other talented players in their system who are not on this list. But most of those players have flaws that will need to be corrected as opposed to talent that they need to develop.

A good example is Allen de San Miguel. He is probably the best defensive catcher in the Twins system. But he has never been able to hit and he doesn't really project to ever being able to hit in the future. He still might figure it out, but its not just a matter of  giving him time to develop the talent he appears to have.

The players on the list above should contribute at the major league level. If they don't, it will be a result of not reaching their potential.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

What's a Top Ten Prospect

Originally published February 2008

This is the time of year when all the prospect guru's start publishing their top ten prospects.

Baseball America (BBA) is probably the most well-respected of these lists. Its one of the few publications that really goes out and gets new, independent information about every team's players. Their writers talk to scouts and baseball developement staff to identify the best prospects. That said, the lists also reflect the judgments of the particular BBA staff.

John Sickels is another source of indpendent judgments. He does a lot of research to publish his book of prospects every year. Unlike BBA writers, who are constantly on deadline to produce articles for the magazine, Sickels actually has time to do "scouting trips" to watch prospects and make his own judgements. Of course, as a one guy show, he has doesn't have the resources to see everyone. And he is not a professional scout. So he may give too much weight to his own opinions and players he has seen personally and less weight to the opinions of those who get paid to identify the best players before its obvious to everyone.

Beyond those two, most of the other lists are rehashes of one another with a particular writer's biases about what is valuable. The SABR guys will add a stats overlay, people who are convinced pitching is important will emphasize pitching, people who think hitting is most important will grab people identified as the best hitters, etc. But most of these lists are based on reading BBA, Sickels and the blogsphere. They may or may not reflect the opinion of most scouts. In fact, in an effort to be interesting, they often have a bias toward having a semi-contrarian opinion.

Occasionally, they go beyond condensing others information and stray into outright plagiarism. One prominent Twin's blogger's list a few years ago was clearly just a rewrite of BBA's. He changed the order some and then rewrote the descriptions like a kid rewriting an encyclopedia entry for his school report.

There are also some local bloggers who take the time to talk to their local team's scouts and player development personell. They develop their own top ten lists for their favorite team. Those lists reflect a lot of input. While their judgments of prominent prospects may not be as well-informed as the national list makers, they often do a better job on players who are less prominent. If you are looking for hidden gems, these lists will often have them first.

Unfortunately, there are also lists that are based on little more than looking at the local leader boards for the minor leagues. Usually these stat-based lists are obvious, including players who are over-age for their league or harshly judging highly touted young prospects who have been less than successful while playing at a high level at an early age. These are the folks that projected Torii Hunter as a "slap hitter" while he was in the minor leagues because his power had yet to show itself.

The larger issue for every prospect list is that what makes a player a "top prospect" is often a moving target. Baseball America says its lists are based on a balance between a prospect's ceiling and how likely they are to reach it. So what you have is a subjective balance between two subjective evaluations. In short, these top ten lists are almost all art and no science. The result is that, while top ten lists are fun, they need to be taken with a very large grain of salt.

Last week I looked back on Baseball America's top ten from ten years ago. The conclusion was that the order of the top ten was not very informative. Having followed BBA's lists for the last 20 years, that was not a surprise to me. While identifying that a player has major league potential is fairly easy, distinguishing how much of that potential each prospect will achieve isn't.

That doesn't mean there aren't players who stand out. There are. And most of those players go on to have great careers. But beyond a handful of truly special players with polished skills, the difference between number one and number 10 on most prospect lists is not very meaningful in the long run. It is likely that even a team's "top prospect" will not end up its best player.

The other thing to remember is that none of these list builders get paid to be right. If they are paid at all, its to be entertaining. And when they miss, they can quickly excuse their failure by pointing to the reality I just described that everyone misses. But major league scouts do get paid to be right. They don't have a job when they consistently under perform their peers. So when John Manuel at Baseball America makes Nick Blackburn the Twins number one prospect, and then admits he has him rated higher than the Twins, you have to wonder what he is thinking. If the team that has developed a player for five years isn't convinced, why should anyone else be?

That is one of the traps BBA falls into a lot. Over the years their lists are peppered with players who had one good season. When a player leaps from career minor leaguer to top ten prospect in one season, take it with a grain of salt. Player's tools don't usually develop that way. While they do have breakouts, it is not usually totally un-foreseen. They are players who have always had the potential and finally realize it.

An example from the BBA list ten years ago would be Chad Allen who is listed as the Twins 4th best prospect. Allen had a major league career, so you wouldn't call him a complete bust. But he was never in the same class as Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Corey Koskie or even Matt LeCroy, no matter where he appeared on the BBA top ten prospect list. My guess is Nick Blackburn ends up a similar case of overreaching.

On the other end of the spectrum is last year's draft choices. It is a rare player who changes his potential in the course of the summer after he has been drafted. With good reason, BBA usually lists the top draft choice from the previous draft in its top ten. It doesn't mean much about the player, but it tells you something about the strength of the rest of the list. If a player taken number 20 in the draft is immediately the team's best prospect, you know their farm system is not very strong. If the top ten includes a bunch of supplemental first round draft choices from the most recent draft, that is a clue that there wasn't a lot of competition for the list. Of course, it may be a player is better than his draft position. But that isn't usually something you find out over the course of their first summer.

So the basics of looking at prospect lists.

1) There really isn't much difference between number one and number ten on a list
2) Watch out for breakouts, don't pay much attention to recent drafts
3) Be very careful of being fooled by derivative lists and stat-based lists that appear on the internet. If a list doesn't reflect conversations with baseball development staff, it probably doesn't have much meaning.

Finally there is the recent trend of top 30 lists. To be blunt, these are little more than a laundry list of all a team's prospects. The rankings are pretty much meaningless and the difference between the bottom ten and the next 20 prospects won't mean much a year from now.

So as you hear about how the Twins didn't get the Mets "top prospect" for Santana, the appropriate response is really "so what". They got four of the Mets top ten and all four of them could turn out to be better than the guy at the top of the list.

John Sickels 2008-2009
Seth Speaks 2008-2009
Twinkie Town 2008-2009

Baseball America's Twins Top Ten 2007-2008
Josh's Top 50 Twins 2007-2008

Baseball America 2006-2007

Baseball America 2005-2006

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Trades and Touchables


Looking at the winter, what trades should the Twins investigate in order to improve the team? I think there are four potential moves they could make if they can find the right player:

1) Third base. While many people seem to think this is a prime spot for an offensive improvement, an above average defender at third would be a big boost to the Twins defense. While both Buscher and Harris are defensive liabilities, their bats are acceptable in the 7th spot in the batting order which is where whoever plays third is likely to end up.

2) A veteran ace starter. The Twins rotation lacks an established ace that can provide leadership to the pitching staff. Its unlikely the Twins can get one at an acceptable price, but adding a pitcher at the top of the rotation would add the depth their starting pitching lacks. Especially if they are able to get one without giving up one of their young starters. That is unlikely. But the Twins ought to see what opportunities there are to add to the top of the rotation.

3) Shortstop. If they sign Nick Punto, that may be enough. But there are real doubts about Punto's ability to hold up for an entire year. And Punto's offense, while acceptable in a number 8 hitter, is not great. Can the Twins find someone a little more durable who can improve the offense without sacrificing defense? Again it is unlikely. But they ought to explore options here.

4) Bullpen help. The Twins actually have a lot of depth in their bullpen. The question is whether they have someone who can get them through the 8th inning to Nathan. Looking for options to strengthen the bullpen just makes sense given its difficulties last year. But everyone is looking for pitching and the Twins already have a lot of depth here. They are not going to be helped by adding guys for the end of the bench.

If you look at those four "needs", none of them are really critical with the exception of shortstop. If they don't sign Punto, Harris is not really an acceptable alternative. And Tolbert probably isn't an everyday shortstop either.


So what do the Twins have to trade? There is a long list of "untouchables" that various blogs have come up with. But lets start at the other end - who are the players the Twins have available to trade. Because you can't get something for nothing.

Starting with the minor leagues - I think basically everyone who spent most of their time in the minor leagues last year is trade-bait with the exception of Mijares. But none of that bait is likely to land a big fish. Humber, Mulvey, Duensing, Swarzak etc. There is a long list of pitchers the Twins can include in trades, but none of them are in the Garza category where other teams are going to be asking about them.

I think the starting staff is largely off-limits unless they are part of a trade that brings that staff ace in return. They just don't have a lot of pitchers who look like they are knocking on the door to get into the major leagues. And sticking Bonser back in the rotation in order to get a shortstop or third baseman seems to be a bad idea.

Nathan is probably off limits except as part of some mega-deal. I think they could trade anyone else in the bullpen in the right deal. Unless they come up with some additional bullpen help, I think Neshek is probably also off limits if he is considered healthy and untradable if he isn't. They also ought to be reluctant to give up Breslow, Mijares, Crain and Guerrier unless they get some other bullpen help. That leaves Bonser and Humber as guys who are available in trade. Their trade value isn't much different than the minor league pitching prospects.

Harris, Tolbert and Buscher are available in the infield, but they aren't likely to bring much in return. Morneau is untouchable and Cassilla all but untouchable. There really isn't much of value here to deal. Likewise, the catching staff is basically untradable.

The outfield is an interesting situation. As I pointed out in an earlier post what to do here is perplexing. They have five players (including Kubel) and four spots (including DH). Gomez and Young are potential future stars. They could be the heirs to Mauer and Morneau as core players that define the franchise. You don't give up those kinds of players for bullpen help. Span is the Twins leadoff hitter. Its difficult to see how the Twins improve by trading him unless they can get a leadoff hitter in return who can play shortstop or third base. Someone pointed out Kubel's numbers are very similar to Ortiz at the same age. Again, for the right player you could deal him. But you would want some long range value, not a fill-in for next year. That leaves Cuddyer. He wasn't really needed last year for the Twins to be competitive. Whether he would actually provide enough value to attract a shortstop, third baseman or staff ace in trade is doubtful. Trading him for bullpen help seems like a waste.

So there you have it. Four potential needs and almost nothing of real value to give up to fill them. With the exception of the outfield, the Twins just don't have players to trade without opening up another hole. The Twins are one of the youngest teams in baseball and their improvment is mostly going to have to come from those players maturing.

Twin Infield 2009

I think most people think that if the Twins are going to improve their offense and team defense it is going to have to be in the infield. Morneau is obviously set at first and Casilla gave every indication that he is going to be the second baseman and number two hitter. Some fans have suggested moving Casilla to shortstop, but it doesn't look like the Twins are interested in that idea.

So the left side of the infield is really where improvement can be expected. Punto is a free agent, but the Twins are expected to try to resign him. Buscher and Harris were the other two infielders who played most of the year. You can add Tolbert to that mix.

The minor leagues do not have a lot of players who appear ready. Trevor Plouffe is a shortstop and was a first round pick in the draft. But he is young and appears at least a year away. The Twins also have re-signed Alexander Machado, a guy they took in the Rule 5 draft a couple years ago who has been injured the last couple years. He hit well at AAA last year, but he has only played second base since his arm injury. If Punto isn't re-signed, Machado may get a shot at the utility player role, but he is more likely AAA roster filler along with Matt Macri.

There are two different needs here. Punto, if re-signed, is a good defensive shortstop and he had enough bat this last year to hold down the position. Compared to Punto, Harris is bit of a defensive liability at shortstop. He can play the position, but you probably don't want him out there every day. He will need to hit better to hold down a spot anywhere. Buscher's problem is also his glove. If he played gold glove defense, his bat would be enough. But he does not come close. Tolbert is probably not an everyday shortstop and is most likely a utility player. They aren't likely to bring Everett back again, but if they can't sign Punto that may be a possibility.

The opportunities for improvement here are more offense from both shortstop and third base and better defense from third base. I think it is important to remember that whoever plays these two positions they are likely to be the 7th and 8th batters in the lineup. The Twins have Kubel, Young and Cuddyer who can bat in the 5th and 6th spots. Its hard to imagine them picking up a third baseman who is going to be an improvement, much less a shortstop.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Twins Outfield 2009

The Twins outfield situation is one of the most puzzling they have faced in a long time. They have five players who should be regulars in the outfield and they all bring a slightly different set of offensive and defensive skills to the table.

Jason Kubel is the least skilled of all the outfielders, which is why he is the Twins main DH. He isn't a bad outfielder, you could put him at one of the corners without any real concern. But the other outfielders all have above average defensive skills. His presence takes away the option of keeping the other four outfielders in the lineup by rotating them through the DH spot.

Offensively, Carlos Gomez brings the least immediate return of all the oufielders. His offensive potential, however, is almost unlimited. And he has a chance to take Tori Hunter's place as the franchise's best defensive center fielder ever. He isn't there yet, but the tools are. And it is that defense, combined with his offensive potential that keeps Gomez in the lineup.

The other candidate for center field, Denard Span, only gives up a little on defense to Gomez. Offensively he is a lot more polished. Most importantly, he has given the Twins a legitimate leadoff hitter for the first time in a long time. He can get on base and he can run. He even has gap power. Despite outstanding defensive skills, it is Span's offensive role that makes him indispensable.

Which brings us to Michael Cuddyer. It was Cuddyer's injury that gave Span a chance. The question is what to do with him if he is healthy next year. His arm makes him a plus defender in right field. But his range is nowhere near Span's and his return to that spot would mean a real downgrade on defense. He was signed after last season to provide some right-handed power in the middle of the lineup. And the Twins still need him in that role, but where does he play?

Delmon Young established himself as the Twins left fielder this year. And, with Cuddyer out, he gave the Twins a right handed bat in the middle of the order. He didn't hit for the power that people had expected, but that will likely come as he matures. He has above average range, he even played center field in Tampa, and his arm rivals Cuddyer's. His routes to balls still need some work but there appeared to be improvement there even as last year progressed. Like Gomez, Young's potential is almost unlimited.

So there are the choices the Twins are faced with. Do you sit a young player with unlimited potential, like Gomez or Young? Do you weaken your lineup by sitting Span, the only leadoff hitter on the team? Can you afford to lose Cuddyer's bat from the middle of the order? What about Kubel's?

Some people have suggested rotating these players, but that really doesn't solve the problem. It just means they are making the same tradeoffs only on different days. Is there a reason Span is critical to the lineup one day and not the next? I think the answer is no.

The other option is to platoon Cuddyer and Kubel at DH with an occasional rest day for the others depending on the opposing pitching, minor injuries etc. But you are paying Cuddyer an awful lot of money for a limited role against left-handed batters.

As of now, the Twins outfield looks awful deep. A few years ago, people said the same thing when the outfield included Hunter, Jones, Kielty, Ford and Mohr. But, with the exception of Hunter and maybe Jones, none of those players were comparable to the current five guys that are going to be fighting for playing time next year. Of course last year this problem took care of itself. And injuries, or regressions by one of the young players, may do the same thing next season. Too much depth is not the worst problem to have.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Twins Rotation - 2009

Barring trade or injury, the Twins rotation for 2009 seems pretty much settled. Baker, Liriano, Slowey, Blackburn and Perkins have all earned return engagements. Its hard to imagine any of them losing their spot in the rotation based on spring training performances, either by them or by any potential replacements. I don't recall the last time the Twins had a rotation settled from one through five for the following season. There may not have been a last time because it has never happened before.

Does that mean the Twins will have an outstanding rotation next year? No. They really lack a dominating ace. Baker is getting that buzz now, but he is really just the most dependable of the bunch. Liriano certainly has the talent and with another year into his recovery could take that spot. Slowey is a solid number three starter and Blackburn and Perkins both fill out the rotation. Its possible this crew will develop into a dominating rotation with another year of experience. Its also possible one of them will fall flat on their face next year. But at this point there is not much to do but watch with anticipation as it plays itself out next year

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Twins Bullpen - 2009

There is a lot of angst about the Twins bullpen. It has now reached a point that one of the local Minnesota sports writers is suggesting the Twins should be dealing for "two or three" new relievers next year. That seems like a huge over-reaction to an overworked bullpen.

The reality is that the Twins relief corps has more appearances and faced more batters than it did last year. And last year it was not underworked either. In 2008, with six games remaining, the relievers have made 460 appearances and faced 2032 batters. In 2007, they made 438 appearances and faced 2001 batters. In 2006, it was 421 appearances and 2066 batters and in 2005 it was 396 appearances and 1841 batters. This year's bullpen will have made the most appearances of the Gardenhire era and it will come close or surpass the largest number of batters faced.

That is hardly a surprise. The Twins rotation has been filled with young pitchers who have rarely pitched deep into games. In fact, Slowey and Baker are the only current members of the rotation who have averaged over 6 innings per start, and then only barely. Even "innings eater" Livan Hernandez ended up with only slighty over 6 innings per start after all his early exits at the end of his stint with the Twins.

So where are things for next year? Its likely that, with a year's experience behind them, the young starters will give the Twins more innings and a rested bullpen will be more productive. Aside from that, the Twins also have a lot of possible young pitchers who could step up and make the bullpen that much stronger. Here is what the bullpen looks like for next year:


Free Agents:


Guerrier, Crain and Bonser all have the experience and talent to be late inning setup guys. As does Neshek if he recovers. Mijares and Humber have the talent but they need experience. The rumor is that Humber is out of options, so they will have to find a place for him either in the bullpen or the rotation. My guess is that the Twins will try to resign Reyes. They might bring Guardado to spring training if he can't find anyone willing to give him a guaranteed contract.

In any case, it does not really look like the Twins have room for one, much less two or three, relievers. If they can find one dependable veteran who can bridge the 8th inning that doesn't cost and arm and leg in prospects or salary then they should make a move. But they are not really desperate for more options in the bullpen. What they really need is less work.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Decline of Baseball America

This gem from Jim Callis over at Baseball America shows just how far that venerable publication has fallen:

"I wonder if the Twins regret their decision to trade Johan Santana to the Mets. The difference between Santana and waste of $5 million Livan Hernandez is probably the difference between first and second place in the very winnable American League Central right now. None of the four players Minnesota received in return was a sure thing, and the two high-risk/high-reward prospects (Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra) and the two potential No. 4 starters (Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey) have done nothing to enhance their status since the deal.

The Twins would have been better off taking their chances trying to win with Santana this season, even if that meant taking two high draft picks in return when he walked as a free agent. In fairness, I'll admit I didn't envision that the Tigers and Indians could struggle as much as they have"

The Twins "right now" are 12-5 with "waste of $5 million Livan Hernandez" on the mound, including two of the wins in their recent streak. The Mets are 9-7 with Santana on the mound. Of course Santana is the better pitcher, but the Twins scored 2 or fewer runs in 4 of Hernandez losses.  It is tough to see how the Twins would have improved from the results they got from Hernandez.

But what is more ridiculous is the idea that they would have been as well off with a couple draft choices. That is the kind of silly observation you expect from young bloggers, not professional writers for Baseball America. There was a time when Baseball America put the draft into perspective, but apparently their writers area now just feeding on (or feeding) the hype. Most players taken as compensation picks never even appear in the major leagues. And a number of those that do never amount to much. The Twins have already got more from Gomez than they could expect from the draft choices.  I have not heard any Twins fans regretting this trade. Gomez, while showing his inexperience, has been an exciting player and fan favorite. Certainly the Twins would be a better team with Santana, especially while Denard Span was stuck at AAA, but that is obvious. And it may be that at the end of the season they will look back and say "if only we had kept Santana", but that is long way off. Second guessing that decision at mid-season is foolish.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Whole New Team

The current Twins team has almost no relationship to last year's team. Of the 8 everyday players, only three players are back from last year. Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer will be the recognizable faces when the Twins take the field opening day. None of the other players will have played a single game in a Twins uniform before. Harris, Everett, Lamb, Young and Gomez are all new to the franchise. Kubel may add one more Twins "veteran" to the batting order as DH, unless Monroe grabs the opening day spot.

Pitching will be little different. Hernandez, the opening day starter, is new to the organization. Liriano didn't pitch at all last year and the other starters, Baker, Bonser and Slowey, combined for only 64 of the team's 162 starts. So while not as great as the turnover on the field, the pitching staff has little resemblance to last year's.

What this means in practical terms is that this is an entirely new team and last year's record is irrelevant. How good a team is an open question that you can try to answer looking player by player. But good teams are more than the sum of their parts. Players over time learn how to make use of their teammates skills to best effect.

Gomez speed brings a new dimension to the offense that the "veteran" Twins have not really seen on their team before. But that may not be true of players like Young, Monroe or Everett for whom everything is new. Young adds a second right hand bat may make some Twins less vulnerable to lefties. Moving Cuddyer between Mauer and Morneau will give him opportunities to see a lot more lefties. But while those changes may benefit those three players, we don't really know what impact they may have on Young, Lamb, Harris etc.

It will be interesting to watch how the Twins style of play adjusts to the skills of the new players. Not only on offense, but also in the field. The statement "we put it in play and let our fielders do their job" has become a cliche of the Twins pitching staff. As I expressed yesterday, its not so clear that approach makes sense when you second baseman is Brendan Harris and your third baseman is Mike Lamb. That is something we will all find out as the year progresses.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Doesn't Look Good

So the Twins have all but finished their roster to start the season. In past years the Twins have relied on pitching and defense to make up for a mediocre offense. But that has changed. Unfortunately the offense looks like it will still be mediocre, but the pitching and defense look to be even worse.

Lets look at the defense:

Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer are back in their same spots. The new players are Harris/Tolbert, Everett, Lamb, Young and Gomez. Everett projects as an improvement over Bartlett. We will have to wait and see how young does in left field, but he probably won't be much worse than last year's collection in any case. But Harris, Lamb and Gomez are not going to provide the defense the Twins have been used to. Gomez has the range and arm to replace Torii in center field, but he is going to need a few years to add the experience Torii brought to the position. Lamb and Harris are both simply questionable defensive players replacing guys whose defense was a strength.

Much has been made of the Twins young pitching, but it is pretty clear Liriano is not going to immediately provide the ace the staff lacks. Baker may or may not be ready to start the year either.  The rest of the pitching staff is mediocre - albeit with a lot of depth. Herandez will give them innings and, along with Bonser, is a solid 4th starter. Slowey did well this spring and may be a decent 4th starter as well. You will notice a pattern here. The Twins have guys who will keep them in the game, but they are not going to put the other team away very often. And they aren't going to have the same defensive support Twins pitchers have enjoyed in the past.

The bullpen is supposed to be a Twins strength. But Guerrier, Rincon and Crain did not shine this spring and they only have one lefty in Reyes. The bullpen  still looks good, but not guaranteed to be dominant even with Nathan closing.  And the starting staff may make matters worse by forcing the bullpen to eat a lot of innings.

So the question is has the Twins offense improved? Probably a little bit with the potential to be a lot better. They lost Torii Hunter (and Luis Castillo) , but they added Harris, Lamb, Young, Monroe and Gomez.  A lot will depend on how the young players develop. Gomez, Young, Kubel, Mauer and even Morneau are all on the spot to create an  offense that can carry the team, rather than just support an outstanding pitching staff.

In the end, spring training added more questions than it answered.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Four Survivors

The Twins are now down to four candidates for the last everyday player on the roster. This assumes they carry twelve pitchers, Mauer, Redmond, Morneau, Punto, Harris, Lamb and Everett in the infield and Cuddyer, Morneau, Kubel and Monroe in the outfield, plus one of either Span or Gomez as the centerfielder. Invitees Whiteside and Butera are still on the spring roster, but it is very doubtful either one will be going north. Likewise, its doubtful either of the young outfielders who loses the centerfield competition will be kept as a bench player.

That leaves Pridie, Buscher, Knott and Tolbert in a competition for the last roster spot. There has been some speculation that Gardenhire sees Tolbert as a potential everyday player. Its possible if both Harris and Punto continue their offensive struggles that Tolbert will be handed the everyday job job at second - or at least a semi-regular job. Absent that, it is likely they are taking a long look at him now and he will eventually end up playing everyday at Rochester and waiting for a chance. Pridie does not seem to have tools that compliment any of the existing outfielders and keeping him on the roster would be redundant. Like Tolbert, it is likely he will start the year at Rochester.

That leaves two real candidates. Knott, whose real weapon is his bat and Buscher who provides a bit more flexibility if he is able to play first as well as third. While I wouldn't rule Knott out, my guess is the job goes to Buscher. It is, of course, also possible that the Twins will grab someone off the waiver wire.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Looking Back at Top 100's

Below is the 1998 BBA Top 100. I am going back ten years because it takes that long before you know who really turned out and who didn't. I am not going to go through the entire list - but that guy at the top stands out. Ben Grieve - the best prospect in baseball? What were they thinking?

And the answer is that they were thinking quite clearly. The reality is there is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to baseball prospects. As I have written before, the major leagues play a different game than the minor leagues. And sometimes the flaws don't show up immediately even at the major league level. Grieve was noted for his "patience". Unfortunately for him, major league pitchers throw a lot more strikes and Grieve didn't get good results when swinging at them.

For Twins fans remembering that Sidney Ponson, Ray Ortiz and Dennis Reyes were all once top prospects may make them a lot more patient with the Twins farm system's productivity. You can add Darnell McDonald to that list of curious acquisitions. Or Enrique Wilson, who some Twins fans mourned the loss of for years after he was traded away. And lets not forget how much heat the Twins took from some fans when they failed to get Rickey Ledee in the Knoblauch deal. Or that having lost Travis Lee in the draft looked like a real disaster in 1998, not so much in 2008.

You might want to notice some players who were missing from this list. Torii Hunter for instance. But I am not going to try to go back and create that list because it would be almost as long as the one below. The reality is that while top 100 lists are fun for fans and writers, they should not be mistaken for the scouting lists that every team maintains. Most of the best players will make the list eventually, even if it is just before they win a major league job. But the fact that a player is or isn't on it one year doesn't guarantee anything.

And that is important for Twins fans to remember this year when only three Twins prospects made the list, two of them just acquired in the Santana trade. The Twins have a lot of depth in their system. And that depth will likely produce more major league players than having a handful more players on this years Top 100.

1. Ben Grieve, of, Athletics
2. Paul Konerko, 1b/3b, Dodgers
3. Adrian Beltre, 3b, Dodgers
4. Kerry Wood, rhp, Cubs
5. Aramis Ramirez, 3b, Pirates
6. Matt White, rhp, Devil Rays
7. Kris Benson, rhp, Pirates
8. Travis Lee, 1b, Diamondbacks
9. Carl Pavano, rhp, Expos
10. Miguel Tejada, ss, Athletics
11. Todd Helton, 1b, Rockies
12. Mark Kotsay, of, Marlins
13. Chad Hermansen, 2b, Pirates
14. Brad Fullmer, 1b, Expos
15. Juan Encarnacion, of, Tigers
16. Matt Clement, rhp, Padres
17. Ruben Mateo, of, Rangers
18. Rick Ankiel, lhp, Cardinals
19. Richard Hidalgo, of, Astros
20. Sean Casey, 1b, Indians
21. Darnell McDonald, of, Orioles
22. Brian Rose, rhp, Red Sox
23. Ryan Anderson, lhp, Mariners
24. Matt Anderson, rhp, Tigers
25. Eric Milton, lhp, Twins
26. Russell Branyan, 3b, Indians
27. Bruce Chen, lhp, Braves
28. Scott Elarton, rhp, Astros
29. Grant Roberts, rhp, Mets
30. Eric Chavez, 3b, Athletics
31. Cesar King, c, Rangers
32. Dermal Brown, of, Royals
33. Eli Marrero, c, Cardinals
34. Mike Caruso, ss, White Sox
35. Ryan Minor, 3b, Orioles
36. Troy Glaus, 3b, Angels
37. Rolando Arrojo, rhp, Devil Rays
38. Roy Halladay, rhp, Blue Jays
39. Braden Looper, rhp, Cardinals
40. Ruben Rivera, of, Padres
41. Francisco Cordero, rhp, Tigers
42. A. J. Hinch, c, Athletics
43. Carlos Lee, 3b, White Sox
44. Luis Rivera, rhp, Braves
45. John Patterson, rhp, Diamondbacks
46. Ricky Ledee, of, Yankees
47. Derrek Lee, 1b, Marlins
48. Alex Gonzalez, ss, Marlins
49. Ben Davis, c, Padres
50. Willie Martinez, rhp, Indians
51. Michael Coleman, of, Red Sox
52. Vernon Wells, of, Blue Jays
53. Ben Petrick, c, Rockies
54. Jason Grilli, rhp, Giants
55. Luis Rivas, ss, Twins
56. Magglio Ordonez, of, White Sox
57. Julio Ramirez, of, Marlins
58. Ryan Brannan, rhp, Phillies
59. Mike Judd, rhp, Dodgers
60. Ed Yarnall, lhp, Mets
61. Enrique Wilson, 2b, Indians
62. Damian Jackson, ss, Reds
63. Corey Lee, lhp, Rangers
64. Lance Berkman, of, Astros
65. Abraham Nunez, ss, Pirates
66. Joe Fontenot, rhp, Marlins
67. Shawn Chacon, rhp, Rockies
68. Robbie Bell, rhp, Braves
69. Brent Butler, ss, Cardinals
70. Preston Wilson, of, Mets
71. Mike Lowell, 3b, Yankees
72. Rafael Medina, rhp, Marlins
73. Jarrod Washburn, lhp, Angels
74. Ramon Hernandez, c, Athletics
75. Ramon Oritz, rhp, Angels
76. Wade Miller, rhp, Astros
77. Karim Garcia, of, Diamondbacks
78. Sidney Ponson, rhp, Orioles
79. Robinson Checo, rhp, Red Sox
80. Lorenzo Barcelo, rhp, White Sox
81. Derrick Gibson, of, Rockies
82. Gil Meche, rhp, Mariners
83. Javier Vazquez, rhp, Expos
84. David Ortiz, 1b, Twins
85. Nelson Lara, rhp, Marlins
86. Juan Melo, ss, Padres
87. Todd Dunwoody, of, Marlins
88. Chris Reitsma, rhp, Red Sox
89. Valerio de los Santos, lhp, Brewers
90. Jeff Wallace, lhp, Pirates
91. Dennis Reyes, lhp, Dodgers
92. Orlando Cabrera, 2b, Expos
93. George Lombard, of, Braves
94. Lariel Gonzalez, rhp, Rockies
95. Geoff Jenkins, of, Brewers
96. Geoff Goetz, lhp, Mets
97. Daryle Ward, 1b, Astros
98. Jackson Melian, of, Yankees
99. Kevin Witt, 1b, Blue Jays
100. Chris Enochs, rhp, Athletics

Friday, February 15, 2008

Baseball America Embarassment

As a former long-time subscriber to Baseball America I can only shake my head in embarrassment at the level that formerly worthwhile publication has fallen to. Here is a link to their most recent "analysis" This article creates a new statistic, as if we really needed another one, called "Closest to the Majors" score. You can check out the link for a full appreciation. But the short version is a number created by multiplying a player's last minor league level (1-5, Rookie to AAA) and his rank in his teams top ten. The team CTM is based on adding these top ten numbers together.

Where do you start with something as awful as this measure. To begin with, he used BBA's top ten rankings as a starting point for an "objective" measure of a team's farm system and clearly the top ten rankings are not objective, but subjective, judgments. But that is really a quibble.

The real problem is that that BBA rankings reflect players relative to their teammates. So a team with 10 major league ready prospects at AAA will lose points in this score if they also have higher rated prospects in their lower leagues. This makes the team ratings almost useless. Try to figure out why adding four prospects from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade, including a couple likely to start the season on the major league roster, made the Twins system further from the majors. The answer is because they got one young guy who is now their number one prospect. The score may tell you something about each team's top ten prospects, but it tells you nothing about their farm system or how they compare to other teams.

But that is just a starting point. The other problem is that when you start looking at individual player scores you arrive at ridiculous results. For instance, does anyone think that a number nine prospect in high A ball (who gets 6 CTM points) is closer to the major leagues than the number 10 prospect who is at AAA and gets 5 CTM points. In fact, that number 10 prospect at AAA is further way than any of the top 4 prospects who are in rookie ball or higher and the top 8 prospects who have reached low A ball. This is one of those cases where you need to take away the inventor's calculator and force him to understand math. Because being able to calculate a number doesn't give it meaning.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Twins 2008

Twins fans are likely to have their patience tested this season. One look at the rotation tells you that April and May are likely to see a lot of young pitchers trying to demonstrate they belong in a big league rotation. And its very likely some of them will be demonstrating that they don't belong. At least not yet.

But with all the questions in the rotation, there are also a lot of potential answers. And that is true of the position players as well. The Twins talent last year was very shallow. This year, its not. Looking at the team position, by position they have major league players at most positions and young players who might be able to take the job if someone stumbles or gets hurt. In a couple cases, they have players who, by the end of the season, might just be better than the veteran who has the job to start.


This was a position of depth last year and it remains that way this year. Mauer and Redmond provide a solid major league catching staff. Behind them are young prospects Jose Morales and Drew Butera, one an offensive catcher, the other defensive. They aren't going to take the major league catchers' jobs. But they provide some real depth in case of injury.

First Base

Here the Twins are thin after Justin Morneau. If he should get hurt, the Twins would be scrambling to find a replacement. This is the thinnest position in the Twins system.

Second Base

Brendan Harris probably has this job to start the season. Punto is the backup. But Alex Casilla may be ready to take the job away from Harris by mid-season.


Clearly Adam Everett will start the season for the Twins at shortstop. His bat will never impress anyone but his defense will. Again, Punto is the backup. But also again there are players in the minor leagues who could take Everett's job, regardless of his defensive skills. Casilla is one guy who could do that. The other is Trevor Plouffe. Its not going to happen to start the season, but by July either of these two could be forcing their way onto the major league roster.

Third Base

Mike Lamb is going to the starter. Chances are he will not hit lefties and Punto will see most of his action at third base against left handed pitchers. The minor league options here are not strong. Buys like Watkins, Basak and Macri are not going to take the job away from Lamb. Cut Harris might if Casilla is ready to take the job at second base.


Punto will have this job. The minor leagues have players like Basak, Macri, Watkins and Tolbert. None of them have the defensive skills you look for at shortstop. But they give some depth to the infield in case of injuries.

Left Field

Delmon Young is set here. There isn't anyone in the minor leagues who would take this job even if Young was hurt. Jason Kubel is the backup. Craig Monroe can play left. So, probably, can Michael Cuddyer.

Center Field

There are three guys in this competition, and really only one likely winner. Gomez will start the season in center field unless he really struggles in spring training. But Pridie or Span could take the job away from him if he stumbles to start the season.

Right Field

Cuddyer starts here, Young is probably the backup. Monroe can play right and Kubel probably can in a pinch.

Extra Outfielders:

Monroe, Kubel will be available as backups in the outfield. Monroe can play center field, but its possible Pridie could win a roster spot out of spring training as well and give the Twins a true center fielder as a backup to Gomez. Span and Pridie would both be players who might start the season in the minor leagues, but win a bench job sometime during the year.


Kubel will be DH'ing most of the time. He will probably not see much duty against tough left handers. At least, not to start the year.


The Twins appear to be much deeper than they were last year. They will start the year with some true prospects at AAA, players who should improve and eventually win major league jobs. Combined with the young pitching staff, that may mean a team that is much better by July than it was in April. Its unlikely the young players will develop quickly enough to make the Twins contenders this year. But its not impossible. A lot will depend on how close the Twins can hang in while they are sorting out all the young talent.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Santana's No Trade Clause

There have been a number of comments in the blogsphere about how Santana's no-trade contract had the Twins over the barrel. It is rumored that Seattle was interested in Santana, but he told the Twins he wouldn't waive his no-trade clause for a Seattle trade. There may have been other teams interested as well, but Santana's no-trade clause gave him the power to limit the market. The result was the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox were really the only teams in the race.

I think this misreads the situation. The Mets were probably not prepared to surrender four top prospects without an agreement from Santana on a long term contract. Likewise, with or without a no trade agreement, any other team giving up that much value would want to make sure they had more than a couple draft choices in compensation after one year.

The reality is that Twins only controlled one more year of Santana. With or without a no-trade clause, Santana had complete control over who he plays for beyond 2008. That, not Santana's no-trade clause, was the real limit on the value the Twins got for Santana.

Some people have suggested the Twins have "learned a lesson" and won't be handing out any more no trade agreements. Hopefully that isn't true. The Twins, like most teams, are reluctant to give players no trade agreements. But the Twins, have also been very successful creating the kind of environment where players want to stay. As a result, some players have been willing to give them a hometown discount. That kind of deal is tough to get without assurance for the player that he won't end up playing cheap somewhere else. It would be foolish for the Twins to abandon all no trade deals because of the experience with Santana.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Minor League Baseball Isn't the Same Game

Twenty years ago Bill James made the somewhat startling claim that minor league results, "properly evaluated", predicted major league results as well as major league results do. He then made some statistical calculations called "major league equivalents" that purported to translate a player's minor league results into equivalent major league results.

Looking at James original calculations, there are people who were never successful in the major leagues who had outstanding "minor league equivalent" seasons. There are now several different systems out there to "properly evaluate" minor league players using statistics by creating their major league equivalents. It is difficult to completely evaluate these system sbecause most of them are moving targets that get "refined" each year. (A problem that is ubiquitous in the sabr community.) Perhaps as important, it is not clear what the criteria are for success. Most of the recent systems don't even attempt to evaluate players below AA and James himself made no claims about pitching results.

The problem is that sometimes major league success predicts future major league success. And sometimes it doesn't. The same is true of minor league success. In fact, when "major league equivalences" are criticized for their failure to accurately predict major league success, the usual defense is to point to similar failures in major league statistics. There is no doubt that statistics are crude tools for player evaluation, but for identifying prospects they are even cruder. There are many career minor league players who have had success while only getting, at most, a sip of the big leagues.

So why is minor league success not an accurate predictor of major league success? The answer is really that minor league baseball is not the same game. This is not to suggest the rules are different. Or that the skills that make a successful major league player won't make that player successful in the minor leagues. But some of the flaws that exist in every minor league player, the things that keep them in the minor leagues, allow other players to be successful even with their own flaws that keep them in the minor leagues.

We have all heard about the young hitting prospect who fails because they never learn to hit a breaking ball. In the minor leagues, there are a lot of pitchers who can't get their breaking pitches over the plate. Which means the hitter can have success by laying off the breaking ball and only swinging at fastballs. Most major league pitchers will just feed them a steady diet of breaking balls in the strike zone unless they show they can hit them.

Likewise, there are minor league players who have to "cheat" on 90+ fastball. Fortunately, they can cheat in many situations since they know a fastball is coming. Its the only pitch the pitcher can throw consistently for a strike. And the pitchers who can control their other pitches often lack 90+ fastballs. If they had stuff and control, they would already be in the major leagues. The flip side of that, for the pitcher, is that with a 95+ fastball, you don't need to throw anything else because, even cheating, that hitter is going to have a tough time catching up to it.

So what are some of the other differences?

In the minor leagues hitters will chase breaking pitches out of the strike zone, while major league hitters will lay off it and force the pitcher to throw strikes.

In the minor leagues, a pitcher can have success throwing hard and harder. In the major leagues, they need to be able to change speeds because no matter how hard they throw the hitters can catch up with it if they know a fastball is coming.

In the minor leagues, you can be a successful hitter with large holes in your swing because many pitchers lack the control within the strike zone to consistently take advantage of those holes. Major league pitchers largely don't.

In the minor leagues, you can have success sitting on fastballs. In the major leagues, you have to be able to hit a pitcher's breaking ball.

In the minor leagues, a pitcher needs to be able to throw the ball over the plate. In the big leagues, the pitcher needs to be able to throw quality strikes and locate their pitches in the strike zone.

Of course major league players have flaws too. Which brings us to the most important difference. There is a huge jump from the minors to the majors. People tend to think of baseball talent as a pyramid with the only a few players at the peak. But the reality is that it is more like a mountain, with the slope becoming steeper and steeper the higher you go. The difference between AAA players is not remotely comparable to the difference between big league players.

Just consider the difference between a major league star who gets 33 hits in 100 at bats and the marginal major league player who gets 25. A comparable difference for the next level would be a hitter only able to get 17 hits, well below the Mendoza line. While the jump from the minors to the majors is large, its not that large.

Does that make minor league results meaningless? No. But it means that without understanding the context of those results you can get fooled into thinking a minor league player is better than he is.

How about worse? Are there players who struggle in the minor leagues and then blossom at the major league level? Not really very often. Where they do, the issue is usually less their skills than that the minor leagues focus on player development. Players are sometimes asked to do things that reduce their immediate success in order to develop the skills they need to be successful in the big leagues. Pitchers, in particular, may be working on pitches that they wouldn't be throwing if success were the only criteria. They are working on a changeup or locating their breaking pitchers. And managers will leave a pitcher in the game even when they might be struggling. Likewise hitters, especially as they move to a new level, may be asked to shorten their swing or change their approach in other ways that reduce their immediate success.

The key thing to remember is that it is a different game when most pitchers throw 90+ and most hitters can hit a 90+ fastball. Its a different game when most pitchers can throw breaking balls for strikes and most hitters can hit a breaking ball. Its a different game when most pitchers can locate a pitch in the strike zone and hitters don't easily chase pitches that are out of the strike zone. Major league baseball is a different game than minor league baseball. And while minor league success is not meaningless, its not always meaningful either.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Comparing the offers

There are a lot of disappointed sports talk show fans out there as a result of the Santana trade. The question is - did the Twins take the best deal. Obviously, if high-profile prospects is the measure then no. But I don't think that is the measure.

All prospect evaluations face the same dilemma - ceiling versus certainty. When ranking a prospect's value how much weight do you put on their eventual potential as big leaguers and how much weight do you place on the likelihood they will ever reach that potential. Players who are certain major league players are no longer prospects. The jump from AAA to the big leagues is huge and even guys labeled "can't miss" sometimes do. So there is uncertainty with any prospect, but that doesn't mean the risk is the same.

The other part of that delemma is that the further a player is from the majors, the wider the range of his potential. What this means is that there are a lot more "potential hall-of-famers" in A ball than there are at AAA. As players move up the development ladder their real potential becomes a lot clearer.

The flip side of that, is that the more realized a player's potential, the more expensive he becomes in trade. Teams don't knowingly trade away the next Willie Mays. The Twins grabbed future stars like Liriano and Santana by recognizing their potential and then having them develop. You can say they got lucky. But the reality is that they recognized the potential. We tend to forget the players where that potential was recognized but never realized. Prospects are a numbers game. If you have enough of them, you will "get lucky" occasionally. But if you have prospects whose upside is mediocre major leaguer, even when you get lucky they won't really help you win any World Series..

So how did the rumored trades compare:

Yankees: Hughes, Cabrera, Tabata

Red Sox: Ellsbury, Lowrie, Masterston

Red Sox: Lester, Crisp, Lowrie

Mets: Gomez, Humber, Mulvey, Guerra

Lets start with the center fielders: Gomez, Cabrera, Crisp and Ellsbury.

Cabrera, Crisp and Ellsbury are all clearly more major league ready than Gomez. Cabrera and Crisp would be placeholders in center field for the Twins. Good players, but ones that would not really be the core of a championship team and would likely get shoved aside at some point the way Crisp already has been by Ellsbury in Boston. Of the two prospects, Ellsbury is clearly furthest along but he doesn't have Gomez speed, arm or defense. Nor does it look like he has Gomez power potential. What he does have is a much more advanced approach at the plate. He is also two years older than Gomez.

Hughes, Lester, Humber, Masterson, Mulvey

Hughes is clearly the top dog here. A potential ace and likely number two starter, he was the centerpiece of the Yankees offer. Lester is also a top pitching prospect who is close to being ready in the big leagues. The other pitchers included in the trades are all mid-range prospects with varying pedigrees. Humber, who was the third player taken in the 2004 draft, is probably the most intriguing since he is coming back from Tommy John surgery. If he fully recovers and shows the stuff that made him a high draft choice he could equal Hughes or Lester. Mulvey and Masterson appear to be mid-rotation option. Part of the numbers game for Twins rotation spots that includes a lot of other Twins prospects who are close to the majors.

Lowrie -
None of the other deals really had anyone comparable to Lowrie. And that may be just as well. The reports are that he isn't an everyday shortstop, he may not be a second baseman either and his bat may not be enough to make him a third baseman. But it is that bat, and his potential for versatility, that makes him valuable. Lowrie is the sort of player that could be valuable to a team like the Twins that often seems to need a guy to hold down a spot until a better prospect is ready. And is a solid bat on the bench the rest of the time.

Guerra - Guerra is a high-upside, big risk young pitching prospect. He could be the next Francisco Liriano, he could be the next Scott Tyler. The odds, as always with A-ball pitching prospects, are better for the latter. But Guerra's upside makes him the sort of player that can make a good trade great. The deals with the Red Sox and Yankees do not seem to include this kind of raw talent.

There is a lot of speculation about what deals were really still on the table when the Twins reached their agreement with the Mets. But I think if you look at the players they got, this trade is a classic Twins deal. Heavy on potential rather than immediate help. And for a small market team that is really the only way you win championships. You don't do it by letting other teams do your player development. You have to stockpile guys who have talent and then develop it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Twins 2008

Can the Twins compete in 2008? Both Cleveland and Detroit got noticeably better on paper. But, as everyone knows, the game is played on the field. How do the Twins compare to last year?

To start with its pretty clear their rotation is totally unsettled. They will have to get very lucky with a bunch of talented young pitchers all becoming major league starters at the same time. That is unlikely. But, assuming the young starters come through, what does the rest of the team look like compared to last year:

Catcher: +

Mauer should have a better year than last. Redmond will remain a solid backup. The Twins should be as good or better in 2008.

First Base: +

Morneau had a slight down year last year. As with Mauer, you would expect some improvement and a repeat of his 2006 season is not out of the question.

Second Base: -

Castillo looked like a player starting his decline last year. That doesn't mean the Twins will be better this year. This job is probably Brendan Harris' to lose. He will not match Castillo defensively or offensively. Cassilla could steal the job from Harris, but to do it he will probably have to be an improvement over Castillo last year.

Shortstop: +

Everett's bat will not match Bartlett's, but he will provide better defense at a defensive position. I think that will net out to a little improvement.

Third Base: +

Punto offense was simply unacceptable at third regardless of his defense. The Twins will lose a lot of defense with Lamb, but they will pick up a lot of offense.

Left Field: +

Delmon Young will be a huge improvement over Rondell White, Lew Ford et al. offensively and defensively.

Center Field: -

Gomez defense will make losing Hunter a lot less painful for the pitching staff. His bat will not begin to match Hunters - at least not in 2008.

Right Field: +

Cuddyer should have a better year than last year.

DH: +

Kubel will be better, Monroe will give him a rest against tough lefties.

Bench: +

Punto is really at his best as a utility player, Monroe gives the Twins a solid bat on the bench and Redmond has shown he is solid as a backup catcher. I'm guessing there will only be one other bench player. Jones, Pridie, McDonald, Machado ... There is a long list of players who could win a spot with their performance in spring training. But overall, the bench should be better with Monroe and Punto.

Despite losing Torii Hunter and Luis Castillo from last year's opening lineup. The Twins should have a considerably improved everyday lineup this year.

Bullpen: +
Neshek -
Rincon +
Guerrier -

Based on their having good years last year, we can expect some decline from Neshek and Guerrier. Likewise Rincon should rebound and Crain will add another solid arm if he is full recovered from injury. My guess is that there will be seven relievers with Zach Day or one of the losers in the starting rotation competition taking that spot as a inning eater. Given the Twins are going to be sorting through a lot of young pitching, keeping the bullpen fresh is going to be a real challenge. But the bullpen still looks like one of the Twins real strengths, at least as long as Nathan is still around.

The biggest challenge for the Twins is going to be sorting through the young starting pitchers.
You can almost guarantee that a couple of guys who win jobs in spring training will lose them in the first couple months of the season. If that musical chairs continues all summer the Twins will have little or no chance. But if they can settle their starters in the first couple months, they have an everyday lineup that can compete.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Santana Deal

So the Twins finally pulled the trigger. Like most deals the Twins make, fans listening to the talk shows will be outraged at the failure to get more. When Frank Viola was traded, David West was supposed to be the center of the trade. But the real quality players were Rick Aguilera and Kevin Tapani. When Knoblauch was dealt, there were fans who couldn't believe the Twins failed to get the Yankees "top prospect", Rick Ledee. Rick Ledee? And there was outrage that A. J. Pierzynski only netted a reliever and a couple prospects (Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser respectively).

We won't know for a few years whether this deal worked out for the Twins. None of the players they get are likely to be better than Santana while they play for the Twins. Whereas arguably each of those other deals actually brought back players as good or better than the player who was given up. But the reality is the Twins can't afford the risk of signing Santana to a huge contract for six years. The Mets can.

So who are these guys and why should we be excited:

Carlos Gomez - An extremely speedy outfielder who was playing in the major leagues last year at age 20. Sometimes those players fail. But usually a guy who can hold his own as a major leaguer at that age will get better and better. He has been described as a five tool player who is already an above average center fielder defensively and will develop some power. A little like a young Torii Hunter, though probably not quite in that league defensively. The Twins now have three young outfielders who are candidates for center field Gomez, Pridie and Span. Its likely at least one of them will develop into an above average major league center fielder. Gomez is probably the most likely contender to do that this year.

Philip Humber - Humber was a number one draft pick (third overall) in the 2004 draft. Last year was his first full season since coming back from Tommy John surgery. Its hard to know what the Twins got here. The news reports about the trade talk about him as a back of the rotation starter, but the scouting reports and his draft position would indicate he is a lot more than that if healthy. I look for him to take a spot in the rotation out of spring training. I think he has the best shot at having an immediate impact.

Kevin Mulvey - Mulvey was the Mets first choice in the 2006 draft. He was the 62nd player taken, in the second round. He is the typical college draftee at that position. His upside is a solid back of the rotation starter who will give you a lot of innings. That assumes that he has major league command of his pitches. He is probably pretty similar to Kevin Slowey, albeit a year behind him in development.

Deolis Guerra - This is clearly the guy with the highest upside. A 6'5" pitcher with great stuff but a long way from the major leagues. Lets hope it is fun to watch him develop. It could just as easily be painful to watch him fail.

This deal looks like it lacks a "can't miss" player. But then even the "can't miss" guys sometimes do, so having several chances is probably more important. Gomez, Humber and Guerra all look like players who have the possibility to develop into core players of a championship team. But, whatever you make of this trade, it looks like the Twins would have been a better team with Santana. This is taking what the market has to offer rather than rolling the dice on winning this year.

Now the question is what can they get for Joe Nathan. Because without Santana, Hunter and Silva this team is going to have to get some real breakthroughs to be competitive. Nathan is not going to make much difference.

Twins Starting Pitching 2008

The Minnesota Twins have been known for their pitching over the last few years. It looks like that will change in 2008. It is only a matter of time before Johan Santana is traded. And Santana was really the only established starter the Twins have after losing Carlos Silva as a free agent. So here are the prospects in order of certainty that they will be in the rotation to start the season:

Scott Baker - A second round draft choice, Baker started last year at AAA after failing in an earlier opportunity in 2006. By the end of last season he had established himself as a mid-rotation starter. He will never be the staff ace, but his results actually improved as the season went along. A very good sign for a young pitcher.

Boof Bonser - Bonser has lost some weight over the off-season. He had problems last season pitching beyond the 5th inning. Whether the weight loss will correct that is an open question. Bonser has decent stuff, but he needs to pitch deeper into games. You just can't afford a starter who consistently relies on the bullpen to bail him out with less than 6 innings pitched.

Francisco Liriano - Some people would put Liriano at the top of this list. Certainly if he is completely recovered he has the highest upside of any Twins pitcher (not named Santana). But, while most pitchers eventually recover from Tommy John surgery, the question is whether he will be completely recovered and back in form to start the season. The other issue, one that a lot of Twins fans choose to ignore, is that Liriano really hadn't established himself as a major league starter when he got hurt. He had a good hot streak in 2006, but he still has only 20 career major league starts. That isn't enough to really evaluate what his results will be when hitters have seen him several times. He may be ready to replace Santana as the staff ace, but he could also struggle and/or spend the year at AAA.

Kevin Slowey - Slowey got a shot last year and got shot down and ended up back at AAA for most of the year. The Twins are really counting on him to have learned from the experience. The results he got after being recalled in September were encouraging. His upside is another mid-rotation starter.

Glen Perkins - Perkins got hurt last year and missed most of the year. There seems to be some opinion that he is not really a starter and will end up in the bullpen. He is another guy who pencils in as a mid-rotation starter. Maybe he ends up in the bullpen as Joe Nathan's replacement if Nathan gets traded, but given the uncertainties of the Twins starting pitching he is likely going to be given a full shot at winning a spot in the rotation. He has the advantage of being a lefty.

Nick Blackburn - Blackburn has come a long way in one season. Before last year, he looked like his upside was a long minor league career - a short minor league career being more likely. He was recently named the top Twins prospect by Baseball America. That seems like a huge stretch of over-exuberance. Despite BBA writer John Manuel's claims to the contrary, Blackburn's likely upside is a bottom of the rotation starter unless he turns out to have the control of Brad Radke. He was sent to Arizona this fall, apparently with instructions to work on changing speeds. That is not a good sign for a guy who lacks a dominating pitch.

Brain Duensing - Duensing is another mid-rotation guy. Like Perkins, he is a lefty which gives him an advantage to start. He has zero major league experience and chances are he will start the season at AAA.

Zach Day - Day has recovered from rotator cuff surgery. He is a long-shot, but if he is healthy he could win a spot as the veteran the rotation. His upside is probably a number five starter who gives you some innings.

Brian Bass - Bass spent last year at the Twins AAA affiliate after signing as a minor league free agent. Then he pitched well in winter ball in Venezuela, was re-signed and added to the major league roster in November. He is likely a longshot for the rotation. His upside is similar to Nick Blackburn's. They are the same age, although Bass signed out of high school so he has more professional experience.

Matt Guerrier - Guerrier is almost certain to be in the bullpen. But he may be given a shot at the rotation if the younger guys prove they aren't ready.

That sounds like the Twins will be very thin on starting pitching in 2008. That is probably why they seem to be insisting that they get at least one major league ready pitching prospect
in return for Santana.

A rotation of Baker, Bonser, Slowey, Day and Bass? Scary.

Edit: Add Humber to that list.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Twins Top 10 - 1998 Retrospective

As Baseball America releases its top ten prospect list for 2008, its useful to look back and see who the top prospects were in the Minnesota system after the 1997 season. Not the guys everyone was excited about at the time, but who are the players who have been the most productive major leaguers. The Twins first round choices in the draft in 1997 were Michael Cuddyer and Matt LeCroy weren't officially signed until after the season so they didn't play. But I included them on the list because both made the Baseball America's list.

To start with, I looked at each level and found the players in the Twins system who became even marginal major leaguers for a very brief period. Michael Ryan and Brad Thomas are probably a stretch even at that low bar. And I used the level that they played at most. Some of these guys got brief promotions.

Todd Walker
Mark Redman
Travis Miller

At AA:
David Ortiz
Torii Hunter
Corey Koskie
Doug Mientkiewicz
Javier Valentine
Benj Sampson

At High- A Fort Myers
Chad Allen
Jacque Jones
AJ Pierzynski

Low A - Fort Wayne
Chad Moeller
Luis Rivas

Rookie - Elizabethton
Mike Ryan
JC(Juan) Romero
Brad Thomas

Gulf Coast
Grant Balfour
Juan Rincon

Didn't Play:

Based on their actual performances in the major leagues, here is a list of the Twins top ten future major league players after the 2007 season:

Torii Hunter
David Ortiz
AJ Pierzynski
Jacque Jones
Michael Cuddyer
Corey Koskie
Juan Rincon
Doug Mientkiewicz
Mark Redman
Luis Rivas

There are really only two other candidates to be on that list, Matt LeCroy and Travis Miller.

Here are the top ten prospects in the Twins system after the 1997 season accoring to Baseball America in 1998:

1.Luis Rivas, SS
2.David Ortiz, 1B
3.Michael Cuddyer, SS
4.Chad Allen, OF
5.Torii Hunter, OF
6.Dan Serafini, LHP
7.Jacque Jones, OF
8.Corey Koskie, 3B
9.Matthew LeCroy, C
10.Mike Lincoln, RHP

Missing: Rincon, Redman, Mientkiewicz, Pierzynski,
Misses: Allen, Serafini, Lincoln, LeCroy

That is a pretty good record, considering the uncertainties with prospects. But its also important to remember that while we call it Baseball America's list, it is more likely the list of one of their writers with some input from others. John Manuel did this year's list and I don't think he was around in 1998.

The other thing is that if you look at the order of that BBA list, you don't want to make much of the differences between the number one guy and all the rest. Occasionally there is a real "can't miss" guy like Joe Mauer at the top. But usually these are really lists of prospects with little real difference between the number one player and the number ten. So when John Manuel says Nick Blackburn is the best prospect in the Twins' system, take it with a grain of salt. It means Blackburn has about a 50-50 shot of having a major league career.

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